Boston Tea Party
When the Boston Tea Party occurred on the evening of December 16,1773, it was the culmination of many years of bad feeling between the British government and her American colonies. The controversy between the two always seemed to hinge on the taxes, which Great Britain required for the upkeep of the American colonies. Starting in 1765, the Stamp Act was intended by Parliament to provide the funds necessary to keep peace between the American settlers and the Native American population. The Stamp Act was loathed by the American colonists and later repealed by parliament.
(http://www.bostonteapartyship.com/History.htm) However, the British government quickly enacted other laws designed to solve monetary problems. Each act was met with resistance. The Boston Tea Party was the final act of focused rage against a Parliamentary law.
The Americans were well organized to resist new financial demands placed upon them by the British Parliament. In 1765 the secret organizations known as the Sons and the Daughters of Liberty were created to boycott British products. By early 1773 the assemblies of Massachusetts and Virginia had created the Committees of Correspondence, which were designed to communicate within the colonies any threats to American liberties. In April 1773 the British Parliament passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East Indian Company to undersell colonial tea merchants in the American market. The stage was set for a confrontation. (Burns, B31)
In the first few months of 1773 the British East India Company found it was sitting on large stocks of tea that it could not sell in England. It was on the verge of bankruptcy, and many members of Parliament owned stock in this company. (USA, 1) The Tea Act in 1773 was an effort to save it. The Tea Act gave the company the right to export its merchandise without paying taxes. Thus, the company could undersell American merchants and monopolize the colonial tea trade. By October, the Sons of Liberty in New York, Philadelphia, and Boston threatened tea imports and pledged a tea boycott.
The Tea Act was incendiary for many reasons. First, it angered colonial merchants who feared they would be replaced and bankrupt by this powerful company. Second, the company chose to give exclusive privileges to certain merchants for the sale of their tea. Third, the Tea Act revived American feelings about the issue of taxation without representation. Lord North thought that the colonists would welcome the Tea Act because it would lower the price of tea to consumers. ( USA, 1) But, the colonists boycotted the tea. Large segments of the population supported the boycott, and it became common protest throughout the colonies.
Various colonies made plans to prevent the British East India Company from landing its cargoes. In some ports, shipments of tea were returned or the chosen agents were forced to resign. (USA, 1) In Boston, the chosen agents were relatives of royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson and of course, they would not resign. Hutchinson made preparations to land the tea regardless of the popular feeling. Boston, a leading port city, where many important colonists were merchants, was a focus of colonial resistance to the Tea Act. It was also the home of the radical agitator, Samuel Adams, who staged a spectacular demonstration on the evening of)
December 16, 1773. One hundred and fifty Bostonians, masquerading as Indians, made their way through a large group of spectators. They went aboard three ships, broke open the tea chests, and dumped them into the harbor.
(http://www.bostonteapartyship.com/History.htmThe excitement of the event, and the details of the evening were
later recorded by George Hewes, and eyewitness and participant in the event. He states that the tea was contained in three ships, lying near each other at Griffin’s wharf. Armed war vessels surrounded these three cargo ships. The commanders of the war vessels had publicly declared that they would use force, to ensure the landing of the tea on December 17, 1773. (Hewes, 1)
According to Hewes, there was a meeting of the citizens of Boston on the evening before December 17. The purpose of the meeting was to decide on the measures, which would be necessary to prevent the landing of the tea. The citizens requested that Governor Hutchinson should answer them as to the reasons that the tea should be forced upon them. The governor did not attend the meeting or answer their questions. The citizens cried out “Let every man do his duty and be true to his country.” (Hewes, 1)
In the evening, Hewes dressed himself in the costume of an Indian, painting his face with coal dust and carrying a small hatchet. He went to Griffin’s wharf, where he found others dressed, equipped, and painted as he was. They marched together toward the wharf. When they arrived at the wharf, they divided into three parties in order to board the three ships at the same time. (Hewes, 1-2)
Commanded by Leonard Pitt, Hewes boarded a ship and demanded the keys to the hatches from the captain. Pitt told Hewes not to damage the ship or the rigging. However, Pitt ordered the chests of tea to be taken from the hatches and thrown overboard. Hewes and his companions split the chests with their tomahawks and in about three hours, they had broken and thrown overboard every tea chest on the ship. Although British armed ships surrounded them, not a shot was fired. Afterward, they went home. (Hewes, 2)
“The next morning, December 18, 1773, it was discovered that very considerable quantities of the tea was floating in the harbor. To prevent the possibility of any of it being saved for use, a number of small boats, manned by sailors and citizens, rowed around the harbor, beating it with oars and paddles, thoroughly drenched the tea, to render its entire destruction inevitable.” (Hewes, 2) This episode had serious consequences for Boston and relations between British government and the colony of Massachusetts.
The Boston Tea Party brought about what Ben Franklin called “great Wrath” in Britain. Sympathy for Americans decreased. (Gilbert, 129) Parliament reacted with laws, which Bostonians called the “Intolerable Acts.” The Boston Port Act of 1774 closed the port by naval blockade until the
Boston’s Failure to Pay for the tea they
damaged caused the Coercive Acts to be
ordered by King George III.
payment of both tea and tax was made. A Quartering Act allowed the army to station troops in privately owned buildings and secure supplies from the colony. The Administration of Justice Act permitted British officers charged of crime in Massachusetts, to remove their trials to Britain to get away from colonial influence. The Massachusetts Government banned town meetings except for annual elections and made other changes to “take the executive power from the democratic part of the government.” The Quebec Act permitted no representative assembly in the former French province. (Gilbert, 129)
In conclusion, when Parliament favored the East Indies Company in the American colonies, it created a controversial situation. The colonists were well organized to resist British policies and the Tea Act provided a situation where they could act as one. Lord North made a mistake when he allowed the Tea Company to avoid paying duties and sell the tea for less in America. Colonial resistance groups in Boston and other seaport towns dumped property into the harbor rather than be blackmailed into accepting a “lower ” price subsidized by the British Parliament. The Tea became a symbol of British tyranny and the manipulation of the American marketplace by the British government. In Boston, the site of a bloody confrontation between British redcoats and Americans citizens less than 10 years before, emotions ran high. Boston was a center of agitation and finally on the night of December 16,1773, the course of world history was changed. A revolutionary event was on the horizon. As once patriot mournfully observed, “Our cause is righteous and I have no doubt of final success. But I see our generation, and perhaps out whole land, drown in blood.” (Liberty, 2) The rest is history.
Works Cited: Boston Tea Party
Burns, Robert E. Episodes in American History. Massachusetts: Ginn ; Co., 1973.
Gilbert, Philip, and Norman Graebner. A History of the American People.
New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1971.
Hewes, George. “Boston Tea Party – Eyewitness Account”. The History Place.
http://www.historyplace.com/unitedstates/revolution/teaparty.htm (13 Mar. 2001)
“Liberty: High Tea in Boston Harbor”. PBS Online. 1997.
http://www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle/episode1.html (13 Mar. 2001)
“USA: Boston Tea Party”. Department of Humanities Computing. 1997.
http://odur.let.rug.nl/usa/E/teaparty/bostonxx.htm (10 Mar. 2001)