Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Christopher Magra's "The Fisherman's Cause"

Christopher P. Magra is Assistant Professor of Early American/Atlantic History and Director of the Atlantic History Center at The California State University at Northridge Department of History.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Fisherman's Cause: Atlantic Commerce and Maritime Dimensions of the American Revolution, and reported the following:
Why not page 98? Is it possible that any single page can illuminate ten years of research in three countries surrounding the Atlantic Ocean? Would that somehow diminish my first book, The Fisherman’s Cause, on the transnational origins and progress of the American Revolution? I hope not.

Page 99 of The Fisherman’s Cause is the first page of a chapter devoted to the ways in which business influenced politics in the late 1700s. The chapter opens with a frustrated colonial fish merchant fretting over the British government’s interventionist regulation of colonial commerce. He is particularly persnickety about the Sugar Act, which Parliament is about to pass into law. Colonists banded together and lobbied against the Act. They compiled financial records that concretely demonstrated that the tax on imported foreign sugar made colonial trade with the Caribbean prohibitively costly. British sugar merchants wanted the tax to protect their interests, however, and sugar was the most valuable commodity in the Atlantic World. As a result, the British government passed the Sugar Act.

Does any of this material underscore the book’s central message? Does one page encapsulate all of my efforts?

I’m afraid the answer to both questions is “yes.” I wrote this book to demonstrate that people’s interaction with the world’s oceans has had a fundamental impact on the course of human history. In the case of the American Revolution, colonists’ commercial fishing and overseas trade helped spark tensions with the British government. These tensions led to war, and colonists used the ocean to defeat the most powerful military force in the world. Fish merchants converted trade routes into military supply lines and transformed their most valuable capital assets, their fishing vessels, into warships. For their part, fishermen armed and manned the first American navy, served in the first coast guard units, and manned privateers. In short, the Atlantic Ocean assisted colonists in bringing about the birth of the United States of America. This is the first book-length effort to explain why and how fishermen fought in the Revolution.
Read an excerpt from The Fisherman's Cause, and learn more about the book at the Cambridge University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue