Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A decorous Tea Party

Some time ago, discussing the right-wing Tea Party enthusiasts, I made the off-hand comment that in contrast to the modern movement, the real Tea Party was well organized. (This, of course, was well before any of us knew the results of the midterm election. Oh, well.)

Anyway, I've since learned a few more details about how organized the original Tea Party really was.

The local Boston Committee of Correspondence and Safety - one of many such groups throughout the colonies that organized resistance to Great Britain and actually were in charge as war broke out - decided that tea delivered under the Tea Act must not be unloaded. When a ship carrying such tea arrived in the harbor, the committee asked the ship's American owner - in no uncertain terms - to have it sail back to England with the tea. The owner reluctantly agreed to ask British authorities if he could do that. He was turned down.

A week or two later, on Dec. 16, 1973, people dressed as Indians (to symbolically represent the whole of "America" to Europeans) took action while an estimated 8,000 others watched from the shore. The "Indians" told the ship's captain that no one would be harmed, and that only the tea would be destroyed. They meant it. The tea was to be tossed into the harbor, not stolen. No other property - other cargo, the captain's or crew's possessions - were to be disturbed. Private property was to honored. In fact, when the "Indians" broke a padlock in the process of getting to the tea, they quickly replaced it with a new one.

After the event - 342 barrels over the side - there were no riots or raucous celebrations. The thousands of participants and watchers simply went home. This was a carefully controlled protest.

In the spring of 1774, Parliament responded by passing the so-called "Intolerable Acts" that shut down the harbor vital to Boston's economy, suspended local colony government, renewed the quartering of British troops in colonial homes, and more. So much for a peaceful resolution. Next, a year later, came Lexington and Concord.

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