Daily Archives: May 22, 2013

Tea, that false god of luxury

Benjamin L. Carp, Defiance of the Patriots, The Boston Tea Party & the Making of America. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2010.

Pr. Carp’s book stands as an exemplary piece of social, political, and economic history.  Using strong, compelling writing, Carp has crafted a highly readable book about the origins and consequences of the Boston Tea Party.  The book offers readers a different angle on this crucial Revolutionary era event, specifically focusing on a concise history of the British East India Company (EIC), finances of the British Empire, and origins of the term ‘boycott.’  Carp gives readers a deeply considered portrait of who protested the tea, why, and identifies some immediate and long term effects of the incident.

Throughout the text, Carp successfully addresses interesting questions.  Why would the EIC be considered so important by British government and merchants alike?  Why was tea of such interest to colonial consumers?  Why use disguises generally when attacking the ship in December 1773 and why dress as Native Americans specifically?  Could different choices have resulted in alternative outcomes in what ultimately became the deadly conflict of revolution?

Defiance is amply sourced and illustrated.  The citations are clear, and in many cases refer to important works in the field ranging from long ago to recent historiography.  Carp, associate professor of history at the Tufts University, also recently worked with my old professor Richard Brown to edit the newest version of Major Problems in the Era of the American Revolution, 1760-1791.  Carp’s sources reveal deep research into what can be a somewhat challenging aspect of history in that he is describing and event with which many Americans are both familiar and ignorant.  We “know” the story of the Tea Party, but while ‘revolution is coming’, Carp would tell us, ‘we know nothing.’  (props to Ygritte and George R.R. Martin here)

One of the many strengths of Carp’s book is that he does not shy away from the myths surrounding his focused event.  Good examples include the discussion of secrecy in the years after the event, the idea of relationship between how well you disguised yourself and your closeness to the ‘inner circle’ of party organizers, and the ways in which the event has “enshrined the idea of taking matters into one’s own hands” (231).

Carp’s fluid writing and links between the Tea Party and other events in American history are important reasons to examine the text.  The book benefits from his stated goal of taking a ‘localized’ Boston story and making it global.

ps – tomorrow is my anniversary – 15 years of fantastic marriage to JRSA, so I might take a mini-break from reading to spend some time with the woman who makes it all possible. Love you J.


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