Tea-Partying Like It’s 1860

by John J. Miller

The New York Times has started “Disunion,” a Civil War blog for the sesquicentennial that is now upon us. Last week I contributed to it with a piece on the tea-party politics of the time. Here’s the lede:

On Nov. 8, 1860, the secessionists who published The Charleston Mercury greeted the news of Abraham Lincoln’s election as president with righteous defiance: “The tea has been thrown overboard, the revolution of 1860 has been initiated.”

Sound familiar? It turns out that tea-party revivalism is nothing new; it’s been in the public parlance for a long time. But not forever: in the decades after the Revolutionary War public figures aggressively avoided the “tea party” analogy, considering it an act of collective passion beneath the civility of the young republic. It took the clash over slavery and states’ rights to return the “tea party” to respectability and breathe lasting life into one of our country’s most potent political analogies.

Most of the article focuses on the past, though at the end I draw some connections to the tea partiers of today. The original version cited Gwen Ifill of PBS for her criticism of Sarah Palin and the line “party like it’s 1773.” Here’s what Ifill tweeted:

Sarah Palin: party like its 1773! ummm,

Like many liberals, Ifill thought she had caught Palin in a gaffe, believing that the proper reference was 1776. But Palin was talking about the Boston Tea Party, which took place in 1773. It’s Ifill and other Palin critics (such as Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas) who need the remedial history lesson.

In the version of the article now posted, however, there’s no reference to Ifill. Instead, there’s this:

Editors’ Note: A previous version of this article discussed a Twitter comment by the journalist Gwen Ifill that was interpreted as questioning Sarah Palin’s historical accuracy in referring to “partying like it’s 1773.” Ms. Ifill says her Twitter comment was mischaracterized and that she was simply transcribing the speech.

I find this hard to believe, especially when you listen to the speech. Palin doesn’t say “ummm” or anything like it. This is no transcription; it’s a sneer from someone who is too embarrassed to admit that Palin had it right and she had it wrong.

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