The First|Tea Party

     The tea party is getting a lot of ink these days, due to the modern journalists’ rule that anytime a few so-called “patriots” holler, about anything, it’s a “story,” no matter how deluded or ignorant the patriots may be.
     I thought I’d look up the original Tea Party and see what sort of press coverage it got. The best article I found was by our old friend Sam Johnson, world-class grouch and Doctor of Letters, Trinity College 1765, and Oxford 1775.
     Dr. Johnson wrote “The Patriot: Addressed to the Electors of Great Britain” for the general election of 1774. In it he addressed, among other things, a new law that made it harder to rig elections. The conservative English patriots didn’t like that law. Dr. Johnson did.
     Dr. Johnson was no friend of the rebellious colonies, though. He hated slavery, and thought that any country that allowed it was getting off on the wrong chained foot.
     Dr. Johnson’s article seems just as good today as it was when he wrote it. It’s particularly timely now, as our spineless Congress prepares to renew the famous USA Patriot Act, which probably should be called by its original name, the Alien and Sedition Acts.
     Here is what Dr. Johnson had to say about patriots: “A Patriot is he whose public conduct is regulated by one single motive, the love of his country; who … has for himself neither hope nor fear, neither kindness nor resentment, but refers everything to the common interest. …
     “Let us take a Patriot where we can meet him; and that we may not flatter ourselves by false appearances, distinguish those marks which are certain from those which may deceive: for a man may have the external appearance of a Patriot, without the constituent qualities; as false coins have often lustre, though they want weight.
     “Some claim a place in the list of Patriots by an acrimonious and unremitting opposition to the Court.” (By Court, Johnson meant the government. He continued): “This mark is by no means infallible. Patriotism is not necessarily included in rebellion. A man may hate his king, yet not love his country. He that has been refused a reasonable or unreasonable request, who thinks his merit underrated, and sees his influence declining, begins soon to talk of … the majesty of the people. As his political melancholy increases, he tells, and perhaps dreams of the advances of the prerogative, and the dangers of arbitrary power; yet his design in all his declamation is not to benefit his country, but to gratify his malice.
     “These, however, are the most honest of the opponents of government; their patriotism is a species of disease; and they feel some part of what they express. But the greater, far the greater number of those who rave and rail, and enquire and accuse, neither suspect, nor fear, nor care for the public; but hope to force their way to riches by virulence and invective, and are vehement and clamorous only that they may be sooner hired to be silent.
     “A man sometimes starts up a Patriot only by disseminating discontent and propagating reports of secret influence, of dangerous counsels, of violated rights and encroaching usurpation.
     “This practice is no certain note of patriotism. To instigate the populace with rage beyond the provocation is to suspend public happiness, if not to destroy it. He is no lover of his country that unnecessarily disturbs the peace. Few errors and few faults of government can justify an appeal to the rabble; who ought not to judge of what they cannot understand, and whose opinions are not propagated by reason, but caught by contagion.”
     After some remarks on the wisdom of religious toleration, and pointing out that even our enemies – even the French – at times may be right, Johnson observes that “war is one of the heaviest of national evils, a calamity in which every species of misery is involved; as it sets the general safety to hazard, suspends commerce, and desolates the country; as it exposes great numbers to hardships, dangers, captivity and death; no man who desires the public prosperity will inflame general resentment by aggravating minute injuries, or enforcing disputable rights of little importance.”
     Johnson concludes by asking the government, and the people, to act upon principles of decency, “with more constancy and higher spirit … it surely is not too much to expect that the nation will recover from its delusion, and unite in a general abhorrence of those who, by deceiving the credulous with fictitious mischiefs, overbearing the weak by audacity of falsehood, by appealing to the judgment of ignorance, and flattering the vanity of meanness, by slandering honesty and insulting dignity, have gathered round them whatever the kingdom can supply of base, and gross, and profligate; and raised by merit to this bad eminence, arrogate to themselves the name of Patriots.”
     So wrote Dr. Johnson, a good man, smarter than any of us.
     I just thought I’d mention it.

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