Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death!

Patrick Henry

On this date in 1775 Patrick Henry gave his most famous speech in the Virginia House of Burgesses. Revolutionary fervor was sweeping the colonies and by late 1774 the colony of Massachusetts, for just one example, was almost in open rebellion. Patrick Henry took to the floor of the Virginia legislature and in part, spoke these fiery words:

"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"

Just a month later on the 19th of April the fighting at Lexington and Concord took place and a shooting war between Great Britain and its thirteen colonies had begun.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Stamp Act Passes in Parliament

The Stamp Act

The Stamp Act was passed in the British Parliament in London on this date in 1765. This bill was designed to help pay for the huge debt created by the recently concluded Seven Years War (the French and Indian War in North America) by taxing the American Colonies. The act required that all legal documents, legal licenses, broadsides, newspapers, decks of playing cards, etc. , printed in the Colonies had to have a special embossed stamp. The stamped papers were to be sold by the British Colonial authorities with the tax varying according to the particular item.

The passage of this bill created a huge protest in the colonies, which surprised the members of Parliament and the King's cabinet. (A similar stamp act had already gone into effect in England). The colonists were used to paying special taxes, but expected the taxes to be levied by their own elected or appointed legislatures and Governors. This act was viewed as "taxation without representation" and many throughout the Colonies called for its immediate repeal. The Stamp Act was the beginning of the radicalization of America and its first movements towards independence.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Paramount Theater Re-opens

Paramount Theater
549-69 Washington St.
Boston, Mass.

A small piece of Boston's 20th century history reopened this month with the completion of the renovations of the Paramount Theater in downtown Boston. First built in 1932 and owned by Paramount Studios the original theatre was designed in a classic art deco style and seated as much as 1500 patrons. The theater is now owned and run by Emerson College and will stage live theater productions. The modern interior design has been done in the exact style of the original theatre, which closed in 1976.

When I was growing up back in the sixties and seventies it was still quite common to go into downtown Boston and watch movies at one of several converted (or original) movie theaters with just one large screen. I can actually remember the last time I went to the old Paramount Theatre. It was to see the movie "Kidnapped", which was based upon the famous Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson's novel and starred Michael Caine. This had to be in 1971 when the movie first came out.

Not long after the showing of "Kidnapped" the Paramount fell on hard times and began showing R-rated and then X-rated adult movies. Although the downtown shopping area is still lacking a lot of the life and vibrancy that it once had, this is a good step in the right direction for Boston.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patricks Day!

St. Patrick

Today is St. Patrick's Day, not only a state holiday in Ireland but also a popular holiday in the U.S. and Great Britain due to the diaspora of the Irish from Ireland in the 19th century. St. Patrick's Day is also the anniversary of the British Army and Navy beginning the evacuation of occupied Boston in 1776 during the American Revolution. This is celebrated as Evacuation Day in Massachusetts and is considered a state holiday in Suffolk County and for many state employees.

The importance of St. Patrick's Day and the juxtaposition of Evacuation Day in the city of Boston and its environs today is somewhat ironic in that during the time of the Revolution, Catholicism was very unpopular. There were many reasons for this, to include King Henry VIII's bitter break with the Roman Catholic Church, the constant threat of attack from the French-Catholic settlements in Canada (a threat which ended at the conclusion of the French and Indian War) and most importantly the founding of Boston by the Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

For many years Bostonians celebrated Popes Day on November 5 (Guy Fawkes Day in England). The day was marked by bonfires and the dragging around of a stuffed dummy that represented the Catholic Pope. Anti-Catholic feeling was to continue for many years in Boston and even led to street riots and attacks upon our French allies during America's War for Independence on the occasion of military set-backs during the war.

The old ways changed along with the demographics of Boston and many of America's city's when the Irish began to emigrate to the New World in large numbers. This was to have a great affect on America and especially its politics. The effects were most pronounced in the nations big city's and eventually led to the election of two Presidents of Irish-American descent. The influx of Irish immigrants also was to greatly aid the Union Army during America's Civil War.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Boston Massacre

The Boston Massacre

On this date in 1770 British soldiers of the 29th Regiment of Foot opened fire upon a unruly crowd of Boston citizens. Five Bostonians died and eleven more were wounded. This event came to be popularly referred to as the Boston Massacre and was memorialized for years afterward on this date.

The tradition continues tomorrow when a number of events are taking place at the Old State House including a reenactment of the actual "massacre". The reenactment starts at 6:30 p.m. at the Old State House at the head of State St.(formerly known as King St.). J.L. Bell does his usual excellent job and gives a fuller account of the days events in his blog Boston 1775.

The British soldiers and their officer were placed on trial for the "murder of Crispus Attucks, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick, James Caldwell, and Patrick Carr". They were defended in part by John Adams of Braintree, who became an ardent supporter of American independence and a future U.S. President. The soldiers were acquitted of all charges, except two soldiers who were found guilty of manslaughter. They were branded with the letter "m" on their thumbs and released.

The Brattle Book Shop on 9 West St. in Boston, interestingly enough, has a copy of the account of the trial for sale in their rare book section.