“It’s 1776 all over again, and now we got a House of Lords up here,” latter day tea-party protester William Temple told NPR in front of the Capitol yesterday. Temple was wearing Revolutionary war garb at the time, unlike the original Boston Tea Party participants, who dressed (unconvincingly) as Mohawk Indians to conceal their identities from British authorities.Actually, it was 1773, not 1776 when the first Tea Party happened. Two hundred thirty-six years ago tonight, about fifty men occupied Griffin’s Pier in Boston Harbor and demanded the keys to the cargo hatches from the captains of three ships docked there. All in all they found 342 chests filled with tea. These were placed on the decks of the ships, broken open, and the tea was flung into the waters of the port. By the next morning there was so much tea still afloat that men went out in small boats to beat the tea under the water and spoil it; the tea party organizers were afraid that not all Bostonians were patriotic enough to refrain from collecting any unspoiled tea on the sly. Some of it survived; one scion of an old Bostonian family once showed me a small box of tea which, family legend had it, was shaken out of his ancestor’s clothes when he returned from dumping the tea into the harbor.
(Courtesy of Early American Images)Today also marks the 320th anniversary of the English Bill of Rights as the Declaration of Rights became law. That Declaration once and for all settled the question of who had the power, Parliament or the King. It was part of the price William of Orange had to pay to have his seizure of the English throne made legal, and it remains in many ways today one of the cornerstones of Britain’s unwritten constitution.Yesterday was Bill of Rights Day in the United States; our own Bill of Rights became part of the Constitution on December 15, 1790 after Virginia ratified the first ten amendments to the Constitution. Although nobody then living could imagine such an outcome, and the Bill of Rights would never have become law if they had, supreme court justices meeting far in the future would later decree that the United States of America had just been made safe for lap dancing and pornographic DVDs.The new Tea Party movement, with all its anti-establishment energy, is the latest incarnation of something very old in the politics of the English speaking world. We don’t trust kings, we don’t trust congress, we don’t even trust each other very much. And when our rulers get carried away with their august sense of entitlement and self-importance, we lash out.That ornery, individualistic spirit is still very much with us today. A new Gallup poll out today shows that by a slim 48% to 46% plurality, Americans oppose the health care bill that Congress has been trying to pass since the summer. Even more surprisingly, 52% of those polled told Rasmussen Reports that they opposed any further government regulation of the financial system. The sentiment isn’t always appropriate or rational. The heartfelt cry of a modern tea partier denouncing the current health care proposals of last summer made it onto a Yale University quotes of the year list: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” (more…)