Tea Parties: How does 2010 compare … with Boston Harbor, 1773?


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ow much does the Tea Party in the 21st century resemble the original Tea Party of 1773?

Today’s movement draws its name and images from America’s iconic past, attempting to evoke the same spirit of liberty, legitimacy of cause, and revolutionary fervor.

Political movements always try to tap into the collective conscious (and subconscious) through the manipulation of symbols. In this case, how accurate is it? What are the actual similarities.

The original Tea Party followed many acts, some arbitrary and punitive, by what was increasingly seen as a foreign power and occupying force—Great Britain. It followed, for example, the quartering of British soldiers, the so-called Townshend Acts meant to raise revenue and punish the colonists, and the Boston Massacre.

In the wake of the Boston Massacre, writes Brandeis historian David Hackett Fischer, the British Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts and removed troops from Boston. The only tax left was a tiny one meant only as a symbol of British authority—the tea tax.

It was the proverbial camel-back-breaking straw.

Participants in this first Tea Party dressed as Indians and painted their faces with “lamp black and red ochre.” Ever wonder why they masqueraded as Native Americans? It’s because they were the symbol of American freedom at the time. (Note on the 1846 image, above: Nathaniel Currier called it “The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor.”)

The dumping of East Indian tea into the Boston harbor was carefully done. Participants were careful to violate no other laws. A broken lock was replaced, for example, “to demonstrate that their quarrel was not against property or order,” writes Fischer. A person who stole a miniscule amount of tea was severely punished.

Fast forward about 250 years. Now, we have Tea Partiers masquerading as the original Tea Party. Their quarrel is not with an occupying foreign power, one that enacts taxation without representation.

So, tell us: How accurate is it? How much does the Tea Party 2010 resemble the Tea Party 1773?


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