Monday, July 13, 2009

The New Tea Parties: An Overture to Reclaiming Our Lost Freedom

This is an adaptation of an address I will make at the Richmond, Virginia Tea Party on July 25, 2009:

First, some background. On December 16, 1773, Bostonians and other locals roughly dressed as Mohawk Indians, boarded three American merchant vessels in the harbor, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver recently arrived from Britain with 342 chests of tea, and tossed the chests into the harbor. The tea nominally belonged to colonial American consignees, by appointment by the British East India Company (two of them sons of the royal governor, Thomas Hutchinson). The Tea Act of 1773 replaced the repealed Townshend Act duties on other commodities, and gave the East India Company a legal monopoly to hire other merchantmen to take the tea to North America.

The three-pence per pound tax remained on the tea. This tea would have been cheaper than the Dutch tea being smuggled into the colonies, even with the tax, which the colonial American consignees were obliged to pay. Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty put pressure on the consignees to not pay the tax and order the tea back to Britain. Hutchinson, however, persuaded the consignees to stand firm. (His salary was derived from import duties and other taxes.) The customs officer refused to allow the vessels to leave the harbor without paying the duty.

The impasse had to be resolved, one way or another. The Crown or the patriots would need to give in. The Crown’s position was the status quo, and inaction. So the Americans took action, the only action open to them if they were to remain loyal to their convictions: they destroyed the tea as a demonstration that they would not pay the tax or submit to arbitrary Crown authority.

Lord North, prime minister, after receiving news of the Boston Tea Party and the actions of Americans in New York and Philadelphia, was faced with a dilemma linked to that authority: Use it, or lose it. He chose to use it, against the advice of some of his subministers, but in timid concordance with the outrage expressed in Parliament. He endorsed the Coercive Acts; that is, he agreed that reason must be answered with force. Of what use was power, if it were not exercised?

Why did the Americans decide to trespass on the three vessels and destroy their tea cargoes when not only would they not have to pay the tax, but have cheaper tea, even when its retail price would have reflected a small percentage of the tax? Was it a matter, as some historians claim, of the legal, taxed tea underselling the illegal, smuggled tea? Did the patriots act on emotion, or on principle? Did they know, as apparently Lord North did not, that such an action would set in motion a course of events that would lead to war and independence?

Because the consignees were American, and because none of the colonies was represented in Parliament, it was a matter of taxation without representation. However, it was more than a matter of political principle. It was the application of a moral principle. If the colonists sanctioned the tea tax by paying it, it would be an acknowledgement that the Crown had a right to tax them on any commodity or service. The tea was merely a symbol. It could just as well have been any other commodity formerly covered by the repealed Townshend duties: glass, nails, or paint. The colonists did not grant that sanction over their lives. If they recognized the Crown’s authority to tax them, the wisest among the colonists pointed out, that authority could just as well in time be extended over every particular of their lives.

The original Tea Party was a revolt against the power of government to regulate one’s life and dictate how it would be conducted and at what price. It was an affirmation by the colonists that they owned their own lives, and retained the right to delegate necessary political power to their elected representatives. It was an affirmation of the moral principle that no government had a right to dispose of or expropriate one’s property, and, by implication, one’s life. All political principles -- good or bad, pro-freedom, or socialist, or fascist -- are grounded on specific moral principles.

One ostensive difference between the original Tea Party and the Tea Parties of 2009 is that while the Americans who took part in the original Tea Party disguised themselves as Indians to prevent identification by the authorities, we, the new Sons of Liberty, do not disguise ourselves to protect our identities. We dare any authority to take action against us for exercising our First Amendment right to free speech, which includes criticizing our government and accusing it of behaving like George III and Parliament.

The Crown’s response to the Boston Tea Party was to legislate the Coercive or Intolerable Acts as punishment. Today, the current administration, in partnership with Congress, has passed, and continues to pass, a Medusa’s head of acts vastly more extortionate and repressive than the original Coercive Acts, and the Tea Parties have been a response to them.

It is time for Americans to understand that it is not merely a political fight they have on their hands, but a moral one. They must reject the moral code that asks them to live for the sake of other men -- what else could TARP, or the takeover of General Motors, or of the tobacco industry, or of the energy industry, of the insurance industry, or of the health care business mean, but for you to sacrifice your right to your life and your money and property for the sake of others -- and proudly, loudly proclaim the selfish virtue of individual rights, which has been the source of all the wealth and prosperity that we enjoy but which Obama and Congress seek to destroy through socialist redistribution.

Americans must understand that what Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence applies no less today than it did in July of 1776. To paraphrase his eternal words: When a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object -- which is complete control of the economy and our lives -- evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is our right to throw off such government -- or to vote its agents out of office, or to raise such a protest that they dare not act lest they set in motion a similar train of events.

To further paraphrase Jefferson’s words: A prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a tyrant, is unfit to be the president of a free people. Our princely president has repeatedly demonstrated that he is unfit for the office.

Let us not treat this day, or any future Tea Party or any other kind of protest, as just another tea party. Let us solemnly regard it as a chance and a first step to finish the American Revolution, to protest the omnivorous and indiscriminate appetite of federal power to consume everything in its path, to assert the right to our lives and property and futures, to work on a course of action that will ultimately correct the errors present in the Constitution and repeal its freedom-destroying amendments. Americans must act to finish the American Revolution -- before Obama and Congress finish this country.

10 comments:

Burgess Laughlin said...

Brief, informative, and inspiring!

Based only on a very small sampling (Corrections welcome!), I don't expect much good to come from the Tea Party organizations. But there may be individuals in the audience of some events (the ones not dominated by theocrats) who will hear speeches like this and go into other areas of society carrying the best ideas with them.

I hope Ed Cline will report on his personal experiences at the Tea Party he addresses: What are the dangers and opportunities?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we shouldn't expect much from the Tea Party organizations themselves. They are, however, virtually the only venues open to Objectivists to speak out without hinderance (although some odd things are occurring, such as a Rhode Island parade committee disinviting Tea Partiers from future parades for having handed out copies of the Constitution to spectators on July 4th). But, reiterating what I remarked in my New Sons of Liberty piece, it's up to us to win as many reason-oriented individuals as possible to our side, if we care to undertake the task. And a daunting task it is. We are living in a watershed period of the country's history; do we act and speak, or just become armchair Objectivists?

As for the dangers and opportunities, the Tea Parties are virtually our only venues (aside from letters to the editor, blogs, petitions, letters to our political representatives, and the like). As for the dangers, I've no doubt that the DHS (or even the FBI) is monitoring not only blogs such as this one, but taking detailed notes on anyone, Objectivists included, speaking at the Tea Parties and other like events. The choice is: speak out, or let our enemies inside and outside of government win by default through our fear or intimidation.

Ed

Richard said...

Well said as usual. I only have one concern. I think mentioning something as profound as changing the constitution so briefly is a rather sticky situation. I know that if I were someone unfamiliar with Objectivism hearing that would probably raise my concern and make me wonder exactly what the speaker had in mind. There are many other groups who advocate changing the constitution, only for the worse.

Perhaps I'm too concerned with other people confusing your position but I just thought I'd point that out.

Is there any chance someone will be on hand to record the speech for later viewing?

Anonymous said...

Richard: I'm guessing that all the speeches will be recorded. John Lewis is also speaking at the same event, and Paul Saunders is conducting a seminar.

As for amending the Constitution, we have Judge Narragansett (from Atlas Shrugged).

Ed

Andrew E. said...

Ah, if only I could be there on the 25th. In fact, I just might look into it.
I know the Tea Party in Missouri went ok aside from their having moved it 40 minutes outside the city of St. Louis to Washington, MO. This obviously cut way down on attendance as well as visibility, to say nothing of the PR factor, as in, "Oh god,.. it's those small town crazies complaining about the 'feds' again." All told, I believe around 1000 people showed up.
Here's to ten times that amount in Richmond, VA.

Anonymous said...

Ed Cline brings up an important point and connection to the Founders: these tea parties cannot be an end in themselves. They are a link to the next stage in throwing off the yokes and chain. At the Tea Parties, O'ists can sell, to the few who are interested, that in order to change the culture towards freedom, rational understanding of ideas behind collectivism and individualism and the use of logic to arrive at those ideas, is critical.

The Tea Parties are a limited, almost emotional reaction expressing the American sense of life: a revolt against slavery that is being openly foisted upon us. Ad Ed wrote, it's time for those who care to understand explicitly what is being done to us, so they can then fight more effectively FOR reason and freedom. Unless we can get that message "out there", the Tea Parties will be of very limited value.

Roxanne A.

Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

The Tea Party organizations themselves are of limited value. Their greatest value is simply putting the events together.

The most important thing about the Tea Parties is that a lot of different people show up, some of whom are only just waking up to the threats to their Liberty. These are the people you are addressing, not the organizations.

I can't believe what great responses I got talking to people one-on-one at the Albuquerque Tea Party on July 4th. They are thinking. I passed out 5 copies of Atlas Shrugged (to the college-aged students I encountered), and talked about the book with the older adults. I also spent a long time listening to their concerns.

The people who work for a living are afraid. They don't have a context for what is happening to them. I think that the moral basis for liberty and capitalism would give them that context.

Anonymous said...

Ed - sounds great, as I expected. You're unique in this field, maybe be prep'd to go on a little longer if the feedback warrants it.

I've noticed that the reception of shocking ideas (egoism and such) isn't being booed off of the stage at these Tea Parties. Where the hell else in our contemporary swamp is that the case? - djr

Michael Smith said...

Great speech, Ed.

I agree with you that Americans must realize that what they face is primarily a moral fight, not merely a political one. And in my opinion, the most important point they must grasp is the either-or nature of the issue:

Either: Man has a right to exist for his own sake -- and every person is an end in themselves, with each possessing the equal, individual right to their lives, their property and to the pursuit of their own happiness, by means of their own honest effort -- with none having the right to force others to sacrifice for their benefit and none being forced to sacrifice for the sake of others -- and with the purpose of government limited to the protection of these rights.

Or: As Obama insists, “Man is his brother's keeper” -- which means that American’s lives and the fruits of their labors do not belong to them by right, but may be seized by government for purposes of fulfilling whatever “needs” may be claimed by any “brothers” anywhere who clamor to be “kept” -- with, as a consequence, government having the power to do anything it deems necessary to address anyone’s or any group’s alleged “needs”.

Americans must come to understand that there is no middle ground between these two positions -- that those clamoring to be “kept” have unlimited “needs” and will always demand more, no matter what free economic goods and services they are provided -- and that power-hungry politicians anxious to buy their votes will always use these “needs” as a pretext for expanding the power and reach of government over our lives.

For decades, our alleged defenders of capitalism and freedom -- the Republicans -- have sought to evade this issue -- or to compromise on it -- usually under the cover of, ”But we don’t have to go to extremes!” Well, yes, we do -- look where decades of compromise and evasion have gotten us.

Somehow we must convince Americans that if they value their lives and their freedom, they must learn to assert their right to exist for their own sake -- they must take a moral stand and tell Obama and his ilk, “My life belongs to me, not to you, not to the government, and not to any stray, mooching, incompetent, shiftless ‘brother’ who seeks to exist at my expense”. Nothing less has a chance of stopping the final destruction of America.

I realize you know all of this, Ed, and your speech does touch on this issue. But I believe it needs more emphasis. I'm wondering if you can think of a brief-but-effective way to emphasis this point a little more.

Anonymous said...

Michael Smith: I do go a bit further in the speech I'll be giving at the Richmond Liberty 101 Tea Party on July 25, and up to the last minute I'll be polishing and refining it, and then post it again on Rule of Reason (and also Facebook and other venues). I have just listened to John Ridpath's OCON Boston speech, in which he says, more or less, that the American Revolution was never completed (through no fault of the Founders) because it did not have an adequate enough philosophical base, which I mentioned in my New Tea Parties commentary here.

Ed