November 17, 2015

The muddled metaphor of the Tea Party

From our overstocked archives

Sam Smith, 2010 -  Like the historical event it claims to honor, the present day Tea Bag Party seeks superficial change even while remaining hostage to the very system it claims to challenge. For example, the group argues, "The party in power is no longer representing the interests of the individuals and small businesses who make this country successful." The party in power is currently Democratic, but the complaint would be just as valid if the GOP took over.

Similarly, the original Boston Tea Party superficially challenged British power over the colonies but, along with other protests of the time, ultimately sought not independence but merely "no taxation without representation" -- which is to say some seats in the British Parliament.

If this approach had been successful, we would still be a colony of the British Empire and Evan Bayh would have just announced he wasn't running again for Parliament.

Further, you could argue the Boston Tea Party was really the work of the de facto Massachusetts chamber of commerce. The Tea Party Historical Society notes: "John Hancock did not directly participate in the Boston tea party. But he stood to lose the most from the East India Company imports of English tea to Boston. On the other hand Samuel Adams who led the Mohawks aboard the British ships was so close to John Hancock that Bostonians even joked that 'Sam Adams writes the letters [to newspapers] and John Hancock pays the postage'.

"John Hancock was a wealthy shipping magnate, who made the bulk of his money illegally by smuggling. Many colonials were smugglers, Hancock just happened to have a flair for it. Because the ever-tightening British policies that came about after the French and Indian War were aimed at his sort, he wholeheartedly took part in the call for Revolution.

"It was a well known fact that John Hancock had made his fortune through smuggling Dutch tea, which was cheaper than East Indian tea. A commonly forgotten fact is that East Indian prices were cut before the introduction of the three pence tax, in effect making its price, even with the tax, cheaper than Hancock’s tea. Presented with this information, many loyalists did not wonder at Hancock’s involvement in the boycotting of East Indian tea and indeed, the entire war.

"Hancock smuggled glass, lead, paper, French molasses and tea. In 1768, upon arriving from England, his sloop Liberty was impounded by British customs officials for violation of revenue laws. This caused a riot among some infuriated Bostonians, depending as they did on the supplies on board. In the late 1760s, he was formally charge with smuggling and although certainly guilty, his attorney was able to get Hancock relieved of all charges. The lawyer was Sam's cousin, John Adams."

A far more impressive and idealistic marker of the times would be the Virginia Resolves of eight years earlier, introduced by freshman legislator Patrick Henry, which claimed the Viriginia liable only to those taxes approved by its own assembly.

He even, by one vote, got the following provision approved (albeit removed the next day in another ballot)

Resolved, therefor that the General Assembly of this Colony have the only and exclusive Right and Power to lay Taxes and Impositions upon the inhabitants of this Colony and that every Attempt to vest such Power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the General Assembly aforesaid has a manifest Tendency to destroy British as well as American Freedom

It was this that led to the cries of "Treason, treason" and Henry's purported response: "If this be treason, make the most of it."

So if you're looking for a good rebellious metaphor, the tea party doesn't cut it. After all, Patrick Henry said, "Give me liberty or give me death," not "Give me a few seats in Parliament or I'll dump your tea."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Independence is the source of national economic take-off, see Geertz, Gandhi, Hamilton, Clay, Lincoln, Ho Chi Minh, BRICS. Which attracts extractive shock capital, whether in Boston, the Sudetenland or Chile. At the Boston Massacre a line of patriotism was drawn that drew in Virginians, but today has the same relevance as a mascot for a football team, a brand logo owned by global capital. Read Breyer 's recent book, there is logically nothing in the world from which the US or its court is independent.