We think of a tea party as an act of rebellion by a small party of brave souls protesting tyranny—the ultimate in big government. That is essentially correct, but given the modern-day usurpation of this moment in the American experience by would-be conservative reformers, it’s worth gazing deeper into the tea leaves. That’s the value of Ten Tea Parties: Patriotic Protests That History Forgot, an engaging short history by New Jersey-based historian Joseph Cummins.
The book keys off a little-known truth: The Boston Tea Party was just the first of 10 similar demonstrations committed by rambunctious colonists. Even New Jerseyans got into the act; on December 22, 1774, a load of tea bound for Philadelphia was burned in the South Jersey town of Greenwich by a group that included a future governor, Richard Howell.
Cummins reveals that the term “tea party” did not actually come into parlance until the 1830s. Up to that point, little had been made of the rebellious acts—and no wonder. The founding fathers, as they began instituting the laws and taxes of the new nation, had little interest in glorifying an anti-tax revolt. In fact, some of the founders, including John Hancock, who helped plan the Boston bash, later denied any involvement.
It’s also interesting to note that in Boston, the tea was dumped not by leading patriots, but by apprentices enlisted to do the dirty deed, which actually required some heavy lifting. That might sound a bit like today’s Tea Party, which, according to some observers, is a puppet group orchestrated by wealthy, anti-big government interests.
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