Against the Tea Party

Against the Tea Party:

The first one, that is. Cassandra raised the question a month or so back; here's the New Yorker, finally catching up to her.

Tarring and feathering was so popular in New England in the seventeen-sixties and seventies that at least one observer thought Americans had invented it, though in fact it has been around since at least the twelfth century. What was it like? Pine tar, used to waterproof ships, is liquid at room temperature and, in most cases, was probably applied unheated. Feathers were obtained either from fowl (the smellier the better) or from cushions. The third and most essential ingredient was exposure. One customs agent was kept outdoors in his “modern jacket” until he was frostbitten. “They say his flesh comes off his back in Steaks,” a woman reported afterward. Victims felt a lingering shame, though the frostbitten customs agent, a resilient personality, petitioned King George III to dub him a “Knight of the Tarr.”...

George Washington disapproved of the Tea Party, and Benjamin Franklin called it “an Act of violent Injustice on our part.” But the Revolution was not yet in the hands of the Founders, although it had left those of the merchants, who now dodged and stalled as the people—passionate and heedless of economic niceties—called for a ban on all tea, even what was smuggled from the Dutch.
As insurgencies go, tarring and feathering is not so bad: we're accustomed to seeing insurgents express their distress by bombing crowds of women and children, rather than applying some mild discomfort to individuals singled out for their own personal actions. Still, a relative judgment may not be the right way to approach the question: perhaps it's not enough to be better, but rather to be good. I'll leave that for the discussion.

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