Monday, July 20, 2009

The Original Tea Party and Ours: Where the Parallels Stop

This is an expanded version of my original New Tea Parties post of July 13, and is the text of an address I will give at the Richmond, Virginia, Liberty 101 Tea Party on July 25.

Ladies, gentlemen, Americans: I am here today to shed some light on parallels between the original Tea Party and ours -- and where the parallels stop.

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 The Tea Act of 1773 replaced the repealed Townshend Act duties on other commodities, and gave the East India Company a legal monopoly to hire other merchantmen to take the tea to North America.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. Governor 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 cargos 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, as the wisest among the colonists pointed out, that authority could just as well in time be extended over every particular of their lives.

Here the parallels end.

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.

Too many Americans today have forgotten that, or never learned it. They want a government that regulates their lives and ensures their well-being by enslaving others. They believe you have a duty to allow yourself to be enslaved for their sakes. They believe the government has a right or a duty to enslave you and everyone else for their sakes.

Another 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.

There are Americans, in and out of political office, who would rather we shut up, or they will silence us. Democrats are reaching into their magic bag of dirty tricks to shut up or sideline our Tea Parties. They do this with the cooperation of most of the mainstream news media. Well, as one national Tea Party organizer noted: The Internet is the new mainstream news media.

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. The Tea Parties have been a proper response to them. But remember that this orgy of legislation is only being piled on top of coercive acts passed by Congress over the last one hundred years.

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, altruism, 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. Americans must 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 today 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 magnitude of 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. And he is only the most recent in a long line of presidents who have demonstrated that unfitness.

There is another reason why the parallels divide between the original Tea Party and our own. The Founders did not pretend to have all the answers. They performed an astounding feat of political thought and action based on the received wisdom of the time. They left for future generations the task of correcting their admitted errors and doubts.

We, however, know what those errors and doubts were, and the solution to them. As every statist or totalitarian regime that ever existed was based on Plato’s view that men were just atoms in a collectivist state and who owed their existence to others, a fully consistent philosophy of reason exists that sanctions individual rights and man‘s existence for his own sake. That philosophy is Ayn Rand’s Objectivism. The Founders did not have the benefit of her advice. We have.

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 think and act to finish the American Revolution -- before Obama and Congress finish this country, as they are determined to do.

Thank you.

4 comments:

TJWelch said...

One suggestion of style: the following sentence may come off sounding a bit convoluted when delivered orally:

Why did the Americans decide to trespass on the three vessels and destroy their tea cargos 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?

You may want to consider splitting it up into two sentences, e.g., "...destroy their tea cargos? After all, had they not..." etc.

Edward Cline said...

TJWelch: Thanks for the advice. I'll be reading partly from the text, and improvising as I go.

Ed

Anonymous said...

The tea parties of our day were a chance for angry white people to get together and complain about an election they lost to a generation they won't be able to catch up to.

Michael Garrett said...

(Anonymous's inanity is a nice example of the anti-conceptual mentality.)

Well, Ed, how was it received?

And is there video?