Tea Party Movement: Facts & Platform

Instructor: Jason Waguespack

Jason has taught Political Science courses for college. He has a doctorate in Political Science.

This lesson will teach you about the Tea Party movement, a political movement that began in 2009. You will learn about important figures in the movement, as well as the beliefs that make up their platform.

What Is The Tea Party?

You're reading the news online or watching television. Once again, you're hearing a public official promote a policy that you just can't stand. It may have to do with taxes, social justice issues, government spending, or foreign policy, but whatever it is, you feel the need to speak out. And you're not alone. Before long, you find that hundreds of thousands of people feel the same way.

One of America's defining characteristics is the right of the people to assemble and speak out against laws and policies they don't like. Sometimes these assemblies turn into political movements that last for years. The Tea Party movement is an example of this. It draws its name from the 1773 Boston Tea Party when American protestors, dressed as Native Americans, threw British tea into the Boston harbor to protest a tea tax.

Tea Party in Louisville, Kentucky
Louisville Tea Party pic by C. Bedford Crenshaw

A Call to Action

The beginning of the Tea Party movement is widely credited with CNBC business analyst Rick Santelli. In January of 2009, the new Obama administration laid out a proposal to help homeowners who were facing bankruptcy after the housing bubble burst, by allowing them to refinance their mortgages. On February 19, 2009, the day after the plan was announced, Santelli denounced the proposal from the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, claiming it rewarded bad behavior. He suggested that the citizens should take part in a 'Chicago Tea Party' to protest the ''government's support of fiscal irresponsibility.'' Some of the traders on the floor cheered Santelli's idea. Santelli's rant would go viral, meaning it was widely circulated on the Internet.

Protests and Activities

Philadelphia Tea Party on April 18, 2009
Protestors at Philadelphia Tea Party on April 18, 2009.

Following Santelli's rant, various Internet websites sprang up that adopted the 'tea party' moniker, calling for protests against President Obama's policies. The first national Tea Party protest occurred on February 27, 2009, when, in 50 cities around the nation, 30,000 people gathered in protest of the 2009 Stimulus Bill.

The Tea Party movement really caught fire during the debate over the Affordable Care Act pending before Congress, commonly called Obamacare. Many opponents flooded town halls in August 2009 to voice their problems with the legislation, but the bill passed in March 2010 over their objections. The Tea Party movement turned their energies to the 2010 congressional elections. Many members of Congress who voted for the health care legislation were defeated, and the Republican Party gained control of the House of Representatives from the Democrats.

Tea Party Groups and Figures

Sarah Palin
sarah palin

The Tea Party movement organized into many small advocacy groups at the local level as well as several national groups such as the Tea Party Patriots, the Tea Party Express and FreedomWorks. Politicians and media personalities quickly became influential players in the Tea Party movement. One of them was a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, Michele Bachmann, who founded the Tea Party Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president in 2008, also participated in Tea Party activities, particularly by endorsing candidates for public office that she deemed to be in line with Tea Party ideals, and has been credited by some analysts as being the visible leader of the movement. Other Tea Party figures have included former Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina and talk show host Glenn Beck.


Tea Party protest during Taxpayer March on Washington
 Tea Party protest sign during the Taxpayer March on Washington.

Since the Tea Party is not an actual political party and is made up of different organizations, it has no set platform, a list or statement of the party's values, though many Tea Party groups take similar stands. Generally, Tea Party groups take the position that the federal government has gotten too large and federal spending is out of control. Tea Party stances also include an opposition to tax increases and the opposition to the regulation of businesses. In addition, there is a call for dramatic reduction of the tax code, reducing the national debt, eliminating the Affordable Care Act, and generally devolving federal government functions back to the fifty states.

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