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Good morning. It’s Tuesday, April 12, 2016. On this day in 1772, a New Hampshire sheriff filled out an arrest warrant for a lumber mill owner with the Dickensian name of Ebenezer Mudgett. To Sheriff Benjamin Whiting and Deputy Sheriff John Quigley, it was a routine case. Not so, for Mr. Mudgett and his friends.

Mudgett wasn’t a Scrooge, exactly, although he disliked paying taxes or fines. Mostly, he didn’t appreciate being told what he could or couldn’t do on his own land by John Law, especially one representing a government based 3,300 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

What happened next revealed, more than a year before the provocation known as the Boston Tea Party, that revolution was in the air.

I’ll have more on the case that turned into the now-forgotten Pine Tree Riot in a moment. First let me direct you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, where we aggregate stories, polls, videos, and commentary spanning the ideological spectrum. We also have a complement of original material from RCP reporters and contributors:

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What Ted Cruz Gets Right About Islamism. In RealClearWorld, Hassan Mneimneh praises the presidential contender for making distinctions between the religion and the political ideology.

Climate Politics Threaten National Security. In RealClearEnergy, Leigh Thompson outlines weaknesses in the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

What Conservatives Offer American Women. On Equal Pay Day, Carrie Lukas & Sabrina Schaeffer provide an agenda for the right in RealClearPolicy.

Women Want a Customized Workplace. In RealClearTechnology, Adam Schaeffer looks at what the tech industry can do to fix its “women problem.”

Will Science Push Religion Into Extinction? Ross Pomeroy examines the decline of religious belief in America and elsewhere.

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In the 17th and 18th centuries, Great Britain’s status as a world power depended on the Royal Navy. The navy depended on fast warships. Those warships depended on tall and strong masts. So with the British Isles feeling the effects of deforestation, the white pines of New England were considered a natural resource -- for the British crown.

As early as 1690, King William III had laid claim to any white pine tree more than two feet in diameter, even while issuing land grants to colonists in New Hampshire. In 1722, Parliament modified this law to say that cutting down a white pine more than one foot in diameter required a license. Fines were set for those who didn’t comply.

London is a long way from New Hampshire, and there were millions of trees in the colonies, meaning that the statute went unenforced for half a century. That changed in 1767 when John Wentworth became governor, a post that included the title of “Surveyor of the King’s Woods.”

Under Wentworth’s watchful eye, it became clear that many lumber mill operators were ignoring the law. This is where Benjamin Whiting and his deputy, John Quigley, entered the action -- to enforce a detested statute.

Mill owners in nearby villages had consented to pay the fine. Not those in the town of Weare, meaning that on April 12, 1772, warrants were prepared against Ebenezer Mudgett, the man considered the ringleader of the recalcitrant locals. The following day, April 13, Whiting and Quigley rode into town. They served the warrants, but Mudgett talked them out of arresting him so late in the day. He’d appear before a magistrate in the morning, he vowed, and the lawmen could stay the night in a local tavern.

Although they would later rue doing so, the sheriff and his deputy accepted this offer. Instead of going to bed, however, the accused mill owner spread the word among his friends, who amassed at their leader’s home. This mutinous mob, numbering perhaps 20, blackened their faces and headed to the tavern to confront Whiting and Quigley.

We pick up the narrative with Kimball Webster, author of a 1913 history of Weare N.H.:

“Very early in the morning, while the sheriff was yet in bed, he was roused from his slumbers by his prisoner, who told him his bail was waiting at the door. Whiting complained at being so early disturbed in his slumbers. The [men], without waiting to listen to any complaints of this kind, promptly entered the sleeping room, each furnished with a tough, flexible switch, an instrument better adapted for making his mark upon the back of the sheriff than for writing the name of his bail at the foot of a bail bond. Without allowing their victim time to dress himself, one of the company … held him by the hands, and another by his feet, while the rest in turn proceeded to make their mark upon the naked back of the sheriff, more to their own satisfaction than for his comfort or delight.”

In an earlier history of the town, author William Little wrote in 1888: “They made him wish he had never heard of pine trees fit for masting the Royal Navy.” Said Whiting himself: “They almost killed me.”

Quigley got the same treatment, and both men were put on their horses and shooed out of town.

Whiting was not a man to take insults, much less a beating, lying down. So he assembled a posse that tracked down the men, eight of whom were indicted on charges of assault and rioting.

In court, they all pled guilty and were sentenced to no jail time and a fine of 20 shillings. A punishment that slight for an attack on an officer of the court revealed the depth of hostility for the pine tree law, as Webster noted 141 years later.

“This law, as it was enforced, was more oppressive and offensive to the people of those times than the Stamp Act and the tea tax,” he wrote. “The incident just related may be justly claimed as among the very first overt acts of the people against the King.”

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)
ccannon@realclearpolitics.com

 

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington Bureau Chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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