Bob’s Factoid-Free* Potpourri
Boston Tea Party
excerpt from the January 28, 2005 BuzzFlash “Is Wal-Mart a Person? Thom
Hartmann Tells Why It Is -- Kind of -- But Not Really” interview. The
entire interview can be found at the URL following the excerpt.] :
BuzzFlash: You overturn some interesting misconceptions about the Boston Tea Party. Can you explain what the Boston Tea Party was really about and what it shows about the revolutionaries’ attitudes toward large multinational commercial enterprises that were intertwined with the British government?
Thom Hartmann: Sure. This was a particularly fascinating one for me. When I started writing Unequal Protection, it was the result of having spent about four years reading the letters and personal writings of Thomas Jefferson. I wanted to talk about the Founders’ and the Framers’ vision for this new nation they were bringing into being. And Jefferson noted a few times “that incident in the Boston harbor,” which triggered the general insurrections in Boston, the Boston Massacre, and the whole chain of events that led to the Declaration of Independence.
It wasn’t called the Boston Tea Party until the 1830s, after Jefferson had died. Anyhow, I wanted to know more about it, so I went off in search of a good book on the topic. What I found was there were really no good modern books in print, at least that I could find, examining the Tea Party. Most were just children’s books, and terribly inaccurate. Part of this was probably because the participants had all sworn a 50-year oath of silence, and none survived to tell the tale but one. Which is what led me to find, rather serendipitously in an obscure antiquarian bookstore, a copy of “Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party with a Memoir of George R.T. Hewes, a Survivor of the Little Band of Patriots Who Drowned the Tea in Boston Harbor in 1773,” printed in Oswego, New York by S. S. Bliss in 1834.
In this book, Hewes, who was a teenager at the time of the Tea Party (which he named in 1834), tells that the whole point of this million-dollar (in today’s terms) act of vandalism was to protest a tax cut—a corporate tax break—that the British had given to the East India Company, which would allow it to unfairly compete with and wipe out the thousands of small entrepreneurial tea importers and tea shops that dotted the colonies.
I’d thought I remembered from school that the Tea Act of 1773 was a tax increase, so I had to check the Encyclopedia Britannica, which, sure enough, said that the Tea Act was a tax cut. So what the colonists were protesting was the principle of taxation without representation, but what they meant was what today would be termed “tax breaks for multinational corporations while the average person gets screwed.”
Anyhow, I was so transfixed by Hewes’ account, which had remained hidden since 1834 -- the book was apparently published by a little local press in his hometown—that I reprinted a good chunk of it, which is still eminently and brilliantly readable, in Unequal Protection.
(Disclaimer and Fair Use)