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Monday, January 21, 2013

A brief history lesson

Peter Andreas recounts some of our early history in his new book, "Smuggler Nation".  Smuggling played an important part in that history.
Take, for example, the War of Independence. Colonial merchants were leading players in the Atlantic smuggling economy — most notably the smuggling of West Indies molasses to New England distilleries — and conflicts over smuggling and customs enforcement played a critical role in the tensions leading up to the outbreak of war. Pivotal incidents and protests, such as the Boston Tea Party, were closely connected to smuggling interests and the backlash against the Crown’s militarized crackdowns. The first signer of the Declaration of Independence was one of Boston’s best-known merchant-smugglers, John Hancock.

Smugglers put their transportation methods, skills, and networks to profitable use by covertly supplying George Washington’s troops with arms and gunpowder. Motivated as much by profit as by patriotism, they also were recruited by Washington for his makeshift naval force. This was just one of a number of major American military conflicts, from trading with the enemy in the War of 1812 to blockade running during the American Civil War, in which success on the battlefield was tied to entrepreneurial success in the underworld of smuggling.

Early U.S. leaders such as Alexander Hamilton enthusiastically encouraged intellectual piracy and technology smuggling during the country’s initial industrialization process, especially in the textile industry. 

The first signer of the Declaration of Independence was one of Boston’s best-known merchant-smugglers, John Hancock.

The West was won not only through military conquest but also through illicit commerce. Many nineteenth-century Americans understood Manifest Destiny to include a divine right to smuggle. Smuggling of all sorts was at the forefront of the young nation’s aggressive territorial expansion, including large-scale smuggling of alcohol into Indian country (illegally traded for much-coveted furs) and illicit slave trafficking for the rapidly expanding cotton plantations of the Deep South. 

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