Tea Time on Wall Street – Since 1773

By Jay Holmes

During the last two years we in the United States have seen a rise in popular protest movements. In January of 2009, in response to a proposed “obesity tax” in New York State, Libertarians and fiscal conservatives organized a “Tea Party” style protest against rising taxes and the fiscal recklessness of the New York State government. Some of the protesters wore Native American style head gear and make up to emulate the actions of the original Tea Party participants in Boston in December of 1773.

image from partycrashertshirts.com

In more recent weeks, we have seen the rise of the Occupy Wall Street movement and witnessed its near collapse. While I don’t support the acts of vandalism and other crimes committed by a small minority of the “occupy” protesters, I do sympathize with many of their concerns.

The outrageous financial scandals in recent years and the near total lack of prosecutions of the culprits have been disturbing to watch.  The ensuing news announcements that taxpayer-funded bail out money has frequently been used to pay huge bonuses to the “leaders” of failed financial institutions have served to salt the wounds of taxpayers and defrauded investors.

Guileless and unlovable mouth pieces in the media shamelessly whore for each of the major political parties with less class than the employees in a third world house of ill repute. Their attempts to dismiss the Occupy participants as being either hooligans or well-disguised, hard-core supporters of their respective political parties are clumsy at best.

My guess is that the protestors are neither thugs nor political radicals. The American taxpayers have plenty to be genuinely angry about, and I support any peaceful protests. If elected officials are mildly concerned by the protests, then I say bravo! It’s high time these very comfortable congressmen and the self-worshiping ninnies in the White House felt a touch of discomfort. A comfortable government is a bad government.

Given the recent rise of popular protests, along with any unpopular ones, I thought it was time to review one of my favorite Tea Party Groups. With current events in mind let’s look at the events of 1773 in Boston Harbor.

In 1773, the British East India Company performed the miraculous feat of so badly mismanaging their government sponsored world trade monopoly that they found themselves in financial trouble. Modern readers, having witnessed the recent years of financial scandals in the Western world, will have no trouble understanding that such outlandish mismanagement is possible.

The East India Company found itself holding more tea then it could hope to sell. It reasoned that too much of someone else’s tea was being sold at lower prices to lowly peasant colonists. We can call those “someone else” folks “Dutch, French and American merchants.” The East India Company went to their pals in the British Parliament and quickly had a bill passed known as the “Tea Act.” Rather than bother with the details of the intentions and stated purposes, real and imagined, of the Tea Act, lets just recognize what the little people in the colonies thought of it.

From the point of view of those quaint but pitiful colonists across the Atlantic, the Tea Act taxed them as a particular group without taxing their cousins in England for the same tea. The colonists (a.k.a. the eighteenth century Occupy protesters) decided that they neither wanted nor would accept “taxation without representation.”

Three British ships loaded with the newly taxable tea made port in Boston in 1773. The locals—we can call them “Red Sox Fans”—wanted the ships returned to England unloaded. The Red Sox Fans assumed that the British ships would cast off and return to England, just as British tea ships had recently done in New York and Philadelphia.

Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the British head goon in Boston, Governor Thomas Hutchinson, had a financial interest in the distribution of British East India Company tea in New England. He ordered the ships to remain docked while he attempted to coerce the Red Sox Fans into doing what Yankees Fans in New York had already refused to do. Baseball fans will easily recognize the fundamental flaw in his strategy.

The Red Sox team would not be founded for another century, so lacking in proper Red Sox caps, the long-suffering, impatient Red Sox Fans, while waiting another century for opening day of the baseball season, dressed up as “Indians.” The Native Americans, not the baseball team. On the night of December 16, they overpowered the guards of the ships (actually they probably laughed together about it) and proceeded to dump the thousands of pounds of tea into the harbor.

Independence minded colonists did not miss the significance of what had happened. The King and his parliament—sort of like the White House and their Wall Street—didn’t think it was funny. They closed Boston Harbor to all trade and demanded full payment from the colonies.  An accommodation would have been wiser, but the big-headed, small-minded English King George and his parliament were long on wind and short on reason. Instead of losing a few tons of surplus tea, they ended up signing a less favorable agreement at a place called Yorktown, Virginia on October 19, 1781 when General lord Cornwallis surrendered his army to an upstart Virginia plantation owner named George Washington. Adios, American colony!

It is never wise to ignore the legitimate concerns of a reasonable people. It is a thousand times less wise to ignore the angry rumblings of an always impatient and often fiercely independent people. I call those people Americans, and I do so proudly.

What do you think of the modern American protests?


17 comments on “Tea Time on Wall Street – Since 1773

  1. i’ve often said this country was founded on Whiskey swilling tax dodgers… of course the truth goes over like a lead balloon. it was also founded on the great tradition of trade, with entire industries created that were illegal. having just finished a biography of Ethan Allen, the state of Vermont was started by colonists ( if we can even call them that ) by folks who left Massachusetts religious oppression and basically “squatted” on land the titles to which were sketchy at best.

    when we look at our past thru rose colored glasses, and only in the view presented to us by our history teachers, we tend to gloss over the fact that as British citizens, the Colonists were a troublesome lot at best!!

    i had a friend, who has since passed. we traded equities during the great run up. Doug was his name. he enjoyed shocking people. along the lines of your “impatient and often fiercely independent people” closing paragraph, Holmes, Doug would say: “George Washington was a traitor” just to sit back and watch the reaction. Doug would calmly explain thus: “Well he was a traitor. He was a traitor to the Crown, if he was captured during the first year or so of the Revolution, he might have been shot on sight” which of course is true.

    so, i enjoyed the Tea Time with you, and as usual, for me, the kettle whistleth, I am always on Twitter, at @Samuel_Clemons

    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Sam. I think you are right about the colonists. There were scholars and philosophers amongst the colonists but without those outrageous young trouble makers at Concord that were willing to stand barefoot in the snow to face off against the finest army that the world had yet seen we would still be paying a tea tax to London.

  2. kerrymeacham says:

    I’m assuming you saw that this year’s TIME Magazine Person of the Year is…..The Protester. From the Middle East, to Wall Street, to Russia, and beyond. Never underestimate the power of people so pissed off that they just don’t give a damn what happens to them personally to make a point.

    Let’s also remember the lessons from history where hard times gave rise to those who capitalize (no pun intended) on fears of others, like Hitler and Stalin. Like anything else, situations can give rise to greatness, or great tragedy. I hope these times bring out the former and not the latter.

    Great post, Piper…as always, 😉

    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Kerry. I ignore Time magazine but I heard reference to it on the radio while in my car.

      “situations can give rise to greatness, or great tragedy. I hope these times bring out the former and not the latter.” I’m with you on that.

  3. Gene Lempp says:

    Sam makes a good point in that what an established power sees as a shoot on sight terrorist, traitor, etc. is someone else’s freedom fighter. Which one is seen depends on the viewpoint of the person interpretting the actions taken and the motivation of those taking the action. George and many of his close friends were land owners and merchants themselves. Perhaps the small business owners of their time, at least in comparison to the East India Trading company.

    The motivation to turn traitor against the Crown came from a loss of profits, a loss of control over their markets and an easy to ignite irritation of the populace against a lack of control over their lives. This, of course, is nothing like the current state of affairs in the U.S. Yep. Nothing like it.

    Great post, Piper.

  4. educlaytion says:

    The Founders got the right to petition and assembly wrapped up in the First Amendment for a reason. That Tea Party certainly was fresh in their minds. I love that we can protest. It’s unfortunate that too many people put a negative spin on such actions. But our system has problems top to bottom, no question.

    • J Holmes says:

      Hi Clay. The willingness of so many media commentators and so many political hacks to treat the Bill of Rights so dismissively is disgusting. As soon as a politician starts pretending that the Bill of Rights was “intended for other times…” or “when they said ‘arms’ they didn’t mean privately owned weapons like we have today” etc. my trust meter drops from it’s usual lofty %15 down to 2% or less.

  5. Piper Bayard says:

    Just to be clear, this one is all Holmes. I’m really glad he’s patient with me on those days when I forget to add in his name at the top with the first publishing.

  6. tomwisk says:

    We’ve got to allow protest. It keeps the fat cats honest. The only thing is we can’t prosecute them when we call them out for their crimes. Only if the clamor of the people is heard and the elected officials believe they will be tossed out if they don’t listen to the people. This applies for the right and left.

  7. Dave says:

    For all the relative incoherence in the the OWS and, more loudly, Tea Party movements, I think they channel the shared feeling in America that things are not as they should be. I sincerely hope that our form of government can be responsive without the lowly peasants having to serve cake to go with the tea.

  8. Jeff says:

    Being a Red Sox fan hopelessly stuck in Texas, I thoroughly enjoyed the baseball references in this little slice of history. Being understandably frustrated at having to wait another century for their beloved team to appear, it stands to reason that they had to take their frustrations out somewhere.

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