The US ‘Tea Party’ takes its name from the famous ‘Boston Tea Party’ of 1773, when hundreds of crates of Indian tea on British ships were dumped into Boston harbour by American colonial rebels. However, a common misunderstanding is that this event was a protest about high taxes. It was not. The reason for the anger was that the British had actually cut the tax on imported tea. This meant that American smugglers and merchants dealing in tea supplied by Dutch ships were going to be put out of business because their product would soon be selling at a higher price than the new imports of Indian tea!
It is true that the American settlers were also indignant about rules being changed without consulting them – ‘no taxation without representation’ - and about to whom the British would give legal rights for importing tea. Yet the relevant point is that the claimed forebears of today’s ‘Tea Party’ in the US Congress were smugglers and dealers threatened by changes in the global economy. It is this that makes the name more apt than its members will realise.
Back in the late 18th century, history was on their side. Today’s tide of reaction will find success much more elusive as the US struggles over its own bankruptcy.
Tony Norfield, 1 August 2011
 See ‘The Real US Debt Crisis’, 26 July 2011 on this blog for details. The article ‘Anti-Bank Populism’, 5 July 2011, also explains how the build up of debt was due to the crisis of low profitability.