The Tea Potty (pt 1: The Early Years)



 (As per usual with these posts, stupidity gets every iota of respect it deserves: Not a damn bit! So, if you think I’m being disrespectful to your beliefs, lower the stupidity quotient of your beliefs.)


To really understand the context of the “baggers”, we must begin before the beginning. To update Shakespeare: “A teabagger by any other pseudonym would emit a fragrance just as potently odiferous”! And, they’ve had a lot of different pseudonyms throughout American history.

If we were talking about the American conservative movement as a whole, we’d probably begin with the “American Loyalists” in the Revolutionary War. (Btw, they were “loyal” to old King George and the British Crown, not the revolution.) And, probably not coincidentally, were in far greater numbers in the southern colonies.

If we were talking about the right-wing wackos of the “Religious Wrong”, hell, we’d have to go back to the Puritans. They came over to escape religious persecution. Of course, as soon as they were in charge, they were just as bad as their former persecutors. (if you pay attention to history or even current events, you’ll notice that happens a lot!) The “Religious Wrong” screams for a separate post, and believe me, it’s going to get it.

But, we’re talking about the secular wing-nuts (admittedly with a great deal of cross-over), whose current main theme purports to be anti-tax (with more than a bit of racial and religious bigotry thrown in for spice). For this, let’s start with the seminal event in baggers’ imaginary lives. (I mean other than the election of that Commie – Islamic – Socialist – Nazi – African -Terrorist Loving – N…r – Asshole as President):

The one, the only, the original, never-to-be-forgotten, never-to-be-duplicated: (drum roll please)…………


We’ve all heard the tale of the “tax-oppressed” citizens of Boston who finally had enough and struck a mighty blow for freedom by treating the sea life of Boston Harbor to some refreshing Earl Grey. (Actually, it was probably mostly Bohea.) It makes for a nice tale for 2nd graders and 2nd grade minds.

Problem is, there’s a lot of facts, but not a lot of truth in the story.

Oh sure, on the night of December 16, 1773, a group of men (nobody really knows how many) dressed as Indians (Mohawks, to be exact) and Negroes (in blackface?), boarded three ships and dumped their cargo of tea worth $18,000 ($502,000 with inflation) into the harbor.However, they weren’t “striking a mighty blow for freedom”, they were “striking a mighty blow for smuggling profits”.

Le’ me ‘splain.

Back in the 1770’s, the British East India Company had problems. Due to gross mismanagement, the company had too much of one thing (tea) and too little of another (money). If they’d have gone under, it would have hit a lot of the ruling class where it hurts the most (their wallets).

This couldn’t have come at a worse time. The BEIC was beginning to monopolize the opium trade and the profit potential was huge.Therefore, in 1773, Parliament decided the BEIC was “too big to fail” (sound familiar?) and decided to bail them out. They did this by dropping the duty on tea entering England and allowing BEIC to be its own exporter to the colonies, eliminating any middlemen. This combination allowed BEIC to sell their tea to the colonies cheaper than the tea being smuggled in from the Dutch.

Yes, the 3 pence (2 cent) a pound tea tax (which was used to pay the salaries of colonial governors and judges) was still in place, although it had been lowered 60%. Even with the tax, legally imported tea would be cheaper than the smuggled stuff which had been enjoying a 75 – 90% market share. (And Steve Jobs & Bill Gates weren’t even born yet.)

This didn’t set too well with John Hancock (he of the flamboyant autograph) and the rest of the tea smuggling “patriots”. But, since they couldn’t lead a revolt against lower prices, they tried a different tactic.

Despite baggers’ day dreams, they didn’t attack the tax aspect, they attacked BEIC as being an illegal monopoly. (Funny how big business doesn’t seem to bother baggers these days.) They also attacked the British government for being on the side of British business interests instead of on the side of colonial business interests. Samuel Elliot Morrison: Oxford History of the American People, p 203

It worked! (Republican spin-doctors would be so proud!) By the time the tea bearing ships arrived in Boston, the local taverns were ablaze with anti-British tea sentiment.

After that, it was a simple matter to set up a “convention” at the Old South Meeting House; make some unlawful demands on the Governor, which he refused (surprise, surprise); and then instantly (were they already wearing their costumes underneath?) rush out and storm the ships.

Yes, I know “Taxation without representation” was one of a number of rallying cries of the revolution, but it was really a lot more about representation rather than taxation. As far as taxation goes, the people in the colonies were paying a lot less than those back in England.

In the grand scheme of things, the price of tea in Boston wasn’t a real biggie, unless you were in the tea smuggling business.

In the end the !!!!BOSTON TEA PARTY!!!! had two major consequences:

  • It pissed old John Bull off! (That’s England, for you history slackers.) And, of course, Mr. Bull overreacted and passed the “Intolerable Acts“, greasing the war-bound skids.
  • The other consequence was a bit more ironic. After the party, it became unpatriotic to drink tea. (There went the smuggling profits.) In fact, tea drinking has never really recovered since. Nowadays, we mostly get our go-juice from a little red bean instead of a little green leaf.


We’ll continue with the 1st major crisis facing the young country; the “Whiskey Rebellion” of 1791-94. This is also known as “The Birth of the Bootleggers” according to Billy Ray Cyrus. History Channel: “Hillbilly – The Real Story”. (Of course, this is the man who gave us “Achy Breaky Heart” and Miley, so you might want to use your own judgement on that one.)

In 1790, the U.S. was one year old, and $75,000,000 in debt. (About $1,850,000,000 in today’s money.) Alex Hamilton had squeezed out about all the money he could from import duties, but needed MORE!

Thus was born the 1st domestic sin tax (excuse me – excise tax): The Distilled Spirits Tax of 1791 (aka “The Whiskey Tax”).

To be fair, it was an unfair tax. It hit the poor (the beginning of a long, long trend) frontier farmers hard, while leaving the rich eastern property owners pretty much immune. (The beginning of another long, long trend.)

I won’t go into details (you could look it up) but the rebellion included rioting, tar & feathering tax collectors (a fun activity in any era), house burnings and mail robbery. (I’m not sure if there was any “rail riding”, but it was fashionable at the time.)

In the end, the government won of course. Several hundred were arrested on various offenses; 24 men were indicted for high treason; 10 stood trial and two were convicted.

Not to worry. President Washington granted pardons and amnesties all around.

Despite the government victory, the tax itself was still almost totally uncollectable. In 1800, Tom Jefferson’s Republican Party (no relation) bested the Federalists and the tax was rescinded in 1802.

In retrospect, the Whiskey Rebellion would have been a better “seminal event” for the baggers, but then they’d call themselves “The Whiskey Party” (and probably have a lot more members).



If you wanna make your own “shine”, follow this link.

Tell ’em Joe-Bob sent you.





There wasn’t much of an anti-tax movement again until late in the 19th century. However there were a few pro-bigotry movements to take up the slack.


Charging ahead to 1843, we stumble over the American Republican Party (aka in various times and places as the Native American Party or just plain American Party.) Most people refer to them as the “Know Nothing Movement”. While not it’s original intent, the tag pretty much sums them up.This one may belong more to the “Religious Wrong” post, because it was more religious (anti-Catholic) than secular in nature. However, it was wrapped up as an anti-immigration movement. (The immigrants that they were anti to were Irish and German Catholics.) And, it sure fits the bigotry side of this post.

From the 1830’s to the 60’s there was an influx of Catholic immigrants, primarily from Ireland and Germany. The Germans were trying to escape religious persecution back home and the Irish were just looking for something to eat. (Irish Potato Famine)

These immigrants offended the “Real Americans” (Protestants of English/Scottish decent) and by cracky, they weren’t going to stand for it.

So began the first official anti-immigrant movement in the U.S., although far from the last.(You know, if you think about it, the only people who ever had a really rational reason for being anti-immigrant were Native Americans (1st Nations) in the 15 to 1700’s)

At their peak (1854), Movement members were elected Mayors of Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and San Francisco. They carried Boston and several other New England towns and cities; swept the Massachusetts elections and won the Governor’s race in California. (The California contingent added another group to be anti to: the Chinese.)

One of the Movement’s catch phrases was “Keep America, American”. This same catch phrase was later used by the KKK in the 1920’s and by Mitt Romney in his 2012 Presidential Campaign.

Not satisfied with electoral gains, some members decided to add a little “action” to their agenda:

  • In 1851, They tarred and feathered a priest in Ellsworth, Maine.
  • In 1854, they burned down a church in Bath, Maine.
  • In 1855, they rioted in Louisville, Kentucky, destroying property, killing 22 Catholics and injuring many more in the process.
Proto-Baggers practicing tolerance

Proto-Baggers practicing tolerance

In 1856, now called the American Party, they ran Millard Filmore for President.

Millly had already been President from 1850 until 1853. His own party (Whig) had passed him up for re-election in favor of Winfield Scott. By 1856, the Whigs were gone and Fillmore had jumped to the American Party.

The party platform was pretty simple:

  • Limit Catholic immigration;
  • Restrict political office to English and Scottish Protestants;
  • Teachers must be Protestant;
  • 21 year wait for citizenship;
  • Daily bible readings in public schools;
  • Restricting liquor sales;
  •  English usage only.

(Some of these planks sound kinda familiar. I guess some people never grow up.)

Milly got 23% of the vote & only carried Maryland.

By 1860, they were pretty much out as a political force, primarily torn apart over slavery (As was the rest of the country.)

And, that wraps it up for this episode!

This is going to be one of those multi-parters. My best guess at this time is that it’s probably going to be a four-poster. The history of the U.S. is replete with loonies and there’s so much fun stuff to write about. After all, baggers are just the latest branch off the nut tree and I’m still working my way up the trunk.


And, for those of you who think I’m tarring baggers by connecting them to your garden variety American racists and bigots, I’ll leave you with this:




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