Us and the US
[The extracts that follow under this gravely ungrammatical title précis a book published in 2014 called ‘A Tale of Two Nations; Uncle Sam from Down Under’. That book sought to compare the key phases of history of the two nations under fourteen headings. That format will be followed in the précis. The chapter headings are Foreword;1 Motherland; 2 Conception;3 Birth; 4 Natives; 5 Frontiers; 6 Laws; 7 Revolution; 8 Migration; 9 Government; 10 Wars; 11 Race; 12 Wealth; 13 God; 14 Findings; Afterword. Each chapter is about 1400 words.]
By1763, Britain controlled the eastern part of America. The French authority had effectively ended in Canada, and the Spanish risk had gone from the south. Someone had to pay for the war and for servicing the security of the colonies. After Cromwell, the English feared standing armies, but they decided to maintain one in America. The British war debt had to be serviced, and the American population was about one-fifth of the British and Irish populations combined. The government wanted to spread the financial burden to the colonies – and spread the burden more equitably among taxpayers of the Crown. The Americans said that they should not be taxed by the British government unless they had a direct say in that government. Their slogan was ‘No Taxation Without Representation’. That issue led to the American Revolution.
The colonial opposition erupted in Vesuvial proportions when the English parliament passed the Stamp Act. Although the colonists targeted George III, they knew very well that the only source of power to make a tax law was the British parliament. George III did not have the power to levy taxes. That was the whole point of the two English revolutions of the seventeenth century of which the Americans were the beneficiaries.
George III was, as the head of the executive, obliged to enforce statutes against those who chose to secede – just as President Lincoln would be. But the king’s ministers, Townshend and Grenville, were not up to it. Grenville was silly enough to ask when the colonies had become ‘emancipated’. Meanwhile, the colonies were uniting in a way that had seemed to be beyond them before they found a common oppressor. The language on both sides got more heated.
No one could say that the American Revolution was democratic. Its leading figures included Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams. They were people of wealth, the local nobility. The role of the people was more than a little too plebeian for some of the better secessionists. Washington referred to the common people as ‘the grazing multitude’. Hamilton spoke of the ‘unthinking populace’. Adams referred to ‘the common herd of mankind’. Some thought that a third of the colonists favoured secession; a third favoured the mother country; and the other third thought they would wait to see who was winning.
In response to a tax on tea, a group of patriots made up as Indians dumped £10,000 worth of tea in Boston Harbour. It is therefore only right that America today has a political association called the Tea Party whose platform consists primarily of a deep love of God and a deeper aversion to government and paying taxes. The colonists were now in insurgency against their king and his government. They, or some of them, engaged in acts of terror to achieve a political end, namely their independence from the mother country. They were therefore political terrorists and insurgents, like the Jewish terrorists who blew up the King David Hotel to kill British troops in Palestine when it came under the aegis of Great Britain.
The war was a vicious guerrilla war and civil war. The home side had great advantages, as the U S would find in Vietnam and Afghanistan. The American colonists felt that they were fighting on the moral high ground, a position that they have never surrendered. Appalling crimes were committed on both sides, especially in the civil war in the south between the Patriots and Loyalists. There were, Churchill said, ‘atrocities such as we have known in our day in Ireland.’ But for the intervention of the French, this war may have gone on for years and degenerated into what would happen in Latin America with ‘Caesarism, military rule, army mutinies and revolts, and every kind of cruelty’.
Australia never had a revolution, but it experienced three tawdry revolts or rebellions that produced no clear winners.
The Rum Rebellion, as it is called, involved a conflict between a man who had form for being expelled from the penal colony, and a man with form for being cruel and mutinied against. Bligh had his supporters; John Macarthur, the arrogant squatter, had many enemies. But this was not some South American putsch, or even an American revolt. Both sides were punctilious about legal forms, and both claimed to have the law on their side. All parties submitted to the rulings of a legal authority that buried the issue. There was something quite English about this battle for power. ‘Australia’ had not yet been invented. You could not see a coup unfold in the way that this one did in, say, Russia.
The source of the Eureka rebellion might be found in the failure of two thirsty diggers to get a drink at a pub. The gold diggers went into revolt over mining licences. Grog was again involved, heavily. The governor, Sir Charles Hotham, was British navy, and, like Bligh, he was capable of the most frightening rage. The Commissioner, Robert Rede, was a younger man who came from a good English family, and who had trouble concealing his contempt for the diggers. Here was the stuff of class war. Some of the diggers excitedly used words like ‘tyranny’ and even slogans like ‘no taxation without representation.’ They assembled under the Southern Cross. They would not be treated like felons or hunted down like kangaroos.
Licences were burned. The diggers took an oath. ‘We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.’ It was all over in fifteen minutes. As usual, the coppers, or troops, killed more than they lost. At least twenty-two diggers lay dead against five troops. The Eureka Stockade was nothing like a revolution, but it may have given Australians a lasting lesson. The genie of armed rebellion had been let out of the bottle, and the people did not like what they saw. The Australian middle class would become timid. Manning Clark said that ‘This dependence of the colonial bourgeoisie on London and their success in educating the working class in their own values laid the firm foundations for conservatism in Australia.’ The Eureka Stockade may or may not have been un-British, but it certainly now looks to have been un-Australian.
The attempts to romanticise the Kelly gang have largely failed – except for Sid Nolan, and some wistful descendants of one ethnic group. The American rebellion succeeded, and it became a revolution. None of these three Australian acts of rebellion ever looked like succeeding. There was simply not the backing in the country for any of these rebels to carry the day, at least while they were outlaws. Most of the other colonists were far too law abiding and intent on their own future to go along with that kind of thing. The best that the rebels could hope for from posterity is that they would be prized for their very failure. That is something that Australians are prone to do, from failed and dead explorers, like Burke and Wills, to gallant failed and dead soldiers, like the many thousands left at Gallipoli whose chances of coming back had never looked too good. And while Americans revere their patrician founders, few Australians had a good word for John Macarthur. That bastard was far too big for his boots.