by midtowng | 4/18/2008 12:21:00 PM
"Whoever wishes to foresee the future must consult the past; for human events ever resemble those of preceding times. This arises from the fact that they are produced by men who ever have been, and ever shall be, animated by the same passions, and thus they necessarily have the same results."
- Machiavelli

"Clio, the muse of history, is as thoroughly infected with lies as a street whore with syphilis."
- Schopenhauer

History is an amazing thing. You can get a unique and logical perspective on any present event - as long as you don't use it to try and justify decisions you are already committed to.
For instance, when Vice President Cheney said, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter," he was ignoring history's consistent lessons. (Or maybe it was an incomplete thought. Perhaps he really meant, "Reagan proved that deficits don't matter at the voting booth." In which case he was probably correct.)

The other trick to history, and this is important, is to get a complete historical account, and not an abbreviated one. Far too often when someone writes history they leave out important facts that can totally change the motivations of the participants.

For instance, the Boston Tea Party.
If you are like me you this is what you learned in grade school:
The Boston Tea Party was the colonists' protest against taxes. Britian imposed a tax on tea and other imported goods, and the colonists were outraged. They dressed up as Native Americans, boarded ships in the Boston Harbor, and threw overboard all the tea they could find on the ships. They wanted to send the message to the British that they would not tolerate exorbitant taxes.
Pretty straight forward, right? This is why right-wing tax protesters consider themselves patriotic even today. They are just following a great American tradition...or are they?

Would you be surprised to find out that this is a complete misrepresentation of what actually happened in Boston?

Before I get into that, I want to address something that America has forced on its colony in the middle east.
The flat tax, long a dream of economic conservatives, is finally getting its day — not in the United States, but in Iraq.
Bremer’s new economic policy for Iraq will slash Saddam Hussein’s top tax rate for individuals and businesses from 45 to 15 percent. Of course, since Hussein’s government, like others in the Middle East, almost never enforced tax collection, there is no real history of paying taxes in the country.
Because the average Iraqi never paid taxes on his meager wages before, this actually amounts to a huge tax hike.
So what does this have to do with the Boston Tea Party? You have to look at the fine print of our wonderful neoconservative agenda in Iraq.
The tax will create even more enemies against the U.S., especially since the U.S. military occupiers and contractors are exempt!
The key word here is "contractors", as in large, multi-national corporations that are exempt from being taxed in our new American colony. If this all sounds somewhat interesting, then you should sit back, kick your shoes off, and relax while I tell you a little story about how sweet-heart tax deals in distant colonies for a large, multi-national corporation in the 18th Century led directly to the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution.

Before Halliburton and Blackwater

"The past is never dead; it's not even past."
- William Faulkner

The Honourable East India Company (HEIC) was created by royal charter on December 31, 1600, and was given a monopoly on all trade with India for 21 years. Right from the start the East India Company had to fight. Portugal had a monopoly of trade with India at the time, and wouldn't give it up without bloodshed. Which is exactly what happened.

By 1670 King Charles II had granted HEIC the rights to mint money, employ an army, make war, form alliances, autonomous territorial acquisition, and administer justice in those areas. These laws were to become extremely important 73 years later when an unknown writer named Robert Clive came to the city of Madras to work for HEIC, and became one of the most interesting characters in history.

At the time both France and Britain had been expanding its positions in India, as the Mughal Empire slowly collapsed.
Clive had to flee Madras in September 1746 when the French attacked. His level-headedness in the crisis was noted and Clive was given an ensign's commission in the British army. In 1751 he was sent back to India, still employed by the East Indies Company. France and England may have been at peace at the time, but France and the East Indies Company was at war.
Clive, then a captain, took sides in a war between the British-backed Mughal leader and the French-backed Mughal leader at the Battle of Arcot. Clive seized the city with about 500 men, and then withstood an 11-week seige of about 6,000 troops. Eventually Clive's forces defeated the much larger army.
Clive returned to England as a hero in 1753. In 1755 he was back in India, now a Lieutenant-Colonel in the King's army. The following year, Calcutta was captured by a new Nawab leader, Alivardi Khan. The British soldiers there were thrown in to the Black Hole of Calcutta. Clive recaptured Calcutta and forced Alivardi Khan to surrender with minimal losses.
But by this time war had broken out between France and England.
Nawab leader Siraj ud-Daula took up arms against the British again, and by June, 1757, Clive's army was facing off against a much larger army again at the Battle of Plassey. Clive's army was outnumbered 3,000 to 60,000.
Clive had reason to be confident - he had bribed one of the Nawab's generals, who led a large part of the army away from the battlefield. Clive won a battle that was hardly a battle. The general he bribed became a new puppet leader of Bengal, and the East Indies Company became the default ruler of India.
Clive became the first British Governor of Bengal. With Bengal came Bihar and Orissa. After the four Anglo-Mysore Wars the East Indies Company expanded their dominion to Bombay, and then the rest of India.

This was not a good thing for the people of India. This huge multi-national company was only interested in what all multi-national companies are: profit.
And when a huge company is also the government, that means exploitation on a massive scale.
A few years later the Company acquired the right to collect revenues on behalf of the Mughal Emperor, but the initial years of its administration were calamitous for the people of Bengal. The Company's servants were largely a rapacious and self-aggrandizing lot, and the plunder of Bengal left the formerly rich province in a state of utter destitution. The famine of 1769-70, which the Company's policies did nothing to alleviate, may have taken the lives of as many as a third of the population.
This disastrous rule in Bengal was not unnoticed in the American colonies.

The commodities the company primarily traded in were cotton, silk, indigo dye, saltpetre, tea, and opium. It's those last two commodities that I want to focus on.

HEIC started transporting opium to England in 1606 and had established a legal monopoly on opium trade in India (by force), and controlled a majority of opium trafficking to Europe, China, and America by 1800. This became important because Britain had developed a large trade deficit with China from using silver to buy tea.
In order to balance the trade deficit, Britain enlisted the East India Company's opium cartel. Before long China was importing 900 tonnes of opium a year from HEIC sources. The resulting epidemic of addiction in China caused the Qing Emperor to ban the sale of opium in 1839.
This led directly to the First Opium War, in which the British government underwrote a war on behalf of private interests and their future profits. Of course by this time the East Indies Company's main job was to administer India, rather than being strictly a trading company.

As for that Chinese tea, the colonies in the New World had to buy it through Britain by law.
The trouble was that the colonists frequently flaunted laws like these.

The Boston Tea Party

The expenditures that the East India Company was making on their mercenary army was draining their resources and eliminating their profits. The company had huge debts, large stocks of tea in warehouses and little prospects of selling it because colonial smugglers like John Hancock were importing the tea from Holland to avoid paying taxes. The company appealed to the British government, which passed the Tea Act in May 1773.
13 Geo III c. 44, long title An act to allow a drawback of the duties of customs on the exportation of tea to any of his Majesty's colonies or plantations in America; to increase the deposit on bohea tea to be sold at the East India Company's sales; and to empower the commissioners of the treasury to grant licences to the East India Company to export tea duty-free.
This act allowed the East India Company to sell tea in the colonies for half the old price that British tea was sold at, and even less than smuggled tea from Holland.
Still reeling from the Hutchinson letters, Bostonians suspected the removal of the Tea Tax was simply another attempt by the British parliament to squash American freedom. Samuel Adams, wealthy smugglers, and others who had profited from the smuggled tea called for agents and consignees of the East India Company tea to abandon their positions; consignees who hesitated were terrorized through attacks on their warehouses and even their homes.
So you see, Bostonians weren't angry about any taxes being imposed on them. They were angry about a huge corporation using its powerful lobby in the halls of government to crush the small businessman. It's sort of like being angry at Walmart for crushing small businesses in America.

Why that sounds downright leftist to me. Does it to you?

The outraged Bostonians circulated a pamphlet called The Alarm which reminded people of the company's recent record in Bengal.
Are we in like Manner to be given up to the Disposal of the East India Company, who have now the Assurance, to step forth in Aid of the Minister, to execute his Plan, of enslaving America? 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. ... 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 Rate that the poor could not purchase them.
The rest of the story you already know. The first of the huge East India Company tea ships (the Dartmouth) arrived in Boston Harbor in late November, 1773, but John Hancock, Samuel Adams and friends wouldn't let them unload their shipments.
On December 16, 1773, the Sons of Liberty dressed up as indians and boarded the Dartmouth and two other East India Company ships and dumped 45 tonnes of tea into the harbor.