In the early 1770s, an oppressive, abusive and arrogant government angered many Americans. Tax policies were especially egregious, and they became a catalyst for revolt and the formation of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the great American experiment."
Today, an oppressive, abusive and arrogant government again angers many Americans, and recent actions by the agency in charge of taxation seem to have ignited the nation's passions. A second revolution (peaceful) is in the air.
The gravity of the situation was demonstrated in testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this week. Representatives of groups targeted by an Internal Revenue Service gone wild told their stories in words that were as powerful and heartfelt as any ever uttered by Patrick Henry.
There were accounts of government trying to ban free speech. There were accounts of government trying to restrict freedom of assembly and association. There were accounts of government trying to punish people who call themselves "patriots."
The testimony of Becky Gerritson, president of the Wetumpka (Ala.) Tea Party, is particularly enlightening, because it shows the true nature of the Tea Party movement (liberal lies aside) and what government can and will do to deprive citizens of their rights.
Gerritson and her husband started paying closer attention to government in September 2008.
They were concerned about the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program signed into law by President Bush. Then came the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 under President Obama. It called for $787 billion (revised to $831 billion) to stimulate the economy.
The Gerritsons (and millions of others) concluded that government was mortgaging the nation's future and that it was time to get involved and speak up.
Their first step was to obtain a permit for a public meeting in a town park. The meeting date: Tax day, 2009. They went door to door handing out meeting notices, and on April 15, more people than expected turned out to register their concerns.
"Our event had no party affiliation," Mrs. Gerritson said. "The only political notion expressed was the one we collectively felt: That our 'representative government' had failed us."
The Wetumpka Tea Party was born, and in October 2010, the group (nonprofit) paid $850 and applied to the IRS for 501(c)4 status, which would exempt it from having to pay taxes on contributions. (The 501(c)4 exemption generally doesn't extend to donors, and donors don't have to be identified. IRS rules say 501(c)4 groups can educate the public and try to influence legislation, but they can't back specific candidates.)
The IRS acknowledged the application and fee payment on Nov. 2, 2010, and said it would follow up within 90 days.
On Feb. 3, 2012 (more than a year later), the IRS finally wrote and said it wanted a lot more information, including the names of volunteers and donors and copies of communications with legislators.
There was some back and forth, and Mrs. Gerritson finally turned to the American Center for Law and Justice. On July 9, 2012, 635 days after applying, the IRS granted 501(c)4 status to the Wetumpka Tea Party.
In testimony this week, Mrs. Gerritson said, "The (IRS) individuals who sought to intimate us were acting as they thought they should in a government culture that has little respect for its citizens."
Fighting back tears, she concluded, "I'm not interested in scoring political points. I want to protect and preserve the America I grew up in ... and I'm terrified that it's slipping away."
She is not alone.
De Tocqueville, in Book One of "Democracy in America," noted that "the vague impulse of patriotism ... may be directed and revived; and if it be connected with the thoughts, the passions, and the daily habits of life, it may be consolidated into a durable and rational sentiment."
A "durable and rational sentiment" about government seems to be taking shape, and a second revolution may not be far behind.