Thursday, September 3, 2009

Musings on the Boston Tea Party

I've been re-reading 1491 by Charles Mann lately, and last night I finished it again. In his last section he talks about the Haudenosaunee alliance (Iroquois, Mohawk, etc), their system of government, and how much interchange there was between the Indians and the Colonists before the Revolutionary War. I learned in my American History classes growing up that the Founders based our Constitution primarily on the English system of government, but added "new ideas" of personal freedoms to it.

In reading 1491 and seeing how the government of the Haudenosaunee worked. . . .it seems rather obvious where those "new ideas" came from (and since the alliance can be traced back to at least the 1140's, if not even a bit earlier... hardly "new" ideas, just new to the Colonials, it would seem), well -- it actually looks pretty obvious to me where they came from. Interestingly enough, it seems quite a few of the settlers "defected" to the Indians since they enjoyed greater personal freedoms with them. Even people captured in raids and ransomed back to the English would often go back to their captors voluntarily. In some ways this also served to keep political excesses in check in the colonies, since if any governor tried to control his populace harshly, people could simply head west and "disappear."

So in light of this, how come my title of this post talks about the Boston Tea Party?

Well.... again, in my history classes growing up, I was taught that the perpetrators of the BTP dressed themselves as Indians in order to disguise themselves, yet from what I can discern it seems that it was still pretty well known who did it. What if the Indian costumes were just that -- costumes, not disguises? What if those who dressed that way were making a statement (imitation. . . sincerest form of flattery. . . ) that "we will be free like the people who we are dressed as?"

There's a quote in the book from Louis Armand de Lom d'Arce, Baron of Lahontan speaking of the attitudes of the Indians that he met:

They could not understand why one Man should have more than another, and that the Rich should have more Respect than the Poor. . . . They brand us for Slaves and call us miserable Souls, whose Life is not worth having, alleging, That we degrade ourselves in subjecting our selves to one Man [a king] who possesses the whole Power, and is bound by no Law but his own Will. . . . [Individual Indians] value themselves above anything that you can imagine, and this is the reason they always give for't, That one's as much Master as another, and since Men are all made from the same Clay there should be no Distinction or Superiority among them. [Emphasis in the original.]
If this truly is a representative attitude of the Haudenosaunee peoples, and the colonists thought it good and sought to emulate it, well... they're already tossing the tea overboard in order to say "We reject King George's authority over us," so why not dress as Indians in order to add the idea that "we are free men -- One's as much a master as another . . . and there should be no distinction or superiority among us!" to it?

Maybe it really was an effort to disguise themselves and it only came out later (and thus we learn in our history classes) who the "partiers" were, but maybe it was something more. I don't know, of course, but that's the thought that struck me as I read all of that.

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