Book Review: The Roots of Tea

Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological origins of the Tea Party Movement

Michael Patrick Leahy

Broadside Books

Before Occupy Wall Street made protesting hipster and trendy (and violent, unsanitary, and a general nuisance) there was the Tea Party movement.  If you watch the main stream media, it may seem that the Tea Party was a spontaneous, reactionary movement comprised of racist white men intent on thwarting any and all progress by the Obama administration. However, as usual the main stream media does not give you the whole story.  The Tea Party movement was indeed reactionary, but it was a rational reaction to centuries of broken promises by the federal government to the people of the United States.  

Michael Patrick Leahy, author of “Rules for Conservative Radicals” and cofounder of Top Conservatives of Twitter, makes this argument in his new book “Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement.”  In this book he maps out the historical justifications of the Tea Party Movement and what he refers to as the four broken promises that led to the movement.

He writes in his introduction: “The Tea Party movement arose in 2009 because the political class of the United States … broke four promises found within the Constitution, thereby accelerating the natural tendency to centralize and consolidate power at the expense of individual liberty.”  These four promises were:

to abide by the written words of the Constitution … to refrain from interfering in private economic matters … to honor the customs, traditions, and principles that make up the ‘fiscal constitution’… [and] that members of the legislative branch would exercise thoughtful deliberation while giving respectful consideration to the views of their constituents.

Leahy does not skimp in his justification, going back in history as far as America’s British roots.  He explains that the American founding was an attempt to restore the promises of the English Constitution by creating a written “secular covenant” between the government and the people, a covenant that has been broken over and over since “before the ink was dry” on the Constitution. 

Leahy traces the evolutionary history of the spirit of individualism that led to the forming of the secular covenant of the American Constitution.  Giving a detailed account of British history (much too detailed for me to recount here), Leahy draws parallels to American legal principles.  For example, on the publication of the Geneva Bible, Leahy writes, “Englishmen who had previously thought little about the relationship between individual and the state now had reason to contemplate what God had to say on that matter.  Following Calvin’s thinking, the Geneva Bible made the concept of a covenant – a solemn agreement between God, who promised eternal salvation, and man, who promised obedience – now seem relevant and applicable to other relationships, such as the individual and the state.” 

It was this thought that started a domino effect through history and, as Leahy remarks, “the synthesis of Protestant theology and secular political philosophies would find fertile ground for rapid growth” in America and would lead to the promise of the Constitution. 

Leahy continues to trace the ideological underpinnings of the American founding right up to the dawn of the Tea Party movement.  With the same meticulous detail he gives to English history he recounts the broken promises of Hamilton, Lincoln, Wilson, Hoover, FDR, LBJ, Nixon and numerous other administrators and politicians who disrespected the secular covenant.

It after two centuries of broken promises, the bailouts under Bush and the stimulus plan and health care under Obama, provided the was the proverbial straw that broke citizens’ backs and led to the formation of the Tea Party. 

The Tea Party, according to Leahy is a manifestation of citizens’ unwillingness to live with broken promises anymore. Leahy writes:

“The biggest message is that we – the average American citizens – weren’t paying attention as the leadership of both political parties drifted steadily away from the principles of our secular covenant.  Each successive year, the federal government added more powers, through congressional legislation, the assertion and exercise of administrative power, and a judiciary that increasingly failed to rein in governmental authority”

But no more, Leahy says.  The Tea Party stands for the need to restore all four promises that have been broken, and Leahy, and the Tea Party movement, lay out ways to do this. 

Leahy’s book is perhaps overly detailed for some readers. However, his exceptionally thorough account of history is necessary to understand the entire rationale behind the Tea Party.  It puts the Tea Party in perspective outside of just the Obama presidency.  Besides an out-of-place attack on Newt Gingrich’s involvement early on in the movement, Leahy  puts forth a well thought out historical justification of the Tea Party movement, a history lesson today’s politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, could stand to hear. 

It also reminds conservatives already dedicated to the Tea Party movement how they got there and for what exactly they are working.   And though “Covenant of Liberty” is a book about the origins of the Tea Party it necessarily explains the future of the movement, and of America, as well.  Leahy admits, “[T]he transition would be uncomfortable,” but he prophetically claims “we have awakened from our long slumber, our purpose is noble and our prospects are good.”