It happened today - December 16, 2015 December 16 is a great day in history. It’s when the Boston Tea Party happened.

I like it because I’m all for tax revolts. Indeed, we need one now, peaceful but absolutely resolute. But I also like it because it is history’s most principled tax revolt. It was a protest against a tax cut.

Wait. What? Why’s that good? Don’t tell me you’re one of those liberals rushing to the barricades demanding higher taxes, even volunteering for them?

Good guess. No. I’m not. What I am doing is praising the revolutionaries in Boston because they would not sell their birthright for a mess of pottage of a nice cuppa.

You see, the British government had already made a right mess of things in their North American colonies by trying to deprive them of the rights Englishmen had had since Magna Carta and indeed before. And in an effort to pull the teabag out of the boiling water London had actually backed off on a number of its more repressive measures by 1770 while still asserting their theoretical right to govern the colonists without their consent.

Then in 1773, faced with the possibility of the East India Company going bankrupt, they granted it the right to import tea directly into the colonies without paying the duty on tea that was all that was left of the ill-judged “Townshend Duties” of 1767. The authorities made the materialist assumption that this tax cut would buy the colonists.

It did not. They were outraged. Some were outraged on material grounds, such as American merchants who’d been making a killing smuggling tea to evade the duty. But most were outraged on principle.

Their reasoning, as impeccable as it was unexpected, was that if the British could lower their taxes without their consent it meant they could change their taxes without their consent which meant they could raise them or impose new ones without their consent. And that went directly against Magna Carta, the 1297 statute De Tallagio non Concedendo and a whole host of other measures binding the executive via the purse strings.

The British cracked down hard after the Boston Tea Party, only to find that free people throughout the colonies rallied to the cause of frequently despised Puritan Massachusetts when its ancient liberties were threatened. “Give me liberty or give me death,” cried Patrick Henry, not “Give me money or lose my vote.”

Today politicians assume that we will accept virtually anything if it brings us material benefits, whether a tax cut for the middle class, a tax break or a flat-out subsidy cheque.

It was not true in Boston in 1773. And it should not be true today.

It happened todayJohn Robson