Part of Best Foreign Affairs Print Stories of 2011

The Tea Party and American Foreign Policy

What Populism Means for Globalism

During the night of December 16, 1773, somewhere between 30 and 130 men, a few disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded three merchant ships in Boston Harbor and destroyed 342 chests of tea to protest duties imposed by the British parliament. Samuel Adams was widely considered to be the ringleader of the demonstration. The historical record is ambiguous; he disclaimed all responsibility while doing everything possible to publicize the event. The next year, a more decorous tea party occurred in Edenton, North Carolina, when Mrs. Penelope Barker convened 51 women to support the colony's resistance to British taxation. Tea was neither destroyed nor consumed, but something even more momentous happened that day: Barker's gathering is believed to have been the first women's political meeting in British North America.

Both tea parties stirred British opinion. Although prominent Whigs, such as John Wilkes and Edmund Burke, supported the Americans against King George III and his handpicked government, the lawlessness of Boston and the unheard-of political activism of the women of Edenton seemed proof to many in the mother country that the colonials were violent and barbaric. The idea of a women's political meeting was shocking enough to merit coverage in the London press, where the resolutions taken by the Edenton activists were reprinted in full. The British writer Samuel Johnson published a pamphlet denouncing the colonials' tea parties and their arguments against imperial taxation, writing, "These antipatriotic prejudices are the abortions of folly impregnated by faction."

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