Jon de Vos: Party like it was 1776
Winter Park, CO Colorado
In 1772, England was broke.
They’d squandered their nation’s treasury in a 10-year war trying to end French colonialism. England wanted it all, and in the end, they won the French and Indian War, eventually driving the French back across the Atlantic, but they spent themselves penniless doing so. There was no choice but to raise taxes. Parliament raised the duty tax on tea by 10 percent, but the new prices were shunned by Europeans who turned to untaxed tea smuggled from Holland. Agreements forbade East India’s direct shipping to the growing market in America, causing a growing mountain of unsold tea in the East India Trading Company’s warehouses.
Lord North, England’s Prime Minister grew alarmed and, like politicians so often do, he responded with one of the most politically inept moves in world history. He dropped the tea tax and opened up the American Colonial market to East India Trading for the first time, intending to flood the colonies with inexpensive tea, thereby saving the Empire.
That could have worked, but he left a trifling little tax on the exported tea that he assumed the New World would swallow easily. The purpose of the tax was twofold: first and foremost, it would pay salaries for the colonial judges and governors. This was important because it tightened English control. Secondly, it further attempted to establish England’s right to tax the colonies at all.
Tiny tax, or no, in 1773 it made a lot of folks angry. East India tea-bearing ships were turned away in Charleston, Philadelphia and New York, but four ships, each carrying 75,000 pounds of tea, set sail from England to Boston. One of them was destroyed in a storm but the other three were allowed to dock in the Boston harbor. The governor wanted them to pay the import duty and leave. The townspeople just wanted them to leave. A town hall meeting was held on November 29, 1773, to an overflow crowd of more than 7,000 angry Bostonians.
Later that night, hundreds of the same citizens thinly disguised themselves as Indians and thickly armed themselves with hatchets and swords that they used to hack apart the bindings on the 200 pound chests before dumping the contents into the harbor. Approximately 225,000 pounds of tea were poured into the salt water of the Atlantic that night. In the early morning, stalwarts in small boats were out slapping any stray floating mounds of tea with their oars to be sure it was all destroyed.
Now, folks then weren’t just all crazy-mad at bottom-dealing, self-serving, overstuffed politicians like we are today. Nope, they were focused on the very words of the British Constitution that stated that no British citizen could be taxed except by their own elected representatives. In the colonial mind, that was the governors and mayors of their villages and towns, not some white-wigged aristocrat on the next continent over.
So the Boston Tea Party was not mindlessly anti-tax, they just didn’t want to support the powdered wigs back in Westminster Palace. They weren’t protesting taxes, they were fighting for the right to tax themselves.
Today’s Tea Partiers are an enigma wrapped in a won-ton skin, sailing along on the dual pontoons of Truthiness and Refudiation while leaving Bewilderment in their wake. They seemingly are not Republicans and they are certainly not Democrats yet they are led like lemmings by the self-described entertainer, Glenn Beck, whom Stephen King describes as “Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother.”
Tea Party then, Tea Party now, I don’t see the comparison.
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