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, December 14, 2010

It’s Tea Party Season!

The anniversary of the Boston Tea Party on 16 December is coming up rapidly—Old South Meeting House already hosted its reenactment last weekend! I’ll dedicate the next few days to remarks about that event and its memory.

But first, some video links. Book TV has archived Tufts professor Benjamin L. Carp’s talk at the David Library in Pennsylvania about his new book, Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America. In addition, the Forum Network features two talks that Ben delivered about the Tea Party at Old South last December.

The Forum Network is based here in Boston, so it naturally preserves a number of other Tea Party-related talks as well:

Also published this fall was Harvard professor Jill Lepore’s The Whites of Their Eyes, about the political memory of the Tea Party. BookTV is showing a panel featuring Lepore and modern politicians and journalists. All told, I estimate, this posting has a full working day of video to watch. See you tomorrow!

7 comments:

RFuller said...

JL, thank you for mentioning the Boston tea Party reenactment. As one of the costumed participants, I was struck by the overwhelming acclamation from the visitors, when speakers represented the Crown's POV. I wasn't ready for that. Quite impassioned!

J. L. Bell said...

It’s fascinating how modern Americans support the Tory view. I suspect it reflects sympathy for the perceived underdogs rather than agreement with the actual political approach of agreeing with the British constitution of the 1700s.

Not only would such views not have been applauded in Old South in 1773, but I doubt they were publicly argued. The public tea meetings were organized by the Whigs. Why would people who supported the royal government legitimize them, or risk their well-being, by attending and playing along?

Charles Bahne said...

"Why would people who supported the royal government legitimize them, or risk their well-being, by attending and playing along?"

Not counting, of course, a few government agents who would have attended these meetings for the sole purpose of observing the proceedings and reporting on them to higher-ranking government officials. But those agents would certainly have kept their silence during the meetings.

RFuller said...

JL, I don't know whether people sympathize with Tories as the underdogs, rather they realize more and more that the revolutionaries back then were seen by many Loyalists as throwing away everything the nation had worked for.

Further, popularization of and new emphasis on new historical research regarding slavery, women, Indians, et al, have shown to modern Americans that the benefits of the Revolution would not be immediately conferred on all segments of society yet, and at times, made a mockery of the very reason for rebelling. It's hard to say the King is making slaves of you, when you own slaves yourself.

This is all akin to the perception that the Tea Party people today are revolutionaries and wreckers of traditions, freedoms and practices which took centuries to achieve. Whether that's right, is another matter, but it does inspire spirited debate and feelings as did the Tory/Patriot schism of over two centuries ago.

Local people at the Boston Tea Party reenactment, at least from the accents, seemed to be more pro-Tory (whole families!) while attendees with Southern and Western accents seemed to be vociferously pro-revolution- 1773, that is. ;)

That was the feeling I got the other night, and, I must admit, I've noticed it also in conversations with visitors over the years.

J. L. Bell said...

I’m sure most people who applaud the reenactment of Loyalist arguments understand that the system being praised included hereditary monarchy, hereditary legislators, taxation without representation, and, in the case of the tea crisis, a state-granted monopoly—none of which modern Americans are likely to favor.

The American Revolutionaries did indeed talk about liberty and equality as ideals while denying it to most Americans. But the British Empire of the 1770s was little different in that regard.

So that seems to leave the applause as supporting an attitude rather than a specific position or party from the 1770s. That attitude might be the importance of speaking up bravely for one’s beliefs—my underdog theory. Or it might be support for preserving the status quo, whatever it is. The latter is part of human nature, I think, and part of political conservatism, but only a part.

I’m surprised at the “perception that the Tea Party people today are revolutionaries and wreckers of traditions.” Most of the rhetoric I’ve seen from Tea Party adherents is profoundly traditional.

For example, the “take our country back” chorus (from whom?). And the Tea Party claims that its opponents are socialist, fascist, anti-American, non-American, or all of the above. Even the Revolutionary-era name and symbolism of the movement are based on reverence for old traditions, however selectively understood.

Maxwell said...

I enjoy your blog. I'm particularly interested in any unusual weapons you have come across in your research. Any strange weapons from that era?

J. L. Bell said...

There was David Bushnell’s underwater machine. I recall reading about a multi-barreled gun that didn’t hold together well, but haven’t written about it.