Ed Glaeser urges the Tea party to return to its urban roots by adopting urban-centric policies:
The original Tea Party was a child of the city. Urban interactions in 1770s Boston helped create a revolution and a great nation.
The current Tea Party could return to its urban roots if it stands up against subsidies for home borrowing and highways and if it encourages competition in urban schools.
Aside from the obvious fact that this will never happen -- Tea Parties represent the self-interest and cultural assertion of a certain segment of America, not a principled libertarianism -- this gets the history wrong. Gordon Wood's review of Pauline Maier's account of the Constitution from last December provocatively, and persuasively, argues that the Tea Party descends from the anti-Federalists. The whole review essay is a must read, but here is the nub:
Many of the critics were localists who feared that the Constitution would create the very kind of far-removed and powerful central government that they had just thrown off. They worried also that elections were too infrequent, especially for the Senate. They thought that representation in the House, sixty-five members for four million people, was inadequate. The president was too monarch-like, and the Constitution lacked a provision for jury trials in civil cases. Some were frightened by the distant ten-mile square that was to become the capital. The federal government would become a consolidation run by an aristocracy, “lordly and high-minded men” contemptuous of the common people.
Like the present-day Tea Partiers, mistrust of politicians ran through all their speeches and writings. Since no one should be counted on to exercise political power fairly, many critics proposed term limits. In framing a new government, the Anti-Federalists declared, “it is our duty rather to indulge a jealousy of the human character, than an expectation of unprecedented perfection.” One Massachusetts delegate said that “he would not trust ‘a flock of Moseses’” with political power or with too much revenue. “As the poverty of individuals prevents luxury,” one Anti-Federalist observed, “so the poverty of publick bodies ... prevents tyranny.” Above all, the opponents wanted a bill of rights to limit the government and protect their rights.
Although there were men of wealth and education on both sides of the debate, there is little doubt that many of the opponents of the Constitution were plain middling men, farmers and small-time merchants, men such as the Scotch-Irish backcountry Pennsylvanian William Findley or the New York petty merchant Melancton Smith, who had no college education and resented the arrogance of the Federalists. Findley had his small victory in the Pennsylvania ratifying convention. When he claimed that Sweden, when it lost its jury trials, lost its freedom, the Federalists, in particular Thomas McKean, the state’s chief justice, and James Wilson, a lawyer and former student at the University of St. Andrews, mocked him and laughingly denied that Sweden had ever had jury trials. When the Pennsylvania convention re-assembled following the Sabbath, Findley produced evidence that there had indeed been jury trials in Sweden, citing especially the third volume of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, every lawyer’s bible. McKean had the good sense to remain quiet, but Wilson could not. “I do not pretend to remember everything I read,” he sneered, adding that “those whose stock of knowledge is limited to a few items may easily remember and refer to them; but many things may be overlooked and forgotten in a magazine of literature.” He ended by claiming to have forgotten more than Findley had ever learned. No wonder the opponents of the Constitution thought that Wilson conceived himself to be “born of a different race from the rest of the sons of men.”
Throughout the debates, many of the Anti-Federalists in many of the states expressed similar social resentments. The critics of the Constitution tried to speak out, but as one Connecticut Anti-Federalist complained, they were “‘browbeaten’ by the self-styled ‘Ciceros’ and men of ‘superior rank, as they called themselves.’” The opponents of the Constitution grumbled that the Federalists, “these lawyers, and men of learning, and monied men ... talk so finely and gloss over matters so smoothly, to make us poor illiterate people swallow down the pill.” They expected to go to Congress, to become the “managers of this Constitution,” and to “get all the power and all the money into their own hands.” Then they would “swallow up all us little folks, like the great Leviathan ... yes, just as the whale swallowed up Jonah.” What was needed in government, said Melancton Smith of New York, was “a sufficient number of the middling class” to offset and control the “few and great.”
Although Maier is too serious a historian—too wedded to the pastness of the past—to attempt to connect these sorts of localist attitudes and social resentments to our own time, what is extraordinary about much of the Anti-Federalist thinking is its similarity to the populist sentiments that we are experiencing today. All of which suggests that the present-day Tea Party movement may not be as novel and strange as some think it is. The great irony, of course, is that the Anti-Federalist ancestors of the Tea Partiers opposed the Constitution rather than revered it.