Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Boston Tea Party

On this day in 1773 a momentous event took place - the Boston Tea Party. The British Government had imposed a tea tax on the American colonies. Many settlers rallied around the slogan ‘no taxation without representation’. A group of young men dressed as Indians tossed the tea assignment from three ships in to the water of Boston Harbour. Their actions helped ignite the American Revolution.

An intriguing question? What if that Revolution had been unsuccessful? Further colonial revolts? Early Dominion status? Consign to the too hard bin. There were other factors. The ideology of equality and freedom of the individual floated in the air. The Revolution did happen, because it was probably inevitable. And the result is today Obama. And there is still resistance to taxes in the American heartland. For that ideology is still ever-present there.

Taxes have been the downfall of many a government. Margaret Thatcher’s poll tax ended her ministry. More dramaticly, issues of taxation as well as that self-same ideology were amongst the causes of the French Revolution. The royal prerogative had been the method by which the government there had raised taxes. But by the late 18th century the coffers were bare – bankruptcy stared Louis’s ministers in their faces. The Estates-General – their type of Parliament – was called. The result was rebellion, revolt, terror and tyranny.

I have never been to Boston. But I have been to Philadelphia. On holiday in Washington I took a train side-trip for a day’s work. A private company wanted to arrange teacher exchanges from New Jersey state with New Zealand. I quickly realised that this was not on, it was a sheer money-making enterprise, ripping off the profession.

But I was delighted when they proudly took me to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia. It was a moving experience, not just in seeing the sites, but in.witnessing the passionate belief that Americans have in their constitution and the intent of the nation’s founders.

I read of a new phenomenon in American political life – the Tea Party. Right wing Republicans who want an end of big Government. As a group scary in their contradictions, but obviously a potent force. They represent that naïve but sincere idealism that is such a factor in the American way of life. They resent their taxes going to bail-out the big banks, providing health-care to the ‘improvident’, even fighting foreign wars. Taxation promises to be one of the big issues in next year’s Congressional election. It goes back to that cry ‘no tax without representation’.

Schama’s History of Britain DVD series has a clear strand running through it. To pay for their wars the Medieval kings had to tax and they had to get permission to levy these from their peers. The struggle for control between monarch and parliament under-girded the Tudor era, culminating in the Civil Wars of the Stuart period. The ‘Glorious’ Revolution of 1688 when James 11 was deposed saw parliament in the ascendancy. The early settlers to America carried that belief across the Atlantic. As a torch it is a rallying point. Precept rather than practice, but that is the nature of parish pump politics at all levels.

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