J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Vote Your Views

Last month the Boston Globe published a reader letter that managed to span two of my professional interests, so I’m quoting it on both blogs today:

Members of the Tea Party movement claim that their name was adopted from the Boston Tea Party, an act of civil disobedience against the tyrannical government of the time (“Understanding the Tea Party,’’ Letters, Oct. 12).

I contend that the name must derive from another historic tea party, namely, the one from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland.’’ In that classic tale and its follow-up, “Through the Looking-Glass,’’ there exists a vast cast of characters, many reminiscent of today’s Tea Partiers who talk jabberwocky on a regular basis.

There are the twins Tweedledum and Tweedledee who bicker over insignificant issues; the Red Queen who constantly orders the beheading of anyone who displeases her; and the imbecilic White Queen. And let’s not forget the Mad Hatter.

To those offended by the current use of the term Tea Party, I suggest they shift their point of reference. They’ll find that the current movement is more than aptly named.
Whatever your views, if you’re an American citizen I hope you’ve voted by the end of the day. Otherwise, those of us who do vote don’t have to listen to you.


tod said...

here! here

Anonymous said...

I used to read your blog regularly, but your leftism is so disgusting it's no longer possible to take your historical writings seriously.

Auguste said...

Pablum-punking obamabot.......

Joe said...

I too was disappointed in your article yesterday. If memory serves me there was only a third of the population who wanted change back in the 1770's. That so-called cilvil disobedience that occurred in 1773 would be meet with the same name-calling and hate if it were happening today- which it actually is occurring.

You have an excellent blog. I know growing up in MA (or having lived in it for years) you are given a left leaning bias as a gift, but doing so on what I used to consider a fairly politically free blog might not be the smartest move. Please continue your fine work educating me on the times, but I have to admit I will now eye it much differently now.

Daud said...

wow a whole 2 political posts and he's out. Must be hard to be so sensitive.

J. L. Bell said...

Joe, the “only a third of the population” meme is a myth, as I discussed back here. Most politically aware colonial Americans wanted change in imperial tax policies in 1773. That’s why the boycott of East India Company tea became a mass movement, and a transcolonial success. People weren’t ready for a complete break with Britain yet, but that wasn’t what they were debating.

If you can find evidence of widespread “name-calling and hate” against the men who destroyed the tea in Boston, please share it. That action was widely supported, even by genteel politicians. Loyalists disagreed, of course, but they were a small minority.

As for modern “name-calling and hate,” I presume you’re including the vitriol directed at President Barack Obama: the racist emails, the signs equating him with Hitler because of health insurance reform, accusations yelled on the House floor during a presidential address, lies about his background and beliefs. Plus, of course, all the “name-calling and hate” directed at blacks, gays, Muslims, Latinos, journalists, liberals, and others by Tea Party adherents, candidates, and godmothers during this election cycle. Or are you sensitive to “name-calling and hate” of only one sort?

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bell, it is probably best to leave politics out of this historical discussion. Your leftism is showing.

Anonymous said...

"If you don't vote, you can't complain" says I.

J. L. Bell said...

Funny how two commenters think “leftism” is something to be ashamed of, even as they choose to remain anonymous themselves.

I think that exposes them as “rightists” who can’t handle seeing political opinions they disagree with, even from someone acknowledging the range of political opinions we have in this country.

BrightonBob said...

While Mr. Bell obviously has the freedom to write as he wishes here because it's, you know, his blog, I must say that I am disappointed whenever it gets political. And it's not because I agree or disagree with the point of view expressed. It's because I come here for history, not politics. I'll still continue to read, however. It's been a daily habit of mine for close to 3 years.

Timoteo said...

The TEA parties of today are an acronym for Taxed Enough Already.

A real historian could have found this information quite easily.


J. L. Bell said...

Another lesson not to believe everything FreedomWorks tells you, Timoteo.

Recent history actually shows that “Taxed Enough Already” is a “backronym”—a phrase created after the Tea Party metaphor had already been established, designed to spell out that phrase in a meaningful way.

Back in the 1970s, there was a similarly backronymic Tea Party movement that said its name stood for “Tax Equity for Americans.”

The Professor and The Housewife said...

The Comments are as interesting as the blog though not very original on either side, still fun to read!

Timoteo said...

Who is to decide a "backronym"? (you supply no source)

Having close to 5000 facebook friends, I was invited to many Taxed Enough Already events (TEA parties) early last year. (Feb? March?)

Most of these were held at people's houses and not the big gala affairs that the media gawked about.

Many people changed their profile pictures with capital letters of T, E and A with smaller case letters axed, nough, lready next to them

As the TEA party movement is not a centralized organization it is possible that some used the acronym for their events as I have stated and others might have not.

I used freedom works as an easy reference and do not belong to the organization.

I have never been to a TEA party, but I have seen them on TV and Youtube.

J. L. Bell said...

Timoteo, your first comment started, “The TEA parties of today are an acronym for Taxed Enough Already.”

Now you say, “As the TEA party movement is not a centralized organization it is possible that some used the acronym for their events as I have stated and others might have not.”

In sum, your initial blanket statement was wrong. And your criticism baseless and unwarranted.

As for when the “Taxed Enough Already” backronym was invented, historically-minded people always like to see dated evidence, not vague, questionable recollections. Rick Santelli’s Feb 2009 rant on CNBC about proposed help for homeowners referred to the Boston Tea Party. The subsequent rally in Washington included colonial-era flags and tea bags. People had used tea bags and the Boston Tea Party site for political protests many years before that.

Would you have us believe that someone came up with “Taxed Enough Already Party” without knowing that its initials spell out the popular term for the most famous and revered political protest in American history? I’d have a hard time believing that.

Or are you claiming that because some Tea Party groups have adopted “Taxed Enough Already” as a slogan, and you happen to like that message, that now we’re all bound to recognize it as the only meaning for “Tea Party“?

That would merely bring us back to Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll:

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

Timoteo said...

You have not given a source for your claims. Who decides a backronym?

You don't like my first hand account of what I witnessed on Facebook?

I guess we must not have any confidence with all the "sources" you use for your blogs...diary entries etc.

So when did the 21st TEA party start? Who decides when it starts?

Many historians have debated on when the American Revolution started...April 19th? Or the end of French and Indian War? Or maybe the beginning? The Stamp Act?

My premise for commenting in the first place was your lame attempt at trying to discredit the TEA party movement.

Guess what? The American people discreditted you and your socialistic ilk in this past election.

Cry baby cry,

J. L. Bell said...

That’s right, Timoteo, I don’t think your “first hand account of what I witnessed on Facebook” is a reliable source.

For one thing, I don’t think you offer rational arguments; you offer personal claims and insults, and then get upset when people move away with a poor impression of you.

It’s obvious that you’re emotionally invested in this little question, and emotion causes people’s memories to shift. Diaries are valuable because they preserve what people write down on the day, not what they remember later based on hindsight and emotion. I’ve contrasted John Adams’s diary entries with his memoirs, for example.

Your claim wasn’t the equivalent of a diary. It was vaguely dated: “(Feb? March?)” Your only link was to a FreedomWorks press release from July 2009—more than four months after Rick Santelli’s 19 February televised rant, which mentioned the “founding fathers” but not “Taxed Enough Already.”

If you have evidence of that acronymic phrase being used before 19 Feb 2009, you can share it. Otherwise, I’m not discrediting the “T.E.A. Party” movement as much as you are.

Peter Fisk said...

Well, done, JL. Don't let these people's rudeness and willful ignorance discourage you. Thank you for defending American history from fanatical revisionism and demagoguery. You are a true patriot, sir.