Tax Analysts Blog

The Boston Tea Party Was NOT a Tax Revolt

Posted on Apr 14, 2009

The Tea Party protests planned for tomorrow are ridiculous for any number of reasons. But what's particularly galling -- at least to my historian's eye -- is their historical illiteracy. The Boston Tea Party, from which these modern day revolters ostensibly draw their inspiration, was not a tax revolt. Or at least not that kind of tax revolt. It was a revolt against tax loopholes, not high taxes. As I explained in a 2005 article:

    the Boston Tea Party was sparked by a tax cut, not a tax increase. That colonial exercise in civil disobedience was certainly a protest against oppressive taxation, but it was also a revolt against tax preferences. Specifically, the tea party was sparked by an 18th century version of corporate welfare.
If my complaint seems trivial, consider this: Americans are schooled from childhood to believe that we are a nation of tax resisters. But it's simply not true. For more than two hundred years, Americans have been generally quite willing to pay their taxes. Sure, there have been revolts, some of them important (think Shay's Rebellion, the Whiskey Rebellion, Proposition 13, and even some property tax revolts in the 1930s). But most of these have been protests against particular types of taxation, not high taxation or taxation itself. That sort of complaint is reserved for modern Republicans, who seem to believe that any sort of taxation is theft. By trading on the myth of a tax-hating nation, the modern day Tea Partyers are perpetuating a historical fiction -- which is no doubt part of the plan.

Read Comments (2)

Joseph J. ThorndikeApr 14, 2009

That's a distinction without a difference, I think. First, the WSJ article does, in fact, say the tea parties are about "higher taxes." Second, the protests were timed for tax day. Just a coincidence? Third, spending and taxes are inextricably linked in the public mind -- as they should be. After all, what would be wrong with new spending if we didn't (eventually) have to pay for it?

Like you, I have concerns about all the new spending. I think my other posts on this site make that pretty clear. But I also believe most of the new spending is necessary: Over the short term, to spur recovery, and over the long term, to encourage prosperity. At some point, Americans will have to pay for both kinds of spending. I suspect (and hope) that the necessary new taxes will come in the form of a VAT. What worries me most, though, is not that tax hikes will be too big. Rather, I'm afraid they might be too small. Inadequate funding is the biggest threat, I think, followed by inadequate spending.

Jeff FernandezNov 21, 2012

Everybody is crying about higher tax rates, when tax rates are the lowest they
have been in 30 years. Hence the debt.
Top corporate tax rate is 35%, but the actual effective corporate tax rate is
less than 13%. In the 1940's, 1950's, and 1960's the top tax rate was 90%, this
did not stop people from trying to make money. I would argue that we had a much
stronger middle class then.
Taxes are lowest in decades. Stop crying.

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