David and Tim Barton: The Boston Tea Party was not a “riot.” Don’t you know they called it a “party?”


Thousands of white evangelicals get their history from David Barton (founder) and Tim Barton (president) of an organization called Wallbuilders.

In light of the recent peaceful protests and riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Bartons want to make sure that white evangelicals think that the birth of the United States was not violent. We addressed this false claim here.

If the Boston Tea Party was a happy little “tea party,” and not an act of vandalism, the Bartons can make the case that the Floyd protests and riots were somehow outside the mainstream of American history, especially the American founding. This attempt to manipulate the American past to fit a pro-Trump, pro-Christian Right agenda is evident in a recent article, published at the Wallbuilders website, titled “Was the Tea Party a Riot?

Here is the opening argument:

Peaceful protestors [sic] have marched around the country to demand justice. However, in the midst of justified outrage some people have themselves begun committing unjustifiable acts, assaulting and murdering police officers, burning down buildings, mercilessly beating people, and destroying their fellow citizens’ property. Out of town activists and professional agitators have poured into metropolitan centers and led rioters to destroy businesses, housing units, and even churches.

In defense of these heinous acts, some people have begun pointing to the Boston Tea Party as an example of how violent riots are part of American tradition. This historical perspective, however, is only possible if you don’t know the first thing about the Boston Tea Party, who was involved, and why it happened.

The piece is riddled with historical problems. For example, the Bartons do not seem to know that the Tea Act did not raise the price of tea in the colonies, nor was it a tax. They make several appeals to 19th century American history textbooks and pull random quotes from these textbooks that fail to advance their arguments. It almost seems like they are pulling these quotes just so they can add another footnote to the article in order to give the impression that the piece is well-researched. They fail to engage any of the best scholarship on the tea party and their primary sources are taken out of context.

Finally, their historical analogy doesn’t make sense. Those who carried out the Boston Tea Party were vandals. They destroyed someone else’s property. Isn’t this what some of the rioters did in the wake of the Floyd murders? It was wrong in 1776 and it’s wrong in 2020.

The Barton’s conclude:

The situation in American today is entirely different. Respect and decency are not being shown to innocent people or business owners. The current riots are like a destructive tornado set on destroying everything in its path.

Peaceful protests are protected by the Bill of Rights, but violent riots which destroy, loot, and victimize are antithetical to the American idea. The comparison of the violent riots to the Boston Tea Party is wildly unfounded and demonstrates that Americans should study their history before they try to weaponize it.

Perhaps the Bartons should read Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Stacy Schiff‘s recent New York Times piece “The Boston Tea Party Was More Than That. It Was a Riot.”  Here is a taste:

Several years later, after long December days of town meetings, after endless speeches and equally protracted negotiations, over a thousand colonists headed, early on a damp evening, to Griffin’s Wharf. Three hundred and forty-two troublesome chests of East India tea sat aboard the ships on which they had sailed from England. Hatches were opened, holds entered, chests hoisted on deck. In a few hours, every leaf of tea steeped in Boston Harbor. By 9 p.m. the town was still. Boston had not known a quieter night for some time.

No one was hurt. No gun was fired. No property other than the tea was damaged. The perpetrators cleaned up after themselves. In the aftermath, the surgical strike was referred to plainly as “the destruction of the tea.” To the indignant Massachusetts governor, it constituted nothing less than a “high handed riot.”

He had a point: There is a difference between burning a draft card or toppling a statue and tossing someone else’s goods overboard. This was an assault on property rather than on a symbol. Expertly choreographed, it qualified as a blatant act of vandalism. It was difficult to dress up, though John Adams would privately declare the dumping of the tea the grandest event since the dispute with Britain had begun. He thought it sublime.

To the occupiers it proved to be a particular mortification. The king demanded an immediate prosecution. It did not seem too much to ask: After all, thousands had watched the tea rain into the water, even if only several dozen men had actually boarded the ships. No one, however, seemed to have seen a thing. In all of Boston only one witness could be found — and he refused to testify unless transported out of the colony.

The patriots swabbed the decks afterward and history reciprocated, turning a riot into a tea party. The tidying is necessary to the exercise. The acts of defiance are meant to shine as sterling symbols of patriotism. Over time they take refuge under their principles: We prefer to remember not that we were making a mess but that we were making a point. In a protest movement, we like to be able to distinguish the villains. Or as Samuel Adams put it after what he was never to know as the Boston Tea Party: “Our enemies must acknowledge that these people have acted upon pure and upright principle.”

Read the rest of the piece here.

Wilfred McClay on Historical Monuments


Whether you agree or disagree with him, Wilfred McClay is always thoughtful. If I see his byline at First Things or another conservative outlet, I will always read the article. As one of America’s best conservative historians (not a historian of conservatism, a historian who is politically and intellectually conservative), and a winner of the prestigious Merle Curti Award, he plays an important role in public discourse.

I always learn something from Bill, as I did last Fall when we spent a couple of hours chatting in the Chattanooga airport.  (We talked about a lot of things as we waited for our flights–mostly small talk– but I distinctly remember his suggestion that we should think of the word “evangelical” more as an adjective [as in “evangelical Christian”] than a noun. I am still thinking that one over). I remember when Bill visited Messiah College in 2003 to deliver our American Democracy Lecture and, as a member of the board of the National Endowment for the Humanities, gave us some tips about how to get funding for our Center for Public Humanities. (We eventually landed an NEH grant to create the Center). I have long considered him a mentor and he has always been supportive of my career.

I am a bit embarrassed that I had to preface this post in this way, but I felt it was necessary because I am guessing a lot of people who read this blog are going to be upset with his recent piece at First Things, a short reflection on what is happening right now with American monuments.  Some may also get upset about my thoughts at the end of the post.

A taste:

But I think the most disturbing aspect of this episode, which perhaps indicates how deep our societal rot goes, has less to do with the rioters than with those in positions of authority. Rioters and miscreants we will always have, but that is why we have authorities. Ours, however, seem to have utterly abdicated. In city after city, mayors and governors decline to act against vandals, the police stand down, and the devil is allowed to take the hindmost. Corporations fall over themselves to advertise their virtuousness, and give what looks very much like protection money to organizations whose goals are openly subversive of the fundamental American political and social order. University administrators are all too willing to side with those who suppress free inquiry, and routinely cave to protestors rather than defend even the most fundamental tenets of academic freedom. 

The pulling down of statues, as a form of symbolic murder, is congruent with the silencing of dissenting opinion, so prevalent a feature of campus life today. In my own academic field of history, it is entirely of a piece with the weaponizing of history, in which the past is regarded as nothing more than a malleable background for the concerns of the present, and not as an independent source of wisdom or insight or perspective.

Those caught up in the moral frenzy of the moment ought to think twice, and more than twice, about jettisoning figures of the past who do not measure up perfectly to the standards of the present—a present, moreover, for which those past figures cannot reasonably be held responsible. For one thing, as the Scriptures warn us, the measure you use is the measure you will receive. Those who expect moral perfection of others can expect no mercy for themselves, either from their posterity or from the rebukes of their own inflamed consciences. 

But there is a deeper reason. It is part of what it means to be a civilized human being—it is in fact an essential feature of civilization itself—to recognize the partiality of all human achievement, and to cherish it and sustain it no less for that partiality. 

Read the entire piece here.

There is a lot to agree with in McClay’s analysis. I think McClay’s thoughts on Jefferson and his monuments echo the ideas I am hearing from Annette Gordon-Reed, Manisha Sinha, and Sean Wilentz.

Let’s also remember that McClay is writing in a Christian magazine. If we take Christianity seriously, we must reckon with McClay’s suggestion (I am not sure how he can know this for sure) that those who tear down monuments are motivated by “pure and unmitigated hate.” It does seem that one can be morally correct about a particular social cause, and still respond to such a matter in a manner defined by “pure and unmitigated hate.” I struggle with this on a daily basis as I write about Donald Trump. I have had to do a lot of confessing of sins in the last four years and have tried to distinguish between a legitimate, Christian-based, critique of Trump and his court evangelicals and the kind of angry rhetoric that is not good for my spiritual life or the spiritual lives of others. I have found that prayer–for Donald Trump and his administration, for the evangelical church, and for the best way to strike an appropriate prophetic voice– is often an antidote to this kind of anger. But I’m not always good at it.

McClay’s remarks about the white privilege enjoyed by the middle-class, suburban, college-educated students engaged in some of the violence is also on the mark. There seems to be white privilege on both sides of our current conversation on race in America. I wish these young people would be more thoughtful.

Finally, McClay writes, “In my own academic field of history, it [the tearing down of monuments] is entirely of a piece with the weaponizing of history, in which the past is regarded as nothing more than a malleable background for the concerns of the present, and not as an independent source of wisdom or insight or perspective. Here I think McClay is half-right.

As I argued in Why Study History, we need to understand the past in all its fullness in order to make sense of the complexity of the human experience. I am largely talking here about the classroom, where I teach American history as if all voices matter. Please don’t get me wrong. Yes, Black lives matter. I am disgusted when I hear the political Right screaming “all lives matter” as a way of avoiding tough conversations on racial injustice, systemic racism, and the experience of African Americans. Responding to the phrase “black lives matter” with the phrase “all lives matter” represents a failure to address the pain and suffering of Black men and women in this particular moment. It is reprehensible. Anyone who reads this blog knows where I stand on this, so I ask you to think about my words here as part of my larger body of work.

But when I teach history, especially when I do broad sweeps in a survey class, I am charged with telling the story of the United States. In this sense, my students must be exposed to all American lives. They must encounter these lives in their context, and in all their complexity, even if it makes them (and I am talking about white students and students of color here) uncomfortable. We can’t erase the past. We must confront it.

Yet, I also believe that historians can and must use the past, and especially historical thinking, to speak to the present. I tried to do this in Believe Me. As I have said before, I have never understood Believe Me to be part of the same historical genre as The Way of Improvement Leads Home, The Bible Cause, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? (to an extent), or the book on the American Revolution that I am currently writing. But there are times when historians must speak to current events by teaching us how we got to a particular moment in the present. And once they understand their subjects thoroughly and empathically, there is a place for moral critique. This, of course, may require getting political. As I recently told a friend, I have spent much of my career trying to understand conservative evangelicals. My critique is rooted in over two decades of historical work.

And finally, let’s talk about “law and order.” As I argued in Believe Me, it is hard to understand this phrase without thinking about racial unrest in America. Nixon used it as a dog-whistle to win votes among white voters. Trump uses it in the same way. And let’s recall that the tearing down of monuments, riots in the streets, and destruction of property are as as old as the American republic.

McClay gives us a lot to think about here. When does government intervene to stop the destruction of property? How much is too much? Where do we draw the line between law and order on the one hand, and racial injustice on the other?

One of the best ways to do this, I have found, is to think historically. The years leading-up to the American Revolution were very violent. After the revolution, when the Whiskey rebels rose-up in Western Pennsylvania, George Washington sent out the army to crush the rebellion. Martin Luther King Jr. protested peacefully. Other American reformers, like John Brown, did not. There debates between law and order on the one hand, and American protest on the other, are not new. Go listen to the Hamilton soundtrack or watch it next week on Disney+.

And what should Christians think? Was the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor in December 1773 justified? Is destruction of someone else’s property ever right? What about pouring hot tar on peoples’ skin, covering them with feathers, and parading them through the streets? What about our moral responsibility as the church to speak truth to power and disobey unjust laws–codes that are out of harmony with the moral law for God?  Sometimes these questions do not have easy answers. But are we even asking them?

The Bachelorette and American History

Brown Bacjelorette

OK, I confess, I put the word “Bachelorette” in the title of this post just to garner a lot of hits. 🙂

But as an American historian I can’t pass up the opportunity to call your attention to Hannah Brown’s confusion.  Here is Emily Jashinsky at The Federalist:

“I don’t know much about Boston except that they threw a bunch of tea in some body of water.” So said Hannah Brown, ABC’s “Bachelorette” in residence, on Monday night’s episode.

“There was a chant, what was it?” she continued, searching her memory for scraps of Revolutionary-era history. “No taxation… No (sic) represation… No representation. No. No… without taxation. No taxation without representation!”

“Is that right?” a producer asked.

“I don’t know, I feel like it’s close,” Hannah replied, before proceeding to give one of her suitors a tour of Boston guided by purposefully bad facts like “Paul Revere invented the bike.”

Read the rest here.

But let’s also remember that this is The Federalist.  As a result, Ms. Jashinsky can’t help but lament our lack of historical knowledge.  I think someone needs to listen to Sam Wineburg in Episode 52 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

My Piece on the Greenwich Tea Burning at the Omohundro Institute Blog


Check out my piece on the Greenwich Tea Burning at Uncommon Sense, the blog of the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.  The post accompanies “The Politics of Tea,” episode 160 of Ben Franklin’s World and part of the Doing History 2: To the Revolution! series.  Learn more here.

A taste:

In 1772, Philip Vickers Fithian, a twenty-four year old graduating senior at the College of New Jersey at Princeton, delivered his commencement disputation on the topic, “political jealousy is a laudable passion.” The disputation echoed the words of John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon’s Cato’s Letters. It distinguished between “domestic and ecclesiastical jealousies,” which were harmful to the kind of Christian morality essential to sustaining a republican government, and “political” jealousy, which Fithian described as “rational, uniform, and necessary.” The truly “jealous” citizen kept a careful and virtuous watch on his government leaders to guard against vice and corruption. Political jealousy served as a unifying force. Fithian said that it had the “natural tendency” to “unite people” around interests closely associated with the preservation of a political community. Two years later, Fithian would witness political jealousy in action among the patriots of his hometown, the small hamlet of Greenwich, New Jersey.

Greenwich is located on the Cohansey River about six miles from the Delaware Bay. In the eighteenth century it served as an official British customs port, albeit not a very busy one. Sometime in the second week of December 1774 a brig—local lore identifies it as the Greyhound—docked at John Shepherd’s river landing. It carried East Indian tea. Fithian, who had just spent a year working as a tutor on Robert Carter III’s Nomini Hall plantation on the Northern Neck of Virginia, was in town when the Greyhound arrived. He knew that these were not ordinary times and the Greyhound, because of its cargo, was no ordinary ship.

Read the rest here.

The Beast of Boston Harbor

Boston 1775 is running a post today on this 1770s engraving.  It is entitled “British Troops Barricade Boston Harbor Against the Beast from the Unknown.” I believe it is a doctored version of the original.

You can buy a copy for $20.00 through Etsy.  Here is the description:

A handsome 11 x 17 print that is suitable for framing. Comes with this description: “European artist Franz Xaver Habermann created this engraving sometime in the early 1770s. It shows the early days of Boston Harbor and is designed to emulate the feel of a typical European city and create sympathy for the colonies. Adding to a viewer’s feelings of empathy is the appearance of the Beast of Boston Harbor, who regularly ravaged the residents of the town. The Beast was eventually dispatched with the dumping of hundreds of pounds of tea into the harbor by intrepid citizens who correctly surmised that the bitterness of the leaves would drive the creature away. Unfortunately this “Tea Party” was seen as a revolutionary act by the British troops, which led to some degree of unpleasantness.”

Benjamin Carp: Boy Wonder

Congratulations to Benjamin Carp, friend of  The Way of Improvement Leads Home, who was recently chosen as a “Top Young Historian” by the History News Network.  Since receiving his Ph.D from the University of Virginia in 2004, Carp has published two excellent books: Rebels Rising: Cities and the American Revolution (Oxford, 2007) and Defiance of the Patriots:  The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America (Yale 2010).

And the guy is only 34 years old!!

I look forward to reading many more important historical works from Mr. Carp, but in the meantime, here is a recent talk that he gave on Defiance of the Patriots, at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.

Gordon Wood’s Review of Jill Lepore’s Recent Book

I do not subscribe to the New York Review of Books.  As a result, I cannot read Gordon Wood’s review of Jill Lepore’s The White of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History in its entirety. But from what I have been able to read, it is clear that Wood does not like the book.  He accuses Lepore of mocking Americans for turning to the founders for political guidance in the present.

Note: I finished Lepore’s book last month and enjoyed it, but I have not had the time to write anything intelligent about it yet. 

J.L. Bell of Boston 1775 has started a Facebook page dedicated to discussing this review.  William Hogeland of Hysteriography has also entered the fray, calling Wood’s review “fantastically, even goofily, unfair.”

I need to read this review.  I am actually tempted to shell out the six bucks the NYRB is asking for access.

Another Attempt to Compare the Modern Tea Party to the Boston Tea Party

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.

Boston 1775 on the Lyme Tea Party

I learned about another eighteenth-century “tea party” today.  Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell investigates what may be the first use of the word “tea party” to describe the revolutionary-era destruction of East India Tea.  Apparently a group of patriots in Lyme, CT destroyed a shipment of 58 boxes of tea in March 1774, about four months after the famed Boston Tea Party.

These kind of copy-cat were not unusual.  As some of my readers know, I have been piddling away on a book about a similar event that happened in December 1774 in the south Jersey town of Greenwich.

But what is unusual is the fact that this event was referred to by the residents of Lyme as a “tea party” as early as 1805. According to most historians, the destruction of British tea in response to the Tea Act was not called a “tea party” until the 1830s.

The event in Greenwich has always been called a “tea burning” (because they burned the tea and did not dump it in the river), but there is no reference (after the event occurred in 1774) to the event in any extant writings–public or private– until 1839.  (Actually, it was referred to as a “tea party” in the 1870s.  A group of Victorian women sponsored a literal “tea party” in order to raise funds to help promote the Philadelphia Centennial and they used the event in Greenwich as a way to get local residents to contribute).

For the Boston Tea Party Fan in Your Life…

December 16 is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.  Over at Boston 1775, J.L. Bell gives us a host of things to watch in preparation for the event.  His list includes online lectures by Benjamin Carp, Amanda Lange, Russell Bourne, Robert Allison, Charles Bahne, Ray Raphael, Jonathan Chu, and Jill Lepore.

Bell concludes: “All told, I estimate, this posting has a full working day of video to watch.”


Attention Graduate Students: Read Tea and Antipathy: A Bibliographic Supplement

Last night we did a post on Caleb Crain’s New Yorker essay, “Tea and Empathy: Did Principle or Pragmatism Start the American Revolution?”

Today at Crain’s blog, “Steamboats Are Ruining Everything,” you can find his bibliographic supplement to the piece.  I would encourage everyone to look at this suipplement, but if you are a graduate student in American history who needs to know something about the historiography of the American Revolution in Boston (not much here on the mid-Atlantic or the south) this is a must read.

Tea, the American Revolution, and Some New Books

The New Yorker is running a piece, written by Caleb Crain, entitled Tea and Empathy: Did Principle or Pragmatism Start the American Revolution?

Crain concludes:

In the mid-twentieth century, historians trying to make sense of the paranoid style in American Revolutionary politics suggested that it derived from essayists on the fringe of the Whig Party in England who saw themselves as heirs of the men who had launched the English Civil War. Though marginal in England, these conspiracy theories seemed cogent in America, where colonists lived under governors with strong executive powers but no local constituency. Still, historically informed descriptions of what people believed don’t explain why colonists stood up for their principles only some of the time, and why they disagreed so acrimoniously that they were willing to dip one another in tar barrels. In a 1972 article, “An Economic Interpretation of the American Revolution,” Marc Egnal and Joseph A. Ernst suggested that the Revolution may have been triggered by the growth of British capitalism, which for decades flooded the colonies with easy credit and with manufactured goods that were better and cheaper than Americans could make themselves. The British were doing to us in the seventeen-sixties more or less what China is doing to us today. Merchants were the first to make their discontent political, because they were the first to see that the economic predicament could be eased if the colonies had the autonomy to, say, print paper money or trade with other nations. The people, for their part, may have hoped that boycotts of imported luxuries would limit their personal spending and encourage American manufacturing, which might, in time, employ them. But the people’s enthusiasm for the boycotts far outran the merchants’. In banning such items as funeral scarves and elaborate mourning dress, the colonists seem to have been admitting to powerlessness, as if their desire for British goods were itself the instrument of their subjugation.

Crain’s essay includes a discussion of three recent books on the American Revolution.  They are:

Timothy Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots

Benjamin Carp, Defiance of the Patriots

Richard Archer, As If an Enemy’s Country. 

Ben Carp Interview in Time Magazine

Defiance of the Patriots is everywhere!  I am thrilled to see early American history getting this kind of attention.

Check out this Time interview with Benjamin Carp. Here is a taste:

You write about how the actual term “Tea Party” only came into use in the 1820s and 30s, when a former blacksmith’s apprentice revealed he was among the Party that ransacked those ships. Fifty years on, why was there still such a code of secrecy among those who took part? 

I don’t have a definite answer. In 1773, these were mostly young men, the majority between 18 and 29, mostly
craftsmen and artisans, and many of them had significant political experience either in previous street actions or organizations in Boston. They wouldn’t have been afraid of treason charges after 1783. i think they were worried about the civil liability of the East India Company still suing the tea destroyers for its losses.

How important is it now for the myth of the Boston Tea Party that it’s remembered as a kind of collective, anonymous act?

The important story to be told about the American Revolution is the way in which ordinary people can become mobilized in a volatile political situation. The Boston Tea Party is a key example of that: secret, anonymous actions will always seem romantic and almost mythic. It also seems just fun — it speaks to the impulse of every seven-year-old boy to put on a costume and go destroy something. Because we don’t know who was there or how many people took part, it presents a problem for historians, but the mystery is always going to be very appealing.

Who is the Host of the Price is Right?

 If you can’t answer this question you are probably one of the “New Elite.”

Who are the so-called “Elite” that the members of the Tea Party despise so much?  Do such “Elite” really exist?  Charles Murray, writing in yesterday’s Washington Post, argues that these Elites do exist and they are largely out of touch with most of America.  Murray writes:

We know, for one thing, that the New Elite clusters in a comparatively small number of cities and in selected neighborhoods in those cities. This concentration isn’t limited to the elite neighborhoods of Washington, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley and San Francisco. It extends to university cities with ancillary high-tech jobs, such as Austin and the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill triangle.

With geographical clustering goes cultural clustering. Get into a conversation about television with members of the New Elite, and they can probably talk about a few trendy shows — “Mad Men” now, “The Sopranos” a few years ago. But they haven’t any idea who replaced Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right.” They know who Oprah is, but they’ve never watched one of her shows from beginning to end.

Talk to them about sports, and you may get an animated discussion of yoga, pilates, skiing or mountain biking, but they are unlikely to know who Jimmie Johnson is (the really famous Jimmie Johnson, not the former Dallas Cowboys coach), and the acronym MMA means nothing to them.

They can talk about books endlessly, but they’ve never read a “Left Behind” novel (65 million copies sold) or a Harlequin romance (part of a genre with a core readership of 29 million Americans).

They take interesting vacations and can tell you all about a great backpacking spot in the Sierra Nevada or an exquisite B&B overlooking Boothbay Harbor, but they wouldn’t be caught dead in an RV or on a cruise ship (unless it was a small one going to the Galapagos). They have never heard of Branson, Mo.

There are so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven’t ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn’t count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don’t count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn’t count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian. They are unlikely to have even visited a factory floor, let alone worked on one.

The Boston Tea Partiers Were a Bunch of Bullying Jerks

Ben Carp writes in the Wall Street Journal:

The original Boston Tea Party, in which disguised men destroyed more than 46 tons of the East India Company’s tea, has long had an uncertain legacy in American history. Knowing the full story, we might wonder whether modern conservatives should be so quick to embrace it.

The Boston Sons of Liberty were forthright in their defense of freedom, vigilant about tyranny and resolute about the common cause. They had good reasons for protesting the Tea Act and questioning the sovereignty of the British Parliament. 

They were also, on occasion, a bunch of bullying jerks.

Carp is the author of a great new book on the Boston Tea Party entitled Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America.  (I have an early copy and I am about halfway through it–great book!).

Carp concludes with a sobering reminder:

No one was killed at the Boston Tea Party. For this reason, the event has inspired some of the world’s strongest advocates for civil disobedience, such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

On the other hand, the destruction of £9,659 worth of tea (between $1 million and $2 million in today’s money) would be considered political vandalism in the 21st century. Over the years, the Boston Tea Party has also inspired antiabolitionists, the Knights of Mary Phagan and the Ku Klux Klan—groups that were willing to commit vigilante actions in the name of less savory principles.

Our responsibility as Americans is not to lapse into misty-eyed nostalgia about the American Revolution, but to take it seriously. The Revolutionary movement achieved a great deal in its time, but it was hardly without flaws. Today the U.S. is a society that reveres democracy as well as law and order. The acts that the 18th-century Sons of Liberty were willing to commit or countenance ought to give us pause today. 

Less than two years after the Boston Tea Party, many of the tea destroyers were already taking up arms to defend the American colonies from Parliament’s attempt to strip them of their rights. Their struggle dearly purchased the rights and privileges that we enjoy today. The least we can do, in return, is to get their story straight.

Defiance of the Patriots

Today I received my copy of Benjamin Carp’s Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America.  I can’t wait to read it and do a blog review.  The book is already making a big splash. (It is apparently already out of stock at Amazon).  Rag Linen has devoted a very informative post to the book, calling it “safely among my favorite history books.  In fact, it may be top 10 material.” 

Read the rest of the post here.

Why Populists Hate Liberalism and Have Always Hated Liberalism

For whatever reason, today we have wondered a bit out of our comfort zone here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Yet I find all the stuff our there on Progressivism to be so interesting I can’t stop posting about it.

William Hogeland has a very thought-provoking piece at the Boston Review on the populism of the Tea Party and how the movement’s disdain for liberalism is not unlike the disdain for liberals that characterized the populism of the late nineteenth century.

Populists have always attacked “the elites’ dismissal of ordinary people’s judgments, determinations, and desires.”  Hogeland warns us not to fall into the same trap as Richard Hofstadter and others who simply dismissed the populists as “paranoid” and “anti-intellectual.”

He concludes:

…history suggests that American populists’ rejection of liberalism is a matter of principle, not of interest. Liberalism has long defined itself from a position of expertise and wisdom that it justifies as meritocracy, and for which it keeps reflexively congratulating itself. Whether lampooning populist farmers as rank yokels, or giving way to a thrilling panic about coast-to-coast violence, or patronizing millions of people’s supposed misguided tropisms, or even, like Lepore, subjecting right-wing enthusiasms to the reflective, nuanced consideration identical with today’s high-quality journalism, liberal claims to a monopoly on knowledge may be even more undemocratic than conservatives’ policies for distributing wealth upward. In America the deadlock between liberalism and populism may be unbreakable.