The Real Boston Tea Party was an Anti-Corporate Revolt

CNBC Correspondent Rick Santelli called for a "Chicago Tea
Party" on Feb 19th in protesting President Obama's plan to help homeowners in
trouble. Santelli's call was answered by the right-wing group FreedomWorks,
which funds campaigns promoting big business interests, and is the opposite of
what the real Boston Tea Party was. FreedomWorks was funded in 2004 by Dick
Armey (former Republican House Majority leader & lobbyist); consolidated
Citizens for a Sound Economy, funded by the Koch family; and Empower America, a
lobbying firm, that had fought against healthcare and minimum-wage efforts
while hailing deregulation.

Anti-tax "tea party" organizers are delivering one
million tea bags to a Washington, D.C., park Wednesday morning - to promote
protests across the country by people they say are fed up with high taxes and
excess spending.

The real Boston Tea Party was a protest against huge
corporate tax cuts for the British East India Company, the largest
trans-national corporation then in existence. This corporate tax cut threatened
to decimate small Colonial businesses by helping the BEIC pull a Wal-Mart
against small entrepreneurial tea shops, and individuals began a revolt that kicked-off
a series of events that ended in the creation of The United States of America.

They covered their faces, massed in the streets, and
destroyed the property of a giant global corporation. Declaring an end to
global trade run by the East India Company that was destroying local economies,
this small, masked minority started a revolution with an act of rebellion later
called the Boston Tea Party.

On a cold November day in 1773, activists gathered in a
coastal town. The corporation had gone too far, and the two thousand people
who'd jammed into the meeting hall were torn as to what to do about it.
Unemployment was exploding and the economic crisis was deepening; corporate
crime, governmental corruption spawned by corporate cash, and an ethos of greed
were blamed. "Why do we wait?" demanded one at the meeting, a fisherman named
George Hewes. "The more we delay, the more strength is acquired" by the company
and its puppets in the government. "Now is the time to prove our courage," he
said. Soon, the moment came when the crowd decided for direct action and rushed
into the streets.

is how I tell the story of the Boston Tea Party, now
that I have read a first-person account of it. While striving to
understand my
nation's struggles against corporations, in a rare book store I came
upon a first edition of "Retrospect of the Boston Tea Party with a
Memoir of George R.T. Hewes, a
Survivor of the Little Band of Patriots Who Drowned the Tea in Boston
Harbor in
1773," and I jumped at the chance to buy it. Because the identities of
the Boston
Tea Party participants were hidden (other than Samuel Adams) and all
were sworn
to secrecy for the next 50 years, this account is
the only first-person account of the event by a participant that
exists. As I read, I began to understand the true causes of the

I learned that the Boston Tea Party resembled in many ways
the growing modern-day protests against transnational corporations and
small-town efforts to protect themselves from chain-store retailers or factory
farms. The Tea Party's participants thought of themselves as protesters against
the actions of the multinational East India Company.

Although schoolchildren are usually taught that the American
Revolution was a rebellion against "taxation without representation," akin to
modern day conservative taxpayer revolts, in fact what led to the revolution
was rage against a transnational corporation that, by the 1760s, dominated
trade from China to India to the Caribbean, and controlled nearly all commerce
to and from North America, with subsidies and special dispensation from the
British crown.

Hewes notes: "The [East India] Company received permission
to transport tea, free of all duty, from Great Britain to America..." allowing it
to wipe out New England-based tea wholesalers and mom-and-pop stores and take
over the tea business in all of America. "Hence," wrote, "it
was no longer the small vessels of private merchants, who went to vend tea for
their own account in the ports of the colonies, but, on the contrary, ships of
an enormous burthen, that transported immense quantities of this commodity ...
The colonies were now arrived at the decisive moment when they must cast the
dye, and determine their course ... "

A pamphlet was circulated through the colonies called The
Alarm and signed by an enigmatic "Rusticus." One issue made clear the feelings
of colonial Americans about England's largest transnational corporation and its
behavior around the world: "Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has
given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights,
Liberties, or Lives of Men. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned
lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of Gain. The Revenues of
Mighty Kingdoms have entered their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to
glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities,
Extortions, and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their
Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin. Fifteen hundred
Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth
denied its Fruits; but [because] this Company and their Servants engulfed all
the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Price that the poor could
not purchase them."

After protesters had turned back the Company's ships in
Philadelphia and New York, Hewes writes, "In Boston the general voice declared
the time was come to face the storm."

The citizens of the colonies were preparing to throw off one
of the corporations that for almost 200 years had determined nearly every
aspect of their lives through its economic and political power. They were
planning to destroy the goods of the world's largest multinational corporation,
intimidate its employees, and face down the guns of the government that
supported it.

The queen's corporation

The East India Company's influence had always been pervasive
in the colonies. Indeed, it was not the Puritans but the East India Company
that founded America. The Puritans traveled to America on ships owned by the
East India Company, which had already established the first colony in North
America, at Jamestown, in the Company-owned Commonwealth of Virginia,
stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi. The commonwealth was
named after the "Virgin Queen," Elizabeth, who had chartered the corporation.

Elizabeth was trying to make England a player in the new
global trade sparked by the European "discovery" of the Americas. The wealth
Spain began extracting from the New World caught the attention of the European
powers. In many European countries, particularly Holland and France,
consortiums were put together to finance ships to sail the seas. In 1580, Queen
Elizabeth became the largest shareholder in The Golden Hind, a ship owned by
Sir Francis Drake.

The investment worked out well for Queen Elizabeth. There's
no record of exactly how much she made when Drake paid her share of the Hind's
dividends to her, but it was undoubtedly vast, since Drake himself and the
other minor shareholders all received a 5000 percent return on their
investment. Plus, because the queen placed a maximum loss to the initial
investors of their investment amount only, it was a low-risk investment (for
the investors at least-creditors, such as suppliers of provisions for the
voyages or wood for the ships, or employees, for example, would be left unpaid
if the venture failed, just as in a modern-day corporation). She was endorsing
an investment model that led to the modern limited-liability corporation.

After making a fortune on Drake's expeditions, Elizabeth
started looking for a more permanent arrangement. She authorized a group of 218
London merchants and noblemen to form a corporation. The East India Company was
born on December 31, 1600.

By the 1760s, the East India Company's power had grown
massive and worldwide. However, this rapid expansion, trying to keep ahead of
the Dutch trading companies, was a mixed blessing, as the company went deep in
debt to support its growth, and by 1770 found itself nearly bankrupt.

The company turned to a strategy that multinational
corporations follow to this day: They lobbied for laws that would make it easy
for them to put their small-business competitors out of business.

Most of the members of the British government and royalty
(including the king) were stockholders in the East India Company, so it was
easy to get laws passed in its interests. Among the Company's biggest and most
vexing problems were American colonial entrepreneurs, who ran their own small
ships to bring tea and other goods directly into America without routing them
through Britain or through the Company. Between 1681 and 1773, a series of laws
were passed granting the Company monopoly on tea sold in the American colonies
and exempting it from tea taxes. Thus, the Company was able to lower its tea
prices to undercut the prices of the local importers and the small tea houses
in every town in America. But the colonists were unappreciative of their
colonies being used as a profit center for the multinational corporation.

million-dollar tea party

And so, Hewes says, on a cold November evening of 1773, the
first of the East India Company's ships of tax-free tea arrived. The next
morning, a pamphlet was widely circulated calling on patriots to meet at
Faneuil Hall to discuss resistance to the East India Company and its tea. "Things
thus appeared to be hastening to a disastrous issue. The people of the country
arrived in great numbers, the inhabitants of the town assembled. This assembly,
on the 16th of December 1773, was the most numerous ever known, there being
more than 2000 from the country present," said Hewes.

The group called for a vote on whether to oppose the landing
of the tea. The vote was unanimously affirmative, and it is related by one
historian of that scene "that a person disguised after the manner of the
Indians, who was in the gallery, shouted at this juncture, the cry of war; and
that the meeting dissolved in the twinkling of an eye, and the multitude rushed
in a mass to Griffin's wharf."

That night, Hewes dressed as an Indian, blackening his face
with coal dust, and joined crowds of other men in hacking apart the chests of
tea and throwing them into the harbor. In all, the 342 chests of tea-over
90,000 pounds-thrown overboard that night were enough to make 24 million cups
of tea and were valued by the East India Company at 9,659 Pounds Sterling or,
in today's currency, just over $1 million.

In response, the British Parliament immediately passed the
Boston Port Act stating that the port of Boston would be closed until the
citizens of Boston reimbursed the East India Company for the tea they had
destroyed. The colonists refused. A year and a half later, the colonists would
again state their defiance of the East India Company and Great Britain by
taking on British troops in an armed conflict at Lexington and Concord (the
"shots heard 'round the world") on April 19, 1775.

That war-finally triggered by a transnational corporation
and its government patrons trying to deny American colonists a fair and
competitive local marketplace-would end with independence for the colonies.

The revolutionaries had put the East India Company in its
place with the Boston Tea Party, and that, they thought, was the end of that.
Unfortunately, the Boston Tea Party was not the end; within 150 years, during
the so-called Gilded Age, powerful rail, steel, and oil interests would rise up
to begin a new form of oligarchy, capturing the newly-formed Republican Party
in the 1880s, and have been working to establish a permanent wealthy and ruling
class in this country ever since.

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