Tea Party Originals Were Rebels Gunning for a War: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of "The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States" by Gordon S. Wood. Source: Penguin via Bloomberg

May 28 (Bloomberg) -- Calling George III the “tyrant of the earth,” colonists dumped tea valued at about $2 million in today’s currency into Boston Harbor on Dec. 16, 1773.

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His soldiers, they claimed, constituted “a mercenary, licentious rabble of banditti,” ready to spill innocent blood. Thus did the rebels build up fervor for the coming war.

In reality, the Americans knew they were not oppressed, enslaved people who needed to throw off imperial shackles. They were conscious of the fact that they enjoyed more freedom than anyone else at that time. Then why so much rebellion with so little cause?

Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Gordon Wood, author of “The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States,” says the colonists revolted not “to create, but to maintain their freedom.”

Ultimately, it was an intellectual revolution, making Americans into an “ideological people.”

I spoke with him on the following topics:

1. Identity With the Founders

2. Liberty & Equality

3. Bottom-Up Power

4. Jefferson’s Radicalism

5. Exceptionalism

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(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.