Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Booknotes: Grievances

(Editor's Note: I recently bought a copy of Ronald Banks's Maine Becomes a State: The Movement to Separate Maine from Massachusetts, 1785-1820, so I figured I'd kick off a new feature of the blog that will include thoughts on Maine-themed books I'm currently reading.)

Just as Thomas Jefferson used the
Declaration of Independence in July 1776 to air out the American colonists' grievances against their British governors, attendees of a January 1786 convention devoted to Maine's independence from Massachusetts listed seven reasons for why the District of Maine should separate from Massachusetts.

Unlike the Declaration of Independence, though, Maine's own declaration of independence did not enjoy widespread support and proved to be inconsequential, due in large part to the fear of mobocracy and radicalism that took root in both Massachusetts and Maine as a result of
Shays's Rebellion, which began in August 1786. Nevertheless, the critiques expressed by the first movement for independence (described by Banks as taking place between 1785 and 1789) laid the intellectual groundwork for the subsequent movements for Maine's indepedence.

Below is a paraphrased version of Banks's paraphrased version of the original document:
  1. What's good for Massachusetts wasn't necessarily good for Maine. In fact, what's good for Massachusetts actually "retarded the growth of Maine."
  2. Massachusetts's Supreme Judicial Court was responsible for dispensing justice for such a large geographical area that it was impossible for "proper and expeditious justice" to always be achieved. Moreover, because the official clerk's office was located only in Boston, any inquiry into public records "necessitated costly and time-consuming trips" to the city.
  3. Trade regulations reduced the price of lumber, which benefited Boston at the expense of the many Mainers involved in the lumber trade.
  4. Because only towns with 150 elgible voters were allowed to participate in statewide elections, "scores of settlements" and citizens in Maine went without actual representation.
  5. Taxation on Mainers' estates were inequitable to the taxation of those who lived in Massachusetts proper. One example: A sheep raised in Maine required more feed and care due to the longer winters in the Pine Tree State, yet Maine farmers were expected to pay the same tax rate on their sheep as Massachusetts farmers did for their livestock.
  6. Excise taxes and import taxes were unfair for Mainers, when compared to the excise and import taxes Massachusetts residents needed to pay. One example: Due to the scarcity of apple orchards (and thus hard cider) in Maine, Mainers were forced to "import vast quantities of rum to meet the legitimate expectations of working people." And because the tax on rum was higher than the taxes related to hard cider, this was cited as yet another case of Massachusetts proper ignoring the pecularities of Maine.
  7. A fixed fee on deed transfers dealt Mainers a greater financial blow than it did to those from Massachusetts, because land in the District of Maine was bought and sold at a higher rate than it was in Massachusetts.

- John C.L. Morgan

Related: Booknotes: Longfellow's Provincial Bloodlines (June 15, 2010)

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