After Tuesday’s primary victories by Tea Party movement-backed candidates, water cooler talk seems focused on the relationship between the political movement and the GOP. The future impact of one on the other is unknown yet intriguing; the origins and meaning of both terms are just as fascinating.
The Republican Party picked up the “Grand Old Party” label in the 1880s. The homespun nickname actually may have been associated with Democrats originally, and was the product of the purple prose style of newspapers in the 19th century. Some claim that the G originally stood for gallant. Dubbing the Republicans “grand,” “gallant,” or “old” in the 1880s is odd considering that the party was only 26 in 1880.
For many, the primary impression of the Boston Tea Party is a bunch of colonists dressed like Mohawk Indians dumping tea over the side of a ship in Boston Harbor. This actually happened, but the context for the pageantry and protest is economic. Briefly, Britain made a series of dumb choices regarding tea and taxation. The politically-motivated policies culminated in a situation where colonists were forced to pay a tax on tea even after the rationale for the tax was removed. While the overall price of tea actually went down under the Tea Act, outrage over the lack of jurisdiction over their affairs prompted protests in all Thirteen Colonies. The Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, refused to allow tea-bearing ships to leave Boston Harbor even though the merchants who had arranged to sell the cargo wanted to send it back to England. Protestors responded by destroying the tea rather than acquiescing and allowing the contested goods to come onshore.
In a funny twist, the event didn’t acquire the name “Boston Tea Party” until the 1830s.
What then is the principle that Tea Party activists hope to emulate when they invoke the Boston Tea Party? If the focus is taxation, the association is perhaps misguided. If the focus is inadequate representation, then the name may suit them to a T.
Do you think the use of the Tea Party name is an accurate reflection of history? Let us know, and tell us what other political terms you might like us to write about.