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.