The Boston Tea Party and the Tea Party Movement sound remarkably similar, don’t they? Both claim to reflect instances in history where the people rose as one to object to their daily oppression. While there surely are some common elements between the Boston Tea Party and the Tea Party Movement in America today, there are also enough differences to make some people wince.
From our history books most Americans can be helped to recall that the Boston Tea Party took place in the port city of Boston shortly before the actual outbreak of hostilities between the British and the colonies in the American Revolutionary War. Those who took part were an interesting conglomeration of local toughs, self styled Sons of Liberty and business men.
Together this alliance planned and carried out a raid on British tea sitting in port by dumping more than 200 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Their point was to call attention, on the part of the British government, to conditions that the protesters found oppressive.
To this point there seem to be some real similarities. The American Tea Party appears on the face of it to also be an amalgam of well healed,economically successful citizens with a contingent of lower middle class people who share a common feeling of oppression. Like the men involved in the Boston Tea Party in 1773, this group that formed in 2009 more than 200 years after the Boston Tea Party has also been willing to organize and to spark protests in a variety of locations and to foment action in a previously lethargic electorate.
The Boston Tea Party and the Tea Party Movement however look to divide when one gives more consideration to the cause then to the name. A look at the American Tea Party Website will take you to a banner that affirms the causes of “fiscal responsibility, limited government and free market.” Those disguising themselves to go aboard ships in Boston Harbor to take action against the hated British tea walked behind a different banner.
For the most part in those years before 1776 the idea breaking away from the British or of forming their own union among 13 disparate colonies, that came later. The goal of the Boston Tea Party was to proclaim through action the desire of those living in Boston for some basic respect on the part of the British government. The relationship between the mother country and the colonies was fraying badly because the British government saw the colonies not as an equal partner of the realm but rather as a far away place of lesser status than England who could be taxed at will. After the British had expended large sums of funds and lives during the French and Indian war attempting to maintain British control in the New World they felt at liberty to assess financial recompense through taxation whenever and on whatever seemed to work for them.
From the colonial point of view, there was a growing frustration building because of the lack of responsiveness on the part of the British government. Foremost among colonial complaints were the words found on placards fashioned in the city for “No Taxation Without Representation”. Their argument was certainly partly about the money, of course no one demonstrates to be taxed more! But their deeper frustration was the fact that Britain continued to deny the colonies what they felt they deserved – representation in the House of Commons and a feeling that they stood on an equal footing with the mother country. They wanted to feel represented not ruled over. The limitation they wanted to put on the British government was not absolute, they wanted to be heard and for that right they eventually would go to war.
A look at the American constitution shows clearly that the government that was eventually formed by American colonists established three branches of government. In writing that constitution the article providing for a legislative branch came first as a show of its importance relative to the executive. Specific powers were vested in all three branches and checks and balances were instituted among the three to help reduce the ascendancy of any one branch over the others. Laws including those representing new taxes would come by the will of the people expressed in elections.
While some of the phrases and catch words of the American Tea Party and the prominent display of the flag seem to attempt to connect us back to those heady days when our government was formed, there is a certain disconnect between that political party and the goals of those in Boston Harbor. Both wanted to be heard for sure but the goals of both are hardly the same. The Patriots of 1763 merely wanted representation, the Tea Party of 2009 is living under a government that passes its laws in a representative assembly. The fact that they don’t like the laws or the direction the country moves from time to time has convinced them that it is time to add a political party to the mix, certainly the democratic thing to do. Thing is the Boston Tea Party in 1773 was the first step to establishing exactly the system we have right now – you needn’t look to far to see we do in fact have taxation with representation. Yet this is the same system one Tea Party Members apparently don’t much care for . It may be a small point, but the irony is pretty large for those who choose to see it.