It’s been a rough year for national Republican leaders when it comes to colonial American history. Michele Bachmann thinks Lexington and Concord are in New Hampshire. Sarah Palin thinks Paul Revere rode around ringing bells and sending warning shots to warn the British “they weren’t gonna be takin’ away our arms.”
And now Rick Perry has his own unique understanding of the Boston Tea Party.
For those who can’t watch clips online, Perry said in the video, “There was a time in our nation’s history when people like you — patriots — they had to disguise themselves and sneak around in Boston, if you will, cities up in the Northeast, in the dark. They risked their lives in order to send a message about unfair taxation.”
Perry was speaking from notes, and he’s made this identical case before, insisting that in 1770s Boston, American patriots were “afraid to walk around in public,” for fear of persecution.
Contrary to Perry’s assertion, nobody was “afraid to walk around in public” in colonial Boston out of “fear that they’d be persecuted” for objecting to high taxes. What actually happened was that “disguised men and others then went on board the tea-ships moored at Griffin’s Wharf, and in the course of three hours they emptied three hundred and forty-two chests of tea into the water of the harbor.” Apparently not all the tea partiers actually did wear disguises at all, but clearly the point of wearing disguises wasn’t generalized fear of public expression of dissent but specific fear that acts of vandalism were illegal. For all that’s changed in the subsequent 230 years, this aspect of American life is basically the same. People who want to protest peacefully do so freely, people who want to destroy other people’s property are more likely to wear masks.
I’d say Perry’s mistake isn’t quite as embarrassing as Bachmann’s and Palin’s, but it’s in the ballpark.
The moral of the story? If you learn American history from right-wing talk radio, you’re bound to get a lot of the details wrong.