Wednesday, February 22, 2012
Revolutionaries: Heroes or Brats
A Quarter for Your Thoughts on the Quartering Acts
For some reason, my San Diego friends in the military always want to tell me about their housing situations. Last weekend helping a family move out of military housing, the wife explained, “We get this much a month, but if Bobby is deployed, then we get an extra blah, blah, blah.” I pretend to listen as I shuttle boxes from the pod to the apartment, hoping that they at least order some good pizza to pay for all my labor.
America is quite different today than it was in the 1760s and 1770s. First off, the United States is a nation separate from Great Britain. Second, we have a standing army and hardly anyone complains. But in the 1760s and early 1770s this was a big deal. I don’t fault the British for wishing to keep a standing army in the colonies after the Seven Years War. The American colonists were uncontrollable, especially in their desire to move west. They were also belligerent when it came to paying taxes. The mistake the British made, I think, was refusing to give the colonies representation. Why not just given them a couple seats in Parliament? Then the “no taxation without representation” problem was fixed, and perhaps the troops could have been stationed out west.
One bone of contention was the Quartering Act (well, actually two acts, but we’ll condense this to one). Since we typically think of the American Revolutionaries as heroes (and not ungrateful children who didn’t realize how good the British were to them), we usually explain why they were so upset at Parliament’s decisions like that of the Quartering Act. But, if the colonial governments would not pay for housing or food for the soldiers, where would they have stayed? How would they have survived? Today, we largely respect and revere our standing army. The idea that our soldiers should live as homeless or tent outside is unthinkable.
To teach the move toward Revolution that gripped the colonies from 1763 to 1775, I have my students look into the specific acts and try to assess how we would respond today to such an act. If, for instance, all of the military housing was destroyed and the government asked you to house a few soldiers in your fraternity house, would you do it? Would you pay a tax to make sure that wills, marriage licenses, and playing cards were official (usually the playing cards question confuses students, but then what if you went to Vegas and the deck had 1 ace in it and you didn’t know … wouldn’t that change your luck?!?).
So, a quarter for your thoughts on the Quartering Acts … or any others from the move toward Revolution. Are there ways you get students excited about 1/3 of the colonists deciding it would be better to be separate?