Tea Parties – Same Song, Second Verse
America’s first Tea Party in 1773 was not an act of wanton lawlessness but rather a deliberate protest against heavy-handed government and excessive taxation. 1 Its leaders took great care to ensure that nothing but tea was thrown overboard – no other items were damaged. The “Indians” even swept the decks of the ships before they left. 2
Tea Parties occurred not only in Boston but also in numerous other locales. 3 And those who participated were just ordinary citizens expressing their frustration over a government that had refused to listen to them for almost a decade. Their reasonable requests had fallen on deaf ears. Of course, the out-of-touch British claimed that the Tea Parties were lawless and violent, 4 but such was not the case.
Interestingly, in many ways, today’s Tea Parties parallel those of long ago. But rather than protesting a tax on tea, today they are protesting dozens of taxes represented by what they call the Porkulus/Generational Theft Act of 2009 (officially called the “American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Act”). For Tea Party members (and for most Americans), that act and the way it was passed epitomizes a broken system whose arrogant leaders often scorn the concerns of the citizens they purport to represent.
Tea Party folks agree with the economic logic of our Founders.
- “To contract new debts is not the way to pay off old ones.” 5 “Avoid occasions of expense…and avoid likewise the accumulation of debt not only by shunning occasions of expense but by vigorous exertions…to discharge the debts.” 6 GEORGE WASHINGTON
- “Nothing can more [affect] national credit and prosperity than a constant and systematic attention to…extinguish the present debt and to avoid as much as possible the incurring of any new debt.” 7 ALEXANDER HAMILTON
- “The maxim of buying nothing but what we have money in our pockets to pay for lays the broadest foundation for happiness.” 8 “The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” 9 THOMAS JEFFERSON
These are not radical positions – nor are the others set forth in the Tea Party platform – that Congress should: (1) provide the constitutional basis for the bills it passes; (2) reduce intrusive government regulations; (3) balance the budget; (4) limit the increase of government spending to the rate of population growth; (5) and eliminate earmarks unless approved by 2/3rds of Congress. 10 Are these positions dangerous or extreme? Certainly not. In fact, polling shows that Americans support these Tea Party goals by a margin of two-to-one. 11
Citizens are angry about the current direction of government. As John Zubly, a member of the Continental Congress in 1775, reminded the British: “My Lord, the Americans are no idiots, and they appear determined not to be slaves. Oppression will make wise men mad.” 12 But does that anger automatically equate to violence? Of course not. It does equate to action, however; but instead of throwing tea overboard, modern Tea Parties are throwing out-of-touch politicians from both parties overboard.
The Tea Parties represent much of what is right in America – citizens reacquainting themselves with the Constitution and holding their elected officials accountable to its standards. Two centuries ago, Daniel Webster could have been talking to today’s Tea Party rallies when he said: “Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster and what has happened once in 6,000 years may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution!” 13
1. George Bancroft, History of the United States of America (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888), Vol. III, pp. 443-447. (Return)
2. George Bancroft, History of the United States of America (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888), Vol. III, pp. 456-457; “Facts You May Not Know about the Tea Party,” Boston Tea Party Historical Society (at: http://www.boston-tea-party.org/unknown-facts.html) (accessed on July 21, 2010). (Return)
3. George Bancroft, History of the United States of America (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888), Vol. III, p. 457 (Philadelphia, NY, SC). (Return)
4. George Bancroft, History of the United States of America (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1888), Vol. III, p. 460. (Return)
5. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1940), Vol. 37, p. 177, letter to James Welch, April 7, 1799. (Return)
6. George Washington, The Writings of George Washington, John C. Fitzpatrick, editor (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 1939), Vol. 35, p. 230, Farewell Address, September 19, 1796. (Return)
7. Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton, Harold C. Syrett, editor (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966), Vol. XI, pp. 140-141. (Return)
8. Thomas Jefferson, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew A. Lipscomb, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. VI, p. 188, letter to Mr. Skipwith, July 28, 1787. (Return)
9. Thomas Jefferson, Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew A. Lipscomb, editor (Washington, D.C.: The Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association, 1904), Vol. XV, p. 23, letter to John Taylor, May 28, 1816. (Return)
10. “Contract From America,” TeaParty365.com, April 10, 2010 (at: http://www.teaparty365.org/contract-from-america). (Return)
11. See, for example, “Tea Party 48%, Obama 44%,” Rasmussen Reports, April 5, 2010 (at: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/april_2010/tea_party_48_obama_44); “Most Say Tea Party Has Better Understanding of Issues than Congress,” Rasmussen Reports, March 28, 2010 (at: http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/general_politics/march_2010/most_say_tea_party_has_better_understanding_of_issues_than_congress). (Return)
12. William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit; or Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen or Various Denominations (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1858), Vol. 3, p. 221. (Return)
13. Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 108th Congress, Second Session (Washington, D.C.: United States Government Printing Office, 2004), Vol. 150, p. 17247, Representative Franks quoting Daniel Webster, July 22, 2004. (Return)