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The Tea Party and History: The Mythmakers Go to Work.

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One of my favorite stories about American history is about the original Tea Party, in 1773. It goes like this. The British wanted to find a way to boost the sagging fortunes of the East India Company. The brain trust in the Colonial Office in London came up with a genius idea. Dump cheap Indian tea on the American colonies at a great price, to boost the EIC’s bottom line. The way they decided to do it was to reduce the duty the colonies paid on the tea. That pushed the price down just below the price that American smugglers charged for the Dutch East Indies tea they distributed in America.

Pretty sneaky. But it gets more amusing. The smugglers were enraged. After all this was just another classic example of Britain’s wanton use of its prerogative over the Colonies, who wanted “no taxation without representation” (even if the taxes were, umm, lowered).  The British said they wouldn’t back down and insisted that the tea be shipped. The smugglers took matters into their own hands in Boston Harbor.

Of course, the modern Tea Party are less concerned with Royal prerogative than they are with lower taxes, which are sacrosant. So if they were discussing this in the coffeehouses of Philadelphia and Boston would they have supported the smugglers and their higher prices, or the East India Company and it’s shall we say ‘competitive’ pricing?

Demagogues love history, or at least a simplified, sanitized highly convenient version of it.

The truth about history is never so simple. It’s complicated and full of contradictions, because it’s human just like us.

The Tea Party throws around the Constitution like it’s going out of style (which it should be but won’t). But they don’t even understand that at its core its based on a profound compromise that defined this country until the final blood-letting of the Civil War. They support the document as if it’s set in stone, but conveniently ignore the fact that it was built to be updated, and has been 27 times.

The Tea Party is making a very solid bet that the people won’t actually take the time to scrutinize the history and constitutional law they supposedly hold so dear. And they’re right. People don’t want history, they want myths or partial historical truths that fit into their world-views.

It’s incredibly difficult to combat the impressionistic power of the “Mythmakers”, and it won’t be the first time that American history has been whitewashed and molded for propaganda purposes, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic and debilitating for our public discourse.


Written by coolrebel

January 29, 2011 at 12:02 am

The Truth About The Boston Tea Party

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Cheaper Tea! How Dare You!!

Americans are “mythmakers”. There’s nothing they love better than discarding the inconvenient bits of a story to fit their purpose, whether that purpose is to sell mattresses or glorify the nation’s founding.

A classic example of this is The Boston Tea Party of 1773. Indeed, so central a story is it in American Folklore that it’s the inspiration for the ‘party’ of the same name, currently running amok in American political life. The Tea Party believes in lower taxes, and cutting the deficit (go figure), and one of its favorite banner quotations is “No Taxation Without Representation”, which just happened to be a big favorite around the time of the orginal Boston Tea Party.

What today’s three-cornered hat wearing nutters don’t realize is that the use of the term “No Taxation Without Representation” was a rather convenient cover for what the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was really about.  To explain why requires a brief overview of something which people pay little attention to these days. History.

It kind of goes like this. The British government in the early 1770s were more than a little upset about the parlous state of the East India Company which was losing market share worldwide. So it came up with an ingenious idea. It would dump EIC tea on its colonies, the richest of which were the American Colonies. The way it would do this was via the Tea Act, which lowered the tea duties colonies would have to pay on EIC tea. Yes, that’s right, lowered.

Needless to say, American Tea Smugglers were not at all happy having the price of their smuggled Dutch tea undercut by the nasty old English tea, so they raised a rumpus about it when the Tea ships arrived in various American harbors along the Eastern Seaboard. The Massachusetts governor was the most intransigent on the subject, so the smugglers took it upon themselves to right the ship, so to speak, and dumped the EIC tea in Boston harbor, thereby insuring that the average American consumer would continue to pay more for their tea.

To cover for this blatant act of price fixing, the smugglers wrapped themselves in the “No taxation without representation” moniker, conveniently noting that the phrase made no reference to raising or lowering taxes, just the right to raise them at all. But not all the Founding Fathers were quite so delirious about this brainstorm. Among them, Ben Franklin, offered to have the colonies repay the British for the lost tea (a considerable sum). He was turned down, and the dispute continued to fester.

So next time, you hear a Tea Party supporter complaining that his taxes are way too high, remember that his brave namesakes back in 1773, were actually complaining that the taxes were too, ahem, low.

Ah, those “mythmakers”. You gotta love ’em.

Written by coolrebel

November 4, 2010 at 4:15 am