But, social festivities aside, the day is, of course, named to commemorate the beginning of the American Revolution, which started with “the shot heard ’round the world” at the Battles of Lexington and Concord, back on April 19, 1775.
As we know (history geeks unite!), those battles were preceded and caused by the all-important Boston Tea Party, which, with the current Tea Party Movement hysteria, has drawn more than its usual share of attention of late. Today’s Tea Party heralds those early patriots for their direct action against overtaxation as the historical genesis of their own anti-taxation, anti-government ideals. But what if those at that original, infamous Boston Tea Party were not protesting against overtaxation, but performing a direct action against corporate tax cuts instead?
“The Tea Act,” states Thom Hartmann, “gave the world’s largest transnational corporation, the British East India Company, the biggest corporate tax break in world history. It was an actual tax refund on millions of pounds of tea they were unable to sell and were holding in inventory, and would have been billions in today’s dollars.”
Why was this so upsetting that it would lead the colonists to “commit a multi-million-dollar (in today’s money) act of vandalism”?
In the fascinating (history geeks unite!) video below, Thom Hartmann explains the largely unknown history of the Tea Party using a first-hand account, Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party, written in 1834 by George R.T. Hewes, who was an actual participating member at that infamous revolution-stirring event, “a survivor of the little band of patriots who drowned the tea in the Boston Harbor in 1773,” as Hewes himself phrased it.
“The East India Company was trying to corner the market,” explains Hartmann. “We imported millions of pounds of tea every year, and most of it was from small American entrepreneurs … And the East India Company wanted to put [them] out of business. And their strategy? Undercut their prices … But the colonists were having none of it.”
As Hewes tells it:
“The East India Company, however, received permission [from King George III] to transport tea free from all duty, from Great Britain to America, allowing it to wipe out its small competitors and take over the tea business in all of America.”
(So much for relying on the “invisible hand” of the free market. Of course, at the time of the Boston Tea Party, it would still be three more years before Adam Smith would publish his free market bible, The Wealth of Nations.)
Leading up to the Boston Tea Party, there were a series of pamphlets penned by an anonymous activist called Rusticus, posted on trees and lampposts and such, urging colonists to “Beware of the East India Company,” as well as another pamphlet, called The Alarm, which is largely attributed to Sons of Liberty superstar (and beer brewer) Sam Adams. Through the distribution of these underground pamphlets (our country’s first use of alternative media?), resistance to the Tea Act was growing, and organized. And the Tea Party was the ultimate expression of this resistance.
In retaliation for the direct action of the Tea Party, the British Parliament closed the port of Boston (with The Port Act), demanding that the colonists reimburse the East India Company for the destroyed tea. But they refused to do so.
A year a a half later, still refusing to reimburse the world’s most powerful corporation, and “the government that supported it,” notes Hartmann, the colonists took up arms against the British at the Battles of Lexington and Concord.
The Boston Tea Party, as Hartmann states plainly, “was a revolt against corporate power and corporate tax cuts.”
If that is true, then what does it suggest about today’s media-darling Tea Party?