The Boston Tea Party is considered by many as the springboard to the American Revolution. This sample historical essay from the writers at Ultius examines the event in detail and demonstrates how this one event was the catalyst that eventually won the United States its freedom.
The significance of the Boston Tea Party
History remembers many great feats accomplished during early American history. There was the signing of the Declaration of Independence, framing of the Articles of Confederacy – followed by the permanent U.S. Constitution — and, of course, the Boston Tea Party. Historically referenced as the turning point in America’s past when British colonists finally turned from the Crown and protested unfair taxes, the Boston Tea Party is now remebered as the beginnings of America as both a country and a people.
Everyone loved a good cup of tea
Tea exports and company competition was fierce in the 17th Century. Europeans loved their tea, and the companies loved to provide it. But, to prevent too many ships in the sea and an overabundance of tea, the British Parliament granted a monopoly to the East India Company in 1698 to import all tea from China into Great Britain. This displeased many of the shipping companies during the time, but Parliament had spoken and the King gave his consent.
The Townshend act
Soon after tea made its way across the globe and into American colonist’s homes, Parliament sought ways to circumvent the Townshend Act of 1767. The Townshend Act designated that all British colonies were mandated to import their tea from Great Britain and could not purchase tea from any other sources. Parliament originally passed this act to solidify national company security in the import business; it didn’t want its colonists purchasing tea from other countries. But this law backfired when the nation determined it would only deal with East India.
Since the colonists weren’t allowed to purchase from companies outside of London, they could not purchase tea form the nation’s sponsored importer. Colonist’s traders were forced to travel to London, purchase tea from Eat India at an open auction – which drove the prices higher – and pay to ship the tea back to the colony. While most British colonies didn’t balk at this hardship, Americans felt an undue burden had been inflicted and without their consent.
Townshend causes international crisis
While American colonists disagreed with Parliament over the inconvenience and costs of forcing them to travel to London to purchase their tea, thus highlighting the influence England still held over the colonies. The true conflict didn’t start until a new tax was levied against the colonies. In the 1760s, lawmakers imposed a direct tax on the colonies for the first time and for the purpose of raising income. The political party called the Whigs did not agree with the new tax program and argued it violated the British Constitution.
“Taxation without representation”
The Whigs, consisting of Brits and colonists alike, all agreed the British Constitution protected British subjects from taxation without the consent of their elected representative. In Great Britain, citizens elected members from one house of Parliament, and that house, in connection with the other, voted on taxes to be levied. The colonists’ issue was they were not provided a system to elect their representatives and therefore did not have representation during tax decision, a clear violation of the constitution.
The Whigs claimed the colonies could not be subject to Parliament taxes since they didn’t vote for them. And, they demanded their own elected assemblies be responsible for taxes levied against the colonies.
Boycotts and smuggling precede the Boston tea party
After new taxes were levied by the Townshend Act, colonists protested and boycotted the Act by refusing to purchase tea from the merchants prescribed by law and turned to their own methods of import and export. Some colonists even pledged to abstain from drinking British tea altogether, and organizers were developing campaigns in New England to promote new products, including domestic brews and other drinks.
Smuggling soon became common in New England, particularly New York and Philadelphia. However, colonists in Boston were not Whigs and supported the Crown. Government officials did not subscribe to the protests and smuggling efforts of other colony leaders. Richard Clarke and the sons of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson soon joined the side of the Whigs after other governors convinced them to sign and abide by the non-importation agreement.
Parliament soon grew tired of the protests and misbehaving Americans. Lawmakers repealed the Townshend Act, except for the tea duty. Prime Minister Lord North kept the taxation on tea imported to American colonies as a show of force and to assert Britain’s right to tax the colonies. The settlement helped provide calm, and most participants were happy to have some type of peace. But the peace didn’t last very long. Parliament and the Prime Minister were both antsy to show the Americans who the boss was and their course of action resulted in the American Revolution.
The tea tax of 1773
East India’s tax break and refunds expired in 1772, and this left Parliament with recourse to address the American insubordination. Lawmakers passed a new act in 1772, The Tea Tax Act. The new act left in place a 10 percent duty on tea imported into Britain and restored the tea taxes within Britain. The taxes significantly increased the price of British tea and sales sharply fell. East India maintained its imports into Great Britain, but few people would buy the tea, leaving the company with a large surplus.
In the interest of the British East India company
Great Britain’s Parliament passed the Tea Tax Act to overtly reduce the stock of tea from the British East India Company in London. While parliament declared the legislation was meant to raise funds for the colonies, in fact, it was designed to reduce illegal tea smuggled into the American colonies. The law was intended to force Americans to purchase East India tea or pay steep penalties. There also was another aspect to this tax. Parliament wanted colonists to purchase tea paid for with Townshend duties and, by doing so, force the region to agree to accept Parliament’s right of taxation. Once passed, The act permitted the Company to ship its tea directly to North America colonists and provided it with an export tariff waiver. The King or Britain gave his royal assent on May 10, 1773.
The beginnings of a protest
It all started with seven large ships leaving East India’s shipyard in late 1773. Four were headed for Boston, and the others for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. Each shipment carried more than 2,000 chests holding 600,000 pounds of tea. Some of the Whigs, known as the Sons of Liberty, learned about the shipment and started raising awareness about the tax crisis . The Sons of Liberty started protests and demonstrations, boycotted the purchase of East India tea, and urged colonists to do the same. But the protests weren’t about the high taxes waged on tea. In fact, there was a much larger picture here – freedom.
Tea becomes the symbol of a dispute
Since the taxes on legally imported tea were in reality reduced by the new law, the movement was actually a protest about other concerns. One aspect of the protest was the catalyst to the historical chants “no taxation without representation”. This sentiment would become the cornerstone of early American political thought. Colonists simply didn’t agree with Parliaments unconstitutional decisions and demanded fair treatment. Another argument was the fairness to impose a monopoly on fair- and free-trade.
Samuel Adams argued Parliaments legal monopoly granted to East India was the same thing as a tax, and it was the same situation whether a tax was levied or not. Colonies were able to force tea shipments to stop, and, therefore, the trade was effectively shut down in all but one area. Boston’s British Governor Hutchinson considered the protestors traitors to the Crown and refused to back down and allow the shipments to be disrupted.
And the sons of liberty save the day
Samuel Adams tried to maintain order with the colonists and urged them not to take drastic measures. He believed peaceful protests were more important and effective than force (Ushistory.org. “The Tea Act”). But some of the Whigs disagreed and started developing their own plans. Colonists took to the streets, some dressed in Mohawk apparel, and started demonstrating in a more aggressive fashion. Their choice to dress as Indians marked a turning point in the Whigs movement. Until then, colonists considered themselves a part of Britain and supported the overall monarchy; they just wanted equal representation within their own government.
However, dressing in the Mohawk costumes showed their unwillingness to continue being a part of a tyrannical government and displayed their loyalty and connection to America. A new protest took root, and the Boston Tea Party was born. Demonstrators dressed as Native American Indians boarded one of the ships docked in the Boston Harbor and destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company.
Colonists defied the Tea Tax Act, and each member formally renounced the government’s authority over them. Great Britain responded with force, and the American Revolution kicked off, leaving the colonists to choose sides. Soon after this incident, America’s Founding Fathers met for the first time and started working on a draft to declare the colonies’ independence from the Crown. And, as they say, the rest was history. Americans went to war and won their freedoms and rights from the British Crown and Parliament, and their leaders started what has become one the greatest nations.
Adams, John. “Destruction of the Tea in Boston.” John Adams Revolutionary Writings. The Library of America. 17 Dec. 1773. Web. 22 march 2015.
Boston Tea Party Historical Society. “Boston Tea Party, the Key Event for the Revolutionary War.” N.d. Web. 22 March 2015.
Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum. “Boston Tea Party History.” Boston Tea Party: A Revolutionary Experience. N.d. Web. 22 March 2015.
Carp, Benjamin L. Defiance of the Patriots: The Boston Tea Party and the Making of America. Yale University Press, 2010. Print.
Gunderson, Cory. The Boston Tea Party. Massachusetts: ABDO Publishing Company, 2004. Print
History.com Staff. “Boston Tea Party.” History.com. 2009 Web. 22 March 2015.
Ushistory.org. “The Tea Act.” N.d. Web. 22 March 2015.