Barbara Clark Smith, the curator of political history at the National Museum of American History and the author of The Freedoms We Lost: Consent and Resistance in Revolutionary America, has joined the growing cast of historians (which includes Benjamin Carp, the guys at “Backstory,” Jill Lepore, T.H. Breen, Jim Sleeper, and Andrew Shankman) who have questioned the ways that the current tea party movement in American politics has appropriated the history of the Boston Tea Party of 1773.
Smith boils her argument down to five points. I will summarize them below, but you can read them in their entirety here.
1. The Boston Tea Party was not conservative. It was a radical act in which a mob destroyed private property.
2. The participants in the Boston Tea Party opposed the Tea Act, but they did not oppose the idea of government taxation. In fact, New Englanders had a long history of paying taxes for the common good.
3. The participants in the Boston Tea Party opposed wealthy special interests and the tax breaks they received through the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, and Tea Act.
4. The patriots did not hate government. In fact, they believed that government was necessary to regulate economic transactions.
5. The Boston Tea Party was all about the distribution of wealth.
Some things to think about before one links these two movements too closely.
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