in 1773, the tea party wasn't what you think
So I really should be grading tonight. Instead, I've to decide to power through and finish my blog post on the T.E.A. party, and their misguided (at best) appropriation of the 1773 Boston Tea Party as their mascot of sorts. Hey, it's the 237th anniversary; what better time to write this, right?
Now, to be sure, appropriation of Revolutionary images and events to support an idea, point, or movement is nothing new. It's no wonder, either, as the American Revolution is a bit legendary and rose-colored being the underdog win story that it is. Further, Americans particularly tend to recognize the collective fervor, skill, and brilliance of the men (and to the extent to which they could discuss and influence, women) involved in the founding of this country. Not merely this, but the American Revolution became the avant guard of a succession of colonies (and France, though that revolution crossed the line a bit for even the tastes of American revolutionaries) asserting their independence from their respective empires. For these and other reasons, one cannot fault a populist movement like the T.E.A. Party for wanting to associate itself with Revolutionary iconography. The issue with this co-opt that continues to bother me is that the co-opt in this case is faulty at best and a gross misinterpretation of history at worst.
We all know the TEA Party narrative: our taxes are too high so, just like the original Boston tea party "activists," something must be done; that the Boston tea party, indeed the entire American Revolution, was entirely inspired because taxes on the colonists were too high. According to this line of thought, the problem of "taxation without representation" existed because the colonists couldn't vote about the taxes themselves (an idea that's necessary to put forth in order to make the idea that we currently have taxation without representation because a certain group of people would rather pay less taxes than they do).
In truth, the cry of "No taxation without representation" was raised because of the actual lack of colonial representation in Parliament. Prior to the Reform Act of 1832, Parliament was corrupted by the "rotten boroughs" --parliamentary districts with little to no population that were often used to manipulate votes and passing of legislation. And this is not even considering the pockets of no representation in England itself. Basically, Parliament was still in the throes of figuring out it's proper role and what it needed to be to justly represent its people. Rather than deal with the issues, the solution generally adopted at the time, particularly in reference to the colonies, was "virtual representation." Basically, this meant that Parliament had the right to pass taxes for any and all British citizens whether they had direct representation in Parliament or not. Eventually, the abuse by King George III and Parliament of this lack of colonial representation became too much for colonial leaders and governors to bear. After about a decade long struggle between the colonial governments and London, the final straw came in the form of a severely reduced tax on tea in order to effectively grant a monopoly on tea sales to the East India Company. Yes, you read that right. The precursor to the Boston Tea Party was actually a reduction in taxes. The problem this time was the severe market manipulation used to ensure the profits of what was essentially a profit and trade subsidiary of the British government. The issue was taxes, but not the way the T.E.A. Party wants you to think of them.
The issue for the colonists was not the amount of taxes, or paying taxes, but the specific fact that the colonists were being required to pay taxes when neither they nor any representative of theirs had had any say in them. The colonists had no direct representation in London. This is a distinct contrast to current T.E.A. Party members who do, in fact, have direct representation in several forms. The mere fact that they have decided they dislike the person who represents them or the way that person chooses to do so does not mean that they are in the same situation as the colonials. The modern structure of our taxes and our governmental representation looks, in fact, almost nothing like what the colonials knew and felt betrayed because of. And anyone who spouts otherwise would do well to re-read a bit of their own nation's history.
A few links with pertinent information:
Tax History Museum
United States History
E-How on Colonial Taxation
Pennsylvania farmer on taxation
--Note the inclusion of the phrase "or their representatives"--this is key to the debate at hand.
Today's Tea Party isn't Quite Like 1773's
This day in history: 12/16/1773
And yes, I did offer two wikipedia links in this post. haha. Be it known that multiple other credible sources backed up the wikipedia information, but wikipedia has the most succinct and clear explanation of both concepts I linked. :-P