When we read accounts of the Boston Tea Party, what are we really reading about? Is it a tax on tea? Did our ancestors go to war with England over the price of tea? Would we still be a British colony if the King had acquiesced and lowered the tax on tea? No, of course not. The tax on tea was a tangible focal point that the people could relate to that represented the oppression of the British Crown. What about the current anger over Obama’s Health Control (presented as Health Care)? Why is there such popular anger over how medical treatment will be paid for? Is that what people are really angry over? Would Obama’s approval ratings suddenly improve if he repealed this piece of socialist legislation? No. Just like the tax on tea over 200 years ago, it is something that directly affects the lives of the people, and it became the symbol of something much larger – an out of control government that exists to benefit the powerful at the expense of the people.
From the perspective of Southerners defending slavery, what does the issue of slavery in the antebellum years have to do with the Boston Tea Party and “Health Care”? It was the symbol of Northern domination of the country. It was an example of those in the North trying to dictate how Southerners must live. It was the perfect illustration of Northerners who profited from the importation of slaves, who profited from the ready supply of cotton for their textile mills, and who profited when they shipped their slaves south when it proved cheaper and more efficient to import poor Whites to work in their factories for starvation wages once they arrived in America. Having already made their profits from slavery, it became politically expedient to ride the wave of popular outrage against what those people in The South were doing.
Slavery most likely was not all that popular in The South, in that people understood that there was something fundamentally wrong with it. It was a problem, but it was The South’s problem to solve – not to be dictated to by The North. It was the right of the states to make decisions and to solve problems; it was not the proper role of the federal government to tell the states what to do.
Slavery was emblematic of the great divide between North and South. It was NOT the cause for the War for Southern Independence any more than the price of tea was the cause for the first War for Independence. If the issue of slavery suddenly disappeared overnight in late 1860, that would have done nothing to prevent the secession of the Southern states. The only difference would be that the North would no longer have the issue of slavery to piously claim the moral high ground. When we read the accounts of Southern leaders defending slavery, they are using it as a rhetorical device to illustrate the great divide that had split the North and South long before the first shots were ever fired in the war. Was slavery a factor? Yes, of course it was – but not in the way that revisionist history presents it. Slavery was being used as a symbol – just as their grandfathers had used a tax on tea as a symbol of another oppressive government.