Tea Party Finds Inspiration In Boston History The Tea Party movement has been staging rallies around the country to protest taxes and government spending, including a protest in Boston, where the original Tea Party took place. Historians say that the Tea Party in 1773 was sparked not by a tax, but by a British government bailout.
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Tea Party Finds Inspiration In Boston History

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Tea Party Finds Inspiration In Boston History

Tea Party Finds Inspiration In Boston History

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And on the opposite side of the debate from the millionaire we just heard is the anti-tax Tea Party movement.

NPR's Chris Arnold went to Boston for a look back at the original Tea Party and how it compares to the modern one.

CHRIS ARNOLD: I'm standing right on a dock here in Boston Harbor, and this is about the spot, we think, where on December 16th in 1773, the colonists came down dressed up as Native Americans and dumped a bunch of tea in the water. Is that right?

Mr. JOE THORNDIKE (Tax Historian): That's pretty much right. They weren't all dressed like Indians, but 50 of them were. So...

ARNOLD: I'm actually here with Joe Thorndike, who is a tax historian. There's a lot of fascination with the Tea Party.

Mr. THORNDIKE: Oh, it's so colorful and it's so ridiculous on some level, people dressing up, running on and throwing, you know, crates of tea over the side of the ship. I mean, that's sort of like an attractive little picture we can put in our head.

ARNOLD: But when it comes to the modern-day Tea Partiers, we wanted to find out to what degree they're carrying on the same ideals as the founding fathers.

Mr. THORNDIKE: I think there are things about the modern Tea Party movement that are similar, but there are a lot of ways in which it's quite different, as well.

ARNOLD: Thorndike says that many people seem to think that the Tea Party was a protest about high taxes, when he says it wasn't. It was about that phrase in fourth grade history books: no taxation without representation. It was the idea of being taxed by a government that they didn't have any say in.

Mr. THORNDIKE: Exactly. What the original Tea Party was really trying to drive home was that the British did not have the right to impose a tax on the colonies because the colonies were not represented in Parliament. And that's a very different sort of message than saying this tax is just too damn high for us. I think the Tea Party today, at least it strikes me, is more about taxes being just too high.

ARNOLD: Thorndike heads up the Tax History Project at the nonpartisan and nonprofit group called Tax Analysts. He says another thing, the original Tea Party in 1773 itself was sparked not just by a tax, but by a government bailout. England was looking to prop up the British East India Company, so it gave the company a tax break that enabled it to undercut colonial tea merchants. And that threatened to put a lot of them out of business.

Mr. THORNDIKE: They wanted to help bail out this company which was struggling against a big debt load, if that sounds familiar.

ARNOLD: Thorndike says that's a similarity to the modern-day Tea Party movement. The bank bailouts got a lot of Tea Party activists upset, and in both cases, people saw the government as favoring big business over the little guy.

Mr. THORNDIKE: It's that sort of favoritism that tends to really grate against people.

Ms. CHRISTEN VARLEY (President, Greater Boston Tea Party): So we're looking at setting up the stages on the sidewalk at Charles Street, not here at the bandstand.

ARNOLD: Christen Varley is the president of the Greater Boston Tea Party. She's meeting with some fellow Tea Party members on Boston Common. They're planning a modern day demonstration. Varley says a year ago, she was a housewife who decided to get into politics.

Ms. VARLEY: You know, I was very dissatisfied with bailing out, you know, banks, bailing out auto companies too big to fail, and kind of thought, you know, as a newcomer to Massachusetts, well, we should definitely be having one of these Tea Party things here, because, you know, this is where it all started.

ARNOLD: And Varley says she feels a connection to the original Tea Party.

Ms. VARLEY: The root of it is that we believe in limited government and personal responsibility and individual liberty. And, you know, I just love America, and even Boston. I mean - and I'm from Ohio. And I'm...

ARNOLD: It turns out that modern-day Boston is just a little too liberal for the local president of the Tea Party movements, even with Boston's history.

Boston is the sight of the Tea party, right? That's where it all started.

Ms. VARLEY: I know, I know, I know. But oh, God. The politics here just make me itchy. I mean it's, ugh...

ARNOLD: Now when it comes to taxes, the Obama administration has actually cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans through a federal income tax credit. Varley says she doesn't believe that, no matter what the government says. And regardless, she says, she's worried about what's to come with the rising deficit.

Meanwhile, some historians say that the modern Tea Party movement has become enough of a force in politics that it will probably have its own at least small mention in the history books.

Chris Arnold, NPR News, Boston.

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