History Class: It's not just for 8th graders anymore

by Jen on April 17, 2009

in Everyone is entitled to my opinion,Rant of the Week,Worlds' Goodest Teecher

Maybe because I spend all day discussing American History, I’ve been a little sensitive about the recent “Tea Party” protests in a slightly different way than the rest of Liberal America.* From what I can gather, the protests were organized in response to conservative disapproval of the current administration’s attempts to help the sucktastic economy. Their main complaints were focused on the stimulus bill and “out of control government spending.” I may not agree with their sentiments, but hey, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And to paraphrase someone who paraphrased Voltaire, I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it. Where my main beef lies is with the protest co-opting the “Tea Party” title, due to the original event’s connection with patriots, liberty and righteous protest, but with complete disregard for the veraciousness (or not) of the association.

“History Lesson! History Lesson!”

It’s hard to believe the city started as a trading post... Oh, wait, that’s a Jimmy Buffett song that has nothing to do with this.

But back to my point, I fail to see the connection between the current “Tea Party” protests and the historic Boston Tea Party from which the current movement inaccurately derives its name.

The Boston Tea Party of 1773 was a response to the Tea Act, a law passed by Parliament earlier that year. Granted, the Tea Act was a sort of colonial era bailout, meant to give support to the British East India Tea Company which was suffering financial problems. Some of these financial problems had surfaced when the colonies began boycotting British tea after Parliament passed Townshend Acts beginning in 1767. That series of Acts placed duties on a variety of goods imported into the colonies, tea among them. The Townshend Acts were met with protests and boycotts because Parliament was beginning to establish a pattern of levying taxes on the colonies strictly for the purpose of generating revenue and not merely for regulating trade. And all of these Acts and taxes were being passed without actual representation of the colonists in Parliament. (Parliament was operating under the theory that the colonies, if they did not have “actual representation,” had “virtual representation” by virtue of being British subjects.)

Although most of the Townshend duties were eventually repealed in response to colonial protests, the tax on tea remained. However, the amount of the tax on tea was so insignificant that it was hardly worth mentioning. It was the fact that a tax existed at all that was the sticking point. British citizens could not be taxed without the consent of their representatives. Where was the colonies’ representation? Furthermore, the Tea Act gave the British East India Tea Company a monopoly on the tea trade in colonies (bailout), but made British tea cheaper than smuggled alternatives that the colonists had previously relied on during their boycotts of British tea. However, many colonists refused to be manipulated and continued to boycott British tea**

The issue came to a head with the famous Boston Tea Party, when the city of Boston refused to allow three ships from the British East India Tea Company to unload their cargo of tea. The city tried to force the ships to return to Britain without paying the tea tax; the royal governor of Massachusetts refused to allow the ships to leave (it’s believed he wanted to force the issue). On December 16, 1773 (on the eve of the deadline for the first ship to pay its tax), a group of vigilantes boarded the ships and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The act sent a message to Americans and British alike about how colonists felt about being told what to do by the British government without being given a voice of their own and the steps to which they were willing to go to resist.

Britain — King, Parliament and citizens — were not happy. And contrary to current beliefs, most of America was not supportive.

So let’s recap. The colonists’ main complaint: What do you think we are, stupid? We know there’s still a tax on tea. Stop paying lip service to our protests and stop telling us what to do. It was the growing pains of a teenaged colonies.

But the arching overall theme of the colonial protests of the 1770′s was that all of the Parliamentary Acts pressed on the colonies were created by a representative government that was not representative of the colonies. No colony had actual representation in Parliament. This was, as the saying goes, “taxation without representation.”

The Yahoo News Article “Anti-Obama ‘tea party’ protests mark US tax day,” reported:

One of the bigger demonstrations took place in Washington near the White House, where about 1,000 people waved placards including “Stop Big Government” and “Taxation is Piracy.”

“My money is disappearing,” said one protester, Marilyn Henretty 70, a retiree. “We are tired of being taxed without representation.”

Excuse me… what?! Last time I checked, every U.S. citizen 18 and older who is not a convicted felon and has lived in the state they intend to vote in for at least 30 days has the Constitutionally protected right to vote.

Oh, wait. Do you mean that you don’t feel you have representation because your guy lost? Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way.

So for someone to say, “The $787 billion economic stimulus bill President Obama signed in February “was basically shoved down the throat of the American people,” like protester T. J. Welsh said on Wednesday (“Nationwide Tea Party Protests Blast Spending,” CNN.com), is not just their opinion, it’s not factually true. We have this cool system that involves separation of powers as well as checks and balances (Don’t worry, I’m not going to give an American Government lecture, too). What does all this mean? Short version: the majority of our elected representatives have to agree on something for it to happen.

Holy shit, people. Get your facts straight. And stop trying to gain respectability and legitimacy by piggybacking on an emotionally charged bit of American legend.

Thus endeth the lesson.

*For the record, I’m irritated by the protests in the same way the rest of Liberal America is, too.

**Hmmm. I wonder if the current “Tea Party” conservatives would continue their protest at financial expense to themselves. Principles over personal gain? Somehow, I hardly think so.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 grimsaburger April 17, 2009 at 11:26 am

I’m starting the slow clap now. Join me, people.

2 Jen April 17, 2009 at 9:32 pm

A very good lesson indeed! It is like Jaywalking it on the news all the time when they interview people.

3 Jenni April 20, 2009 at 11:28 am

here, here!

4 ragtopday April 20, 2009 at 2:43 pm

This was great!
I actually got an automated phone call inviting to one of the events in my state last week. I hung up before the recording could finish.

5 Laura April 21, 2009 at 4:03 pm

You’re a history buff too!!! ;)

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