Originally Published: 4/13/2009
THE BOSTON TEA PARTY
By The Issue Wonk
All the talk about the tea parties has drawn lots of interest for many different reasons – from anger over federal government spending to humor over the various meanings of the word “teabagging.” Yet what the organizers fail to recognize is the reason for the original tea party in 1773. And, without a doubt, the reasons for the original tea party are in play today.
The Boston Tea Party was actually a protest against corporate power. It was about tax cuts for corporations. It was about the alliance of money and power that subjugates the many for the benefit of the few. It was about the powerful and the wealthy getting government aid at the expense of working people.
According to Robins and Chatterjee:1
Established on a cold New Year’s Eve in 1600, Britain’s East India Company is unarguably the mother of the modern corporation. In a career spanning almost 3 centuries, the Company bridged the mercantilist world of chartered monopolies and the industrial age of corporations accountable solely to shareholders. The Company’s establishment by royal charter, its monopoly of all trade between Britain and Asia and its semi-sovereign privileges to rule territories and raise armies certainly mark it out as a corporate institution from another time. Yet in its financing, structures of governance and business dynamics, the Company was undeniably modern. It may have referred to its staff as servants rather than executives, and communicated by quill pen rather than email, but the key features of the shareholder-owned corporation are there for all to see.
In the early 1770s the East India Trading Company was on the verge of bankruptcy. Tons of tea piled up in its warehouses. They needed it sold and, naturally, wanted to make a profit at the same time. So, they went to Parliament, many of whose members were shareholders in the company, and got the Tea Act of 1773 passed which gave them an exemption from the tea tax, which its colonial competitors were required to pay, and allowed them to undercut colonial deals and dump their tea on the colonies. In case the colonists didn’t buy their cheap tea and continued to support the small businesses in their areas, Parliament also granted The Company a monopoly on the colonial tea trade.
Rusticus, a colonial “blogger,” then known as pamphleteers, wrote in 1773:2
Are we in like Manner to be given up to the Disposal of the East India Company, who have now the Assurance, to step forth in Aid of the Minister, to execute his Plan, of enslaving America? Their Conduct in Asia for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties or Lives of Men. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain. The Revenue of Mighty Kingdoms have centered in their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions, and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin. Fifteen hundred Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits; but this Company and their Servants engulfed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them so high at a rate that the poor could not purchase them.
So, jump on the tea party brigade, but remember what it really means – a protest against the government giveaways to big corporations at the expense of the middle class.
1 Robins, Nick & Chatterjee, Pratap. Lessons of Empire: India, 60 Years After Independence. CorpWatch, 8/14/07.
2 The Boston Tea Party Was Actually an Anti-Monopoly Protest. De-Fact-O, 2/14/08.
© The Issue Wonk, 2009