William Hogeland, a frequent contributor to Salon and the Huffington Post, has written several excellent books on the Revolutionary Period. His 2006 book, The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty, has been a valuable resource which I’ve used while writing my upcoming book on the ideological roots of the Tea Party movement. Mr. Hogeland, therefore, despite his association with blogs of the Left, is someone whose work always attracts my attention.
I was more than disappointed by his recent article in Salon, What Tea Partyers Ignore About the Founders. Regrettably, he appears incapable of applying the kind of historical objectivity he applies to the Revolutionary Era to the modern day Tea Party movement.
Consider this passage:
Seeing founding-generation American patriots as unified against British taxation (and frequently misrepresenting the politics even of the elites they invoke), the Tea Party defines its own anti-government, anti-tax values as essential to American identity.
The Tea Party thus edits out an alternative view of government that prevailed among the ordinary 18th-century Americans who were all-important to achieving independence. Those Americans opposed elites epitomized by the Boston merchant class, which the Tea Party, perhaps appropriately enough, so strongly identifies with. The internal struggle for American equality was as important to the founding as the high-Whig resistance to England, but the Tea Party can’t deal with the populist leaders and militia rank-and-file who wrote the socially radical 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution, or the Shaysites of Massachusetts who marched on the state armory, or the so-called whiskey rebels who inspired federal occupation of western Pennsylvania. American Revolutionary patriots all, those democratic-finance leaders had ideas about government’s role in ensuring economic equality that prefigured programs of the 19th-century Populists and the 20th-century New Dealers, the very programs the Tea Party wants to dismantle. Tea Party history therefore has to expunge the welfare state’s roots in America’s founding.
Mr. Hogeland condescendingly assumes that tea party activists are unfamiliar with these three historical incidents. To the contrary, we are more familiar with their relevance to our modern circumstances than is Mr. Hogeland himself.
As an historian, Mr. Hogeland should familiarize himself with the three core values of the Tea Party movement, which we’ve loudly proclaimed in every venue possible for the past two years: (1) Constitutionally limited government (2) Free markets and (3) Fiscal Responsibility.
As he well knows, both the 1776 Pennsylvania Constitution and the Shays Rebellion of Massachusetts took place before the ratification of the Constitution. As for the “Whiskey Rebels” of western Pennsylvania, their complaint against the early Federal government was that it passed a law that unfairly taxed small whiskey producers at much higher rates than large whiskey producers in urban areas. It was a violation of their individual liberties and the principles of free markets for the government to pick the “winners” (large urban manufacturers) and “losers” (small rural manufacturers).
Indeed, the modern Tea Party movement feels a great kinship with what then Attorney General Edmund Randolph condescendingly described as “self-organized groups” of Whiskey Rebels in Western Pennsylvania. What is a local tea party group, after all, but a “self-organized group”?
But Mr. Hogeland is not alone among historians in misrepresenting the purposes of the Tea Party movement. For instance, he is a paragon of intellectual integrity when compared to Harvard’s Jill LePore. All of this suggests a topic for a Voices of the Tea Party e-book: Why Can’t Mainstream Historians Accurately Describe the Current Tea Party Movement?
Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series, co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition, and the author of an upcoming book on the ideological origins of the Tea Party movement. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .