I really like this one. Really like it because it's so London.
The document – the "primary source" – is from the minutes of the City of London's Court of Common proceedings on January 22, 1771.
It's a bit of "small change" history. But don't sell "small change" history short. The marvelous thing about it is that it can sometimes light up much bigger stuff. This is a case in point. What it lights up is what London's all about, its character.
The back story – this is either unbelievable or all too believable – is a brewing "international crisis". England and Argentina squaring off over, yup, the Falkland Islands. In 1771. Caught flat-footed – sound familiar? – the Admiralty is racing to up the punching weight of the fleet. In anticipation of... well, those of you who are old enough will remember what happened in the south Atlantic a couple of centuries after 1771. Part of upping its punching weight is getting more manpower. Press gangs are out and about. Out and about elsewhere – and in London. Press gangs in some instances manned by – wait for it – "a set of lawless Russians".
London isn't having it.
Okay, here's the document.
The common-council on the 22nd, passed a resolution, "that if any person shall be impressed within this city or liberty into his majesty's service, by virtue of any warrant granted or backed by any of his majesty's justices of the peace for this city, that this court will immediately direct their solicitor, at the city's expence, to prosecute, in the name of the person so impressed (if he desires it) not only the justice of the peace who granted or backed the said warrant, but the constable or peace officer who executed the same".
So why is this episode so London? Admirably London. And admirable London.
Well, to put it in a nutshell, it's London looking after itself, after its own.
And it's London hissing "back off." A direct echo of the phrase that was becoming famous on the other side of the Atlantic at exactly the same time: "don't tread on me."
And it's London asserting its soverignity on its turf.
And it's London being democratic.
And it's London flexing its wealth. It was paying a bounty to London men who were willing to freely join up – rather than be railroaded into the navy by those vile press gangs.
And it's London disliking foreigners – "a set of loose Russians".
It's London being London.
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