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Boston Tea Party was not about taxes

By Staff | Feb 5, 2010

North Dakota’s Tea Partiers have decided to make life miserable for Governor John Hoeven as he seeks to replace U. S. Senator Byron Dorgan in the November election. Even though taxes have been cut significantly in North Dakota, the Tea Party people feel that Governor Hoeven should be supporting more reductions and more refunds. They’re mobilizing this month to determine a course of action.

Using a “tea party” label for an anti-tax crusade, even though catchy, misrepresents the historical facts. The Boston tea party was not about taxes; it was about representation. Most of us learned in grade school that the complaint of the revolutionaries was taxation without representation. (Apparently, we aren’t satisfied with taxation with representation, either.)

The American colonists weren’t the only ones being taxed without representation. Most of the people in England were without sufficient property qualifications to vote but they still were required to kick into the King’s treasury.

As is the case in North Dakota today, the Boston Tea Party could not be justified from a tax point of view. The tea had been exempted from the one shilling export duty, leaving a levy of only three pence in the colonies. The same tea that cost Englishmen six shillings cost Americans only three.

Parliament was levying this minimal tax to get the American colonies to help pay off the huge debt incurred while defending the colonies in the French & Indian War of 1763. From the English point of view, they saw a bunch of ingrates who paid less tax than they did but refused to defend themselves or pay the mother country for doing so.

Shirking responsibility for defense has become an American tradition. We are going trillions of dollars into debt defending the country against terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan but we are still unwilling to levy a war tax to pay for it. It’s a good bet that many of the North Dakota Tea Party people complain about this mushrooming war debt but would rather add more debt than pay a tax to finance a war they favor.

This hypocrisy prevails among Democrats as well as Republicans. When House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) suggested a war tax, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the House leadership quickly stomped it to death.

The argument is that we can’t have a surtax on income during a recession. The recession has become a universal excuse for doing nothing. Ten per cent of the people may be unemployed but they wouldn’t pay a surtax on income because they wouldn’t have any income. However, 90 per cent of the people are still employed and many of them would be able to pay the tax. Unfortunately, a majority of them don’t seem to have any qualms about increasing the debt.

Facts about the Boston episode demonstrate that the contemporary use of the Tea Party label is as inappropriate as expecting rebates from oil and coal taxes we never paid in the first place. This is not hard-earned taxpayer money. We are still the same freeloaders who threw somebody else’s property overboard in Boston.

These were the people we claim founded the country on Christian principles. The felonious destruction of property in Boston harbor was hardly an act of Christian obedience to the established government. The Apostle Paul would not have seen any Christian principles in a tea party.

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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