The Boston Tea Party was an event which took place on December 16, 1773, when a group of Bostonians boarded ships of British East India Company and dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor, becoming one of several major incidents which led to the American Revolution two years later.
Bostonians and other colonists had been subjected to a tax on tea as well as paint, paper, and glass with the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767. Protests and non-importation movements by the colonists led the repeal of the Townshend duties in 1770, with the exception of the duty on tea. The British Parliament had retained the tea tax, partly as a symbol of its right to tax the colonies, and partly to aid the financially embarrassed East India Company.
Tea Act and Resistance
In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act which allowed the struggling East India Company to sell a half million pounds of tea in the colonies while bypassing the importation taxes normally paid under the British Navigation Acts. For all practical purposes, the 1773 Tea Act gave the East India Tea Company a monopoly by allowing them to charge less than other merchants.
Despite the fact they were now paying less for tea, American colonists held protests against the act. The colonists tried to prevent the consignees from accepting taxed tea and were successful in New York and Philadelphia. Because of this, in South Carolina the tea was landed at Charleston but was held in government warehouses. Prior to the landing of the tea, future Founding Father Benjamin Rush encouraged fellow colonists to "with one heart and hand oppose the landing of it", because the tea represented something worse than death, "the seeds of Slavery".
At Boston, meetings grew larger and larger in response to the tea act. Thousands of citizens packed Faneuil Hall, eventually forcing patriot leaders to move their meetings to the larger Old South Meeting House, a Congregational Church in downtown Boston. When the tea ships the Beaver, the Dartmouth, and the Eleanor arrived they remained unloaded by the authority of Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson. The Governor was determined to force the colonists to pay the duties on the tea, and issued orders that no British ship was to leave port without unloading their cargo.
On the evening of December 16, 1773, Paul Revere and other members of the Sons of Liberty, thinly-disguised as Native Americans, boarded the three British East India Company ships moored to the piers of Griffin's Wharf and threw the entire cargo of tea into the harbor. Boston brewer and patriot Samuel Adams, as well as John Hancock, were present during the events.
The colonists refused to pay for the lost tea, resulting in an outraged British Parliament passing a series of laws meant to punish Boston and tighten British control in the area. Under the so-called Intolerable Acts, Britain closed the port of Boston, turned private homes into quarters for British soldiers; curtailed the power of the assemblies in Boston and Massachusetts as a whole; and prevented trials against British officials who were charged with crimes. The bitterness and hatred the Intolerable Acts caused merely hastened the coming revolution; the memory of those acts after the revolution ended led to the incorporation of the first seven amendments to the United States Constitution.
The day after the event, future Founder John Adams praised the protest, writing in his diary:
- Last Night 3 Cargoes of Bohea Tea were emptied into the Sea. This Morning a Man of War sails.
- This is the most magnificent Movement of all. There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire. The People should never rise, without doing something to be remembered—something notable And striking. This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History.
Several notable individuals who participated in the Tea Party went on to participate in the Revolutionary War as members of the Continental Army, including George Robert Twelves Hewes and Phineas Stearns.
- John Ferling, A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (Oxford University Press, 2003)
- Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause--1048247 09:59, 26 April 2007 (EDT) (rev.ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2005).
- Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen, "A Patriot's History of the United States" (Sentinel 2007)