“Jane Austen (1775-1817) loved tea. She mentions tea so often in her novels and in her letters that I began to suspect that she was a true tea enthusiast…At the center of almost every social situation in her novels one finds – tea.” wrote Kim Wilson in her book, Tea with Jane Austen. Wilson’s book describes the central role of tea in the lives of Jane Austen’s characters and the social order of Jane Austen’s early 19th-century England. The book is liberally peppered with excerpts from Austen’s novels and letters, plus the poetry and writings of Austen’s contemporaries. All reveal how the drinking of tea, the particular foods eaten with it, and the special pots and dishes for serving them provided a daily, focal ritual which ordered the social interactions of the middle and upper classes of Austen’s time. The title ‘civilized’ was earned by the way one drank tea.
How ‘un-civilized’ then were the American colonists who dumped the English tea into the Boston Harbor in 1773. The Boston tea party was a literal and figurative over-throwing of the social order, – a rebellion, one giant spark in the igniting of a revolution. The tea-party revolutionaries understood the symbolism of their dramatic act. And they emphasized the point by dressing as Native Americans, whom they viewed as savages.
Ironically, the revolutionaries’ vision of a social order that would replace Europe’s monarchal ethos was inspired by these Native American ‘savages’. In his book, Forgotten Founders, Bruce Johansen wrote:
Contact with Indians and their ways of ordering life left a definite imprint on Franklin and others who were seeking, during the prerevolutionary period, alternatives to a European order against which revolution would be made. To Jefferson, as well as Franklin, the Indians had what the colonists wanted: societies free of oppression and class stratification. The Iroquois and other Indian nations fired the imaginations of the revolution’s architects.
Johansen quotes H.L. Morgan, “father of American anthropology”, who in 1851 compared the colonists’ federalism to the Iroquois system of government:
“Their whole civil policy was averse to the concentration of power in the hands of any single individual, but inclined to the opposite principle of division among a number of equals…The People of the Longhouse commended to our forefathers a union of colonies similar to their own as early as 1755…They [the Iroquois] saw in the common interests and common speech of the colonies the elements for a confederation.”
Johansen agreed with Morgan that “the Iroquois confederacy contained ‘the germ of modern parliament, congress, and legislature’.”