Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Holiday Tea Party

It was on this day in 1773 that Paul Revere and his fellow Sons of Liberty dressed up as Indians, boarded a merchant ship and dumped the cargo of tea into Boston Harbor. If you are picturing a delegation of clear-eyed, well-spoken idealists, think again. This was a mob action pure and simple, however legitimate their grievances were. Likely it was some of the same men who precipitated the Boston Massacre. Remember, John Adams defended the British soldiers charged with firing on that crowd––and won the case.

The origins of our Revolution are complex and not always pretty. Resentment of taxation began it, but once Washington's army was in the field, this same resentment of taxation left his soldiers hungry and barefoot through much of the war. During his second term, President Washington himself rode at the head of an army to put down a tax revolt on the frontier. Which places the Father of Our Country squarely on the side of taxing and spending. He was accused of betraying the principles our country was founded upon. Was he? Washington believed in a strong central government, which is why we stress the first word in our country's name. We are the United States, not a loose association of separate principalities. Washington learned from experience that the union meant something, and it also cost something to run.

It's interesting to consider the ages the founders were when they did these things. Paul Revere was 38 when he led that violent mob. (He didn't fit the profile of your average anarchist. He was a businessman.) John Adams was 34 when he defended the British soldiers who fired on a similar mob. Washington was 62 when he put on his old uniform to assert the government's taxing authority. Each of them appears several times in A Book of Ages, at critical moments in their lives.

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