Friday, April 16, 2010

Tea Party or Whiskey Rebellion?

As the Tea Party movement continues to grow all over the nation, I can't help but wonder if they've named themselves for the right historical event.

The original Boston Tea Party was not a protest against the Tea Act and the tax it imposed. It was a protest of the British East India Company being given an exception to the Act, so that it could sell its excess inventory duty-free. You see, many of Boston's enterprising businessmen made some money on the side by smuggling in Dutch tea to escape the tax. The British East India Company was able to undercut the local smugglers. The ship had already been turned away from Philadelphia and New York by irate local entrepreneurs.

Imagine if Wal-Mart obtained a special exemption to Wisconsin's minimum mark-up law for prescription drug sales. Now imagine that a bunch of irate employees of independent pharmacies put on blackface makeup, stormed a Wal-Mart pharmacy, stole its inventory of drugs and dumped them down the storm sewer. That's what the Boston Tea Party was like.

On the other hand, the early history of our nation contained a much more inspiring movement for our modern anti-tax and pro-Second-Amendment activists. In the early days of the United States, the federal government was still struggling to pay the debt from the Revolutionary War. There was no income tax in those days, only consumption taxes (including import tariffs). To raise more revenue, a new tax was levied on the sale of whiskey.

This had a disproportionate effect on poor farmers, particularly on the frontier. Start-up costs for a new farmstead were high (there was all that deforestation to do and the first year's seed to buy). There was also the cost of transporting the grain to market. The only way to turn a profit right away (and make it possible to start a successful farm on the frontier) was to turn your crop into whiskey. The new tax destroyed that profit.

So a bunch of disgruntled farmers took up arms against their new government (in the persons of the tax collectors and mail carriers in the western counties). Washington (the President, not the city) put down the rebellion (which argues against the notion that the Second Amendment, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, gives citizens the right to overthrow the government).

It's really too bad that the teaching of American history has been so dumbed down in recent decades, or maybe Whiskey would be more popular (and populist) than Tea.

5 comments:

Deekaman said...

Call it what you want, Jill, but like the American Revolution, we aren't going away. In spite of all the hate and name-calling, in spite of the lies told about us, in spite of the overwhelming odds, we aren't going away.

Let the hate from other commenters begin.

Ordinary Jill said...

I have a great deal of sympathy for the modern Tea Party movement. However, like the Whiskey Rebellion, I think you are overestimating your level of support and the federal government's level of tolerance.

The Oklahoma wingnut who said the State should raise a new militia to oppose the federal government, for instance, either has no understanding of U.S. history or is just telling the crowd what it wants to hear, knowing himself that it will never happen.

There are some good and thoughtful people speaking at your rallies. There are also liars (Palin) and idiots (Joe the Plumber) who seem to have a disproprotionate level of influence. And the most recent one in Madison was co-opted by Tommy Thompson, who has never supported smaller government.

Ordinary Jill said...

I should clarify that, although I do not share your political philosophies, I think you should have a forum to voice them. That is what I meant by sympathy. I think one-party rule is dangerous, and there needs to be a voice of opposition to keep those in power honest. That voice should not be expressed through tantrums and bullying, however, or no one will take it seriously.

Deekaman said...

So, you also have these same comments for the liars and idiots on the other side? The side that brought bullying to an art? The side that has for 50 years been bullying those of us who believe in the promise that is this country?

I didn't think so.

And you know nothing of the TEA Party movement. I thought better of you.

Ordinary Jill said...

You might remember that I've had nothing but criticism on this blog for PETA and Moveon.org, so it's incorrect to say I don't have the same comments for the idiots and liars on the other side.

You and I seem to be using the term "bullying" to mean different things. You seem to be referring to social pressure to be politically correct in order to avoid accusations of racism as bullying. I'm talking about statements threatening violent revolution. That has not been a feature of the TEA Party movement in Wisconsin, but it has cropped up in some other states (like Oklahoma).