So Many Ironies

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So many ironies reside in this legal action against R. J. Reynolds.

How seldom does anyone recall that the English colonies in North America never would have survived but for the colonists’ cultivation and export of tobacco. Even the New England and Middle colonies needed this commerce, and they gained handsomely by supplying shipping, insurance, and financial services, among other things, to the planters of Maryland, Virginia, and the Carolinas. In short, tobacco made this country.

From the 1650s onward, the British Navigation Acts made tobacco a so-called enumerated commodity, which meant that any tobacco exported from North America had to be sent first to England, where it was unloaded and then reloaded onto ships for reexport to other parts of the world (obviously, a mercantilist sop to the intermediaries in England). Because this forced transit via England added to the cost, and therefore to the delivered price elsewhere in Europe, the colonists became active smugglers, taking their product illegally from Virginia, say, to France, Holland, or Italy. In short, this country was built by smugglers (and not just of tobacco, either).

When the time came for separation from England in the 1770s, the American revolutionists counted among their numbers more than a few worthies who owed their fortune to having successfully undertaken what Americans had been undertaking for more than a century — that is, smuggling. Without the support of these smugglers, no American revolution could have succeeded; indeed, getting free of the restraints of the Navigation Acts was no small motive for the Americans’ secession from Great Britain.

And now comes the government to harass R. J. Reynolds. It is an affront to everything this country (truly) has stood for — and on. It’s almost enough to make me take up smoking again.

Robert Higgs [send him mail] is senior fellow in political economy at the Independent Institute, editor of The Independent Review, and author of Crisis and Leviathan and the editor of Arms, Politics, and the Economy.

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