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Tea, Taxes, and The American Revolution: Crash Course World History #28

Tea, Taxes, and The American Revolution: Crash Course World History #28

Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course World
History and today you aren’t going to get a blow by blow chronology of the American
Revolution, and you aren’t going to get cool biographical details about Thomas Jefferson
or George Washington. But you are going to get me not wearing any pants. Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Did you know that George
Washington might have had slave teeth implanted into his jaw? Yeah, I did, Me from the Past, and while it’s
fun to focus on metaphorically resonant details, what we’re concerned with here is why the
American Revolution happened and the extent to which it was actually revolutionary. Plus,
for the first time in Crash Course history, I have a legitimate chance of getting through
an entire episode without butchering a single pronunciation. Unfortunately, next week we
will be in France, and je parle français comme un idiot. [theme music] So, intellectual historians might put the
roots of the American Revolution earlier, but I’m going to start with the end of the
7 Years War in 1763, which as you will recall from last week was:
1. Expensive, and 2. A victory for the British, including British
subjects living in America, who now had more land and therefore more money. Right, so, in 1765 the British government
was like, “Hey, since we went into this debt to get you all this new land, we trust
that you won’t mind if we pass the Stamp Act, in which we place a fancy stamp on your documents,
newspapers, playing cards, etc., and in return, you give us money.” Well, it turns out the colonists weren’t so
keen on this, not so much because the tax was high because they had no direct representation
in the parliament that had levied the tax. And plus, they were cranky about the Crown
keeping large numbers of British troops in the colonies even after the end of the 7 Years
War. And then the British government was like,
“You are inadequately grateful,” and the colonists were like, “Shut up we hate you,”
and the British government was like, “As long as you live under our roof, you live
by our rules,” and so on, but eventually the British backed down and repealed the Stamp
Act. The repeal inspired a line of commemorative teapots, thereby beginning America’s storied
tradition of worthless collectible ceramics. But, in the end, this only emboldened the
colonists when the British tried to put new taxes on the Americans in the form of the
Townshend Acts. These led to further protests and boycotts and most importantly, more organization
among the colonists. The protests escalated: 1770 saw the Boston
Massacre, which with its sum total of five dead was perhaps the least massacrey massacre
of all time, and in 1773, a bunch of colonists dumped about a million dollars worth of tea
into Boston Harbor, in protest of British government decisions that actually would have
made British tea cheaper. Oh it’s time for the open letter? Ah… oh, that did not go well. An Open Letter
to Tea. But first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, it’s a gigantic
teabag. Hm. Let’s see what flavor it is… Bitter tyranny variety! Dear Tea,
Like all Americans who love justice and freedom, I hate you. But I understand you’re quite
popular in the UK where the East India Company would periodically go to war for you. But, what fascinates me about you, tea, I
mean, aside from the fact that people choose to drink you when there are great American
refreshments available, like Mountain Dew, is that even though you’re stereotypically
English, you’re not English. It’s Chinese, or Burmese, or Indian. No one really knows,
but it’s definitely not English. You didn’t even have tea until, like, the 1660s. Posers. Best wishes, John Green So, The Boston Tea Party led to further British
crackdowns and then mobilization of colonial militias and then Paul Revere and then actual
war, but you can hear all about that stuff on, like, TV miniseries. I want to focus on
one of the ways that colonists protested unfair taxation. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. As previously noted, the English Crown benefited
tremendously from the import of consumer goods to the American colonies, and one of the most
effective ways American colonists could protest taxation without representation was by boycotting
British products. In order to enforce these boycotts, the protesters
created Committees of Correspondence, which spread information about who was and was not
observing the boycotts. And these committees also could coerce non-compliers into compliance
– which is to say that they were creating and enforcing policy, kind of like a government
does. The Maryland Committee of Correspondence,
in fact, was instrumental in setting up the first Continental Congress, which convened
to coordinate a response to the fighting that started in 1775. This was back when congresses
did things, by the way. It was awesome. Anyway, the Continental Congress is most famous
for drafting and approving the Declaration of Independence. No, Thought Bubble. That’s
the Will Smith vehicle Independence Day. I mean the Declaration of Independence. Right,
that one. It’s not your fault, you guys are Canadian. You’ve never declared independence.
Worth noting, by the way, that the congress edited out more than a quarter of Jefferson’s
original declaration, and he forever after insisted they’d “mangled” it. Anyway, I would argue the heavy lifting of
the American Revolution was already done by the Declaration. In truth, by the time the
shooting started, most of the colonists were already self-governing and had developed a
sense of themselves as something separate and different from Great Britain – as evidenced
by these “Committees of Correspondence,” which functioned as shadow governments – eventually
reaching out to foreign governments, establishing an espionage network, tarring and feathering
loyalists and royal officials which, by the way is incredibly painful and dangerous to
the victim, and even recruiting physicians to tell American men that drinking British tea would
make them weak and effeminate. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Now, despite all this, about 20% of colonists
remained loyal to Great Britain throughout the war, especially in the major cities that
Britain occupied. Also lots of slaves continued to support the British, especially after Britain
promised that any slaves who fought with them would be freed. And it’s worth noting that while we generally
celebrate the Revolution and see it as a step toward justice and equality, the people who
most needed the protection of a government might have been better off and more free,
if Britain had won. Especially since Britain ended slavery well before America did, and,
you know, without a civil war. Also, even though most Americans had come
to see themselves as separate from Britain before 1776, the British certainly didn’t
see it that way. They continued to fight either until 1781 or 1783, depending on whether you
calculate by when they actually gave up or when the peace treaty was signed. So you can’t really say the American Revolution
was won before the fighting even started. But the truth is, the American Revolution
and the war for independence weren’t like this. They were like this. So, here’s what was pretty revolutionary about
the American Revolution: The colonists threw off the rule of an imperial monarchy and replaced
it with a government that didn’t have a king, a radical idea in a world that didn’t feature
many non-monarchical forms of government. And, if you look at the explanations for the
revolution, especially those contained in, like, the Declaration of Independence and
in pamphlets, like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, there’s definitely a revolutionary zeal that’s
informed by the Enlightenment. And that’s especially true if you focus on the idea of
liberty, as many of the pamphleteers did. That said, if you look at the actual outcome
of the revolution, aside from the whole no king thing, it wasn’t that revolutionary.
Let’s look, for instance, at two ideas central to the revolution: property rights and equality. So the Articles of Confederation gave the
government no power to tax, which had the effect of making sure that people who had
property were able to keep it because they never had to pay the government anything in
exchange for the right to own and use it. And that’s very different from taxation systems
dating all the way back to, like, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. And it’s probably not a coincidence that most
of the writers and signers of the Declaration of Independence were men of property, and
they wanted to keep it that way. So, basically, the white guys who controlled the land and
its production before the American Revolution were the same white guys who controlled it
after the American Revolution. And this leads us to the second, and more
important way that as a revolution, the American one falls a bit short. So, if you’ve ever
studied American history, you’re probably familiar with the greatest line in the Declaration
of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created
equal.” Sorry, ladies. And, you also may know that at the time those
words were written, a large segment of the American population, perhaps as much as 30%,
were slaves of African descent who were held as property and were definitely, 100% not
treated as equal to whites. In fact, the guy who wrote those words held slaves, and was
fighting against a government who promised to free any slaves who supported it. Furthermore, women couldn’t vote, and neither
could white men who didn’t own enough property – meaning that the government of, for, and
by the people was, in fact of, for, and by about 10-15% of the people. But here’s the real question: Was the American
Revolution what the historian Jonathan Israel called “a revolution of mind?” Did it
change the way we think about what people are and how we should organize ourselves?
Addressing those questions will involve a brief foray into the history of ideas. Let’s
study the Enlightenment! The Enlightenment was primarily a celebration
of humans’ ability to understand and improve the natural world through reason. The Enlightenment
had a number of antecedents, including the European Renaissance and the Scientific Revolution,
but what made it special was that some of its more radical proponents – like, Immanuel
Kant, for instance – went so far as to argue that human reason rendered a belief in God
unnecessary and, by extension, proclaimed that any belief in divine intervention or
a divine plan for humanity was just superstition. Given that this was coming out of an overwhelmingly
Christian Europe, this was a pretty controversial suggestion, and not all Enlightenment thinkers
would go that far. And more moderate Enlightenment thinkers were also more willing to countenance
hierarchical social and political structures. Like John Locke, a major Enlightenment thinker,
formulated his version of inalienable rights as life, liberty, and property. And that’s
much more traditional than arguing, for instance, that property should be held communally. And it’s no coincidence that the more moderate
Enlightenment thinkers, like Locke and Adam Smith, happened to be British, and the real
radicals were French. And the founders of the United States, were far more closely linked
to those British Enlightenment thinkers than to the French, who influenced the French Revolution,
which as we will see next week, goes swimmingly. But even if the government that America’s
revolutionaries came up with didn’t overturn privilege or tear apart the social order as
the French Revolution tried to do, it did make significant changes. America made sure
that there would never be a formal nobility, except for the Count of Chocula. And, it recognized the equal rights of daughters
and widows, when it came to inheriting and possessing property. Also, it created a world
in which future countesses could rehabilitate their reputations in New York. But, the real seismic change was that after
the Revolution, Americans came to view themselves as equal to each other. And, in the context
of the 18th century, that was pretty radical. “Ordinary Americans came to believe that no
one in a basic down-to-earth and day-in-and-day-out manner was really better than anyone else.
That was equality as no other nation had ever quite had it.” And in the end, the ideas of the American
revolution – ideas about property and equality and representation – are still hugely important
in shaping political discourse around the world, and particularly in America. And by
America, I mean the United States. I’m sorry Canadians and Mexicans and Central Americans
and South Americans. We’re provincial, okay? I mean, here in the United States, our Presidential
candidates must both know how to wear a suit and how to bowl. But the American Revolution also reminds us
– as the French one will next week – that revolutionary ideas and values are not always
easy to live up to. Nothing challenges one’s belief in equality quite like becoming rich
and powerful. Indeed, rare is the revolutionary who doesn’t become, on some level, like Orwell’s
pigs, insisting that while all animals were created equal, some were created more equal
than others. In short, if you’re going to base your new
society on philosophy, you should try to found it on ideals that are as inclusive and humanistic
as possible – because the people executing those ideas will never be ideal. Thanks for
watching. I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan
Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson, the show is written by my high school history
teacher Raoul Meyer and myself, our graphics team is Thought Bubble, and we are ably interned
by Meredith Danko. Last week’s phrase of the week was “Historian
Feuds.” If you want to suggest future phrases of the week, or guess at this one you can
do so in comments, where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will be
answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching Crash Course, and as we
say in my hometown, Don’t Forget To Be Awesome.

100 comments on “Tea, Taxes, and The American Revolution: Crash Course World History #28

  1. Also, why is John Green from the past even here? Could they not find enough people to participate in the class?

  2. The USA is the greatest country in the world, always has been. Our revolution's ideals were unprecedented, and set a model for the world, despite our flaws.

  3. John doesn't really go into it here but it's worth pointing out England (by this time Britain) had a degree of power-sharing between the Crown and the aristocracy + the wealthier commoners, that other European nations didn't have. It was a Consitutional monarchy (albeit with a more powerful monarch than today ). To modern eyes it looks like a narrow oligarchy but to Brits on both sides of the pre-1776 Atlantic, it was startlingy different to France or Spain, even if the poor still got screwed.

    The end result of that was that what the Founding Fathers were initally demanding was what they saw as their rights as free-born Englishmen, who just happened to live in the Americas and therefore couldn't inherit a seat in the House of Lords or buy one (literally) in the House of Commons, or even vote in a British election. Obviously there was the whole issue of the Proclamation Line as well but the Bill of Rights (the English one) basically said "No taxation without Representation" and the wealthier colonists were saying "and that includes us".

    The fact that they came from that political tradition is part of why their revolution produced (eventually) a Constitution that's still around today, while revolutions in South America tended to devolve into instability or despotism.

  4. Je parle français comme un idiot

    I speak French like an idiot

    parles bien le français
    Not true
    you speak french good

  5. This might be nice for 1st grade students, but this was not a trivial
    encounter. As a retired teacher, It seems that our educational system
    has dumbed down this encounter by telling about the famous "ride of Paul
    Revere " and "the British are coming, the British are coming. Why are
    the British coming ??? Most adults I have talked to have no idea what
    happened after this. This was a gun control enforcement action. By the
    end of the day 4000 farmers from many surrounding towns had killed 770
    British regulars. Most of the British soldiers had walked 30 miles, the
    last fifteen in retreat and had to be rescued by another British
    regiment out of Boston. This was the British trying to impose GUN
    CONTROL on the the people of Massachusetts. Remember Lexington Green.
    Tax after tax did not start this war. It was this GUN GRAB and losing
    770 regulars to a bunch of colony farmers.

  6. YEAH MERICA!!! take that England! Ima drink my Japanese made mango-peach white tea like a manly American… with honey.

  7. When Britain makes a stamp tax, but doesn't know that it'll help fuel your fire of independence.

    America: laughs in freedom

  8. You forgot the Royal Proclamation of 1763. This is arguably why "No taxation without representation" became the rallying cry of the colonies– it disallowed settling beyond the Appalachians because England didn't want a war with Native Americans. This, in many colonists' minds, disproved the British argument that Parliament represented all of Britain and its colonies even if they didn't have votes. Many colonists would have been fine with the the tax if they had been allowed to settle the land they just fought and died and proved themselves for.

  9. England: Stamp tax
    America: No stamp tax!!!
    England: Tea tax
    America: No tea tax!!!
    England: I Give You Some Colour See-See!
    America: It’s color, bro…
    England: [RAGE QUIT]

  10. If America won the revolutionary war how come the U.S has to pay the queen of England subs each year ???…..p.s I'm half Brit half Yank

  11. Hey Mr. Green I have a question. I read somewhere that the British made slavery illegal to disrupt the French slave trade and to give them a reason to openly attack french ships. Is that true?

  12. "all men are equal" * except black slaves who are cattle, *except women who are cattle, *except poors who are rich's bitches.
    ahahah YEAH what a major advance regarding equality…. Not that much change in the end! At least some European countries like France had abolished slavery in their mainland since centuries (Louis X), that was actually equality as no other nation had quite ever had it.

  13. When everyone in the comments are talking about Hamilton and not Assassin's Creed 3
    sad Connor noises

  14. Deae John,
    I highly admire you but the statement you made that "Mountain Dew is better than Tea" 'The Tea', has made me so so sad.
    May be as most Americans if they ever drank or it should be said 'Take Tea' they do so in form of Ice Tea, and Doesn't truly know what the real Tea is, I invite you to India and have Tea our way(although it isn't Indian way, mostly learnt by China and British mixing Milk in that and ofcourse no tea bags)
    Tea Lover make him listen.

  15. The Netherlands already in 1579 denounced king Philip II of Spain by default and came to form a government not gouverned by a monarch ( the Republic of the Seven United Provinces). And the Pilgrims shortly fled to the Republic to leave it shortly afterwards, as there supposedly was 'too much freedom' here. So the revolutionary American Revolutions seems not that revolutionary.

    I'm just saying.

  16. A president must know how to wear a suit and how to bowl! Oh yeah and also be a billionaire!! Plus what about the equal rights of the native Americans?

  17. You forgot to say that jefferson and washington wanted to abolish slavery but couldn't due to fear…….

  18. Wow. An anti-American screed by an Eric Foner acolyte. Go research elsewhere instead of this Howard Zinn ADHD mess…

  19. To be clear- yes, the US only extended participation in government to a percentage of the population, but this was a massively unique and radical move towards democracy. There's no reason to belittle this. Also, to be clear- the British instituted slavery and were probably the most dominant and brutal colonizers, the world around.

  20. This is such a ethnocentric video. It offers a facile explanation of the revolution, denigrating the vast idiosyncrasies of the early colony.

  21. Curiously, the Boston tea party and the Mongols are connected. The Chinese sent several expeditions to pacify the mongols, which were very expensive. Someone figured it would be cheaper to pay off the mongols. To save face, this was done diplomatically, as an exchange of gifts. A mongol prince would come with gifts of whatever they had, goat skins?, and were given gifts of silk. Pretty soon, “princes” started showing up from places no one ever heard of. So a policy was made limiting 5he gift to 144? rolls of silk.
    Centuries later, the British ships show up wanting to trade. They were limited to the same amount of silk per ship, which was insufficient to justify the trip. Hence they looked for something else to bring back, and that was tea. But even the British couldn’t drink that much, so the idea to discount tea to the colonies.
    Hence, without they Mongols, the Boston tea party incident might not have occurred

  22. Great Channel and topic…. Just kinda still seems rather bias….. Not quite world history but rather history of Europe and Asia with a bit of the world thrown in. Still haven't seen a single mention of the entire southern half of Africa. The Nguni people equate for most of the Southern African population plus….. The southern tip of Africa was a key point of trade between Europe and Asia which led to entire countries named after Europeans….. Nothing about that either. Kinda sucks. Was hoping to see your take on all that

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