The Tea Party - The Real Story


Town hall meetings where elected officials are shouted down. Pro-gun rallies in the nation's capital on the same day that Americans are mourning the Oklahoma City bombing. People carrying signs depicting out first black president as a pigmy with a bone in his nose. Demagogues exhorting the populace. And all attributed to this so-called tea party movement. As I understand it, these people fear the government. They want it to get out of the way. The government that governs least governs best. An enticing principle. These folks model themselves on the original tea party organizers that preceded the American Revolution. Well, let's have a historical look at the original tea party people. As Paul Harvey use to say in his radio show: "And now, for the rest of the story."

The famous Boston Tea Party was an outgrowth of the budding tensions between the original colonists in North American and the British Crown. Prior to the Revolution, during the French and Indian War, the British had spent a lot of money defending the thirteen colonies. By war's end the British were 140 million pounds in the hole, an astronomical sum for those days; and they still had 10,000 troops in North America. Conversely, the colonists felt that, with the French threat neutralized, they didn't need protection. Also they wanted to expand westward into Indian territory. The British had issued a proclamation to protect the Native Americans from further encroachment by the colonists. But what really riled the colonists was the fact that the British had decided to impose a series of taxes in order to cover the expense of the British troops stationed in America.

Among the new taxes imposed by the British was a tax levied on all rum produced or manufactured in the Colonies (the Molasses Act 1733). Note that rum was the life-line of the colonies. New England and the middle colonies depended on the rum trade for their survival. There was the Sugar Act (1764), which was a modified version of the Molasses Act, and increased enforcement of existing taxes; the Stamp Act (1765)which imposed a tax on documents; and the Townsend Act (1767) which taxed imports.

The final straw was the Tea Act of 1773, designed to save the floundering East India Company of Britain, by shipping tea directly to the colonies, and sold at bargain rate prices. Problem was, the direct sale of tea was by British agents only, undercutting the business of local merchants, who stood to lose a good deal of cash. Colonists in Philadelphia and New York turned the ships back to Britain. In Charleston the tea was left to rot in the harbor. In Boston the royal governor was a stubborn one and he held the ships in port. No one was allowed to unload the tea. Cargoes of tea filled the harbor and British crews were grounded in Boston, looking for work and finding trouble. So, a bunch of colonists, dressed as Indians, boarded the ships and dumped the tea in the harbor. The Revolution was about to begin.

What should be noted today is that, compared to other industrialized countries, we are among the least taxed. There is no Sugar Act, or Stamp Act, or Townsend Act; and more, tellingly, there is no Quartering Act where we have to house and feed government troops in our homes. Yes, we do pay taxes, but as Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes declared, Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. Believe me, I hate paying taxes, but it's nothing like America in 1773. People who make a parallel between now and the original tea partyers should look up their history.
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