Monday, July 04, 2011

Happy Fourth of July (Boston Iced Tea Edition)

cross-posted from Dagblog

I'm enjoying the Glorious Fourth from my front porch, with Old Glory flying and a whole fridgeful of red and blue berries just waiting for some patriotic whipped cream to make them a virtuous Yankee dessert. Later today, my Red Sox will be taking on the British Commonwealth's only big-league baseball team, Toronto. I hope they do the Sons of Liberty proud.

In honor of the day, a recipe and a bit of historical trivia. First, the recipe:

Boston Harbor Iced Tea
1. Brew Darjeeling tea and ice it.
2. Rim drinking glasses with sea salt.
3. Pour iced tea into glasses. Sweeten each glass with two spoonfuls of molasses at the bottom.
4. Scoff at the British East India Company.

A bit of trivia, then. Although we talk about the Boston Tea Party as a revolt against taxes, that was only part of the problem. It was actually a revolt against a government-sponsored monopoly. In fact, the British cut the tax on tea.

There had been a tax on tea in the colonies for years. And the colonists did object to it, but not nearly as much as the Stamp Act, which taxed every paper document in the colonies. The Stamp Act led to a bitter series of protests, reprisals and confrontations between the colonists and parliament. At the end, Parliament essentially backed down but left the tax on tea in effect, just to save face. The colonists didn't like it, but sometimes you have to compromise. The Americans were willing to let Parliament walk away from the table with something. And then, of course, to drink black-market tea rather than pay the tax.

Then Parliament decided to pass the Tea Act of 1773, which gave the British East India Company an exclusive monopoly on importing tea to America. (Modern conservatives claim the government should not break up monopolies, but 18th-century Britain created monopolies by fiat.) To sweeten the deal, Parliament lowered the tea tax. But Parliament's goal was to help a powerful, well-connected corporation make more money.

So, in an ongoing slow-burn confrontation over who had the right to levy taxes, you have Parliament going back to undo a compromise. And you had them doing that in order to favor a gigantic, politically-connected business concern over consumers and smaller merchants. (They actually made it illegal for any of the Americans to sell tea, and anyone who bought it had to pay the monopolists' price, not the market's.) Reminds me of something, but I can't say what. Happy Fourth, everybody!

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