The Boston tea party was a revolutionary act that took place in 1773 led by colonists, subjects of the British government who took administrative roles in the colonies. The primary incident that led to the protest was the importation of cheaper tea but in a larger sense, the Boston Tea Party’s aim was to free the colonies from direct legislative rule by the British parliament. The protests did not occur in isolation but were the culmination of a series of resistive attempts by the colonists, popularly know as the Sons of Liberty, and would eventually trigger the unity of continental America and spark the American Revolutionary War. Robert Middlekauff in his work A Glorious cause: The American Revolution 1763-1789 describes in great detail the series of protests from the enactment of the Stamp Act all through to the Boston Tea Party and eventually to the culmination of these events into the American Revolutionary War.
The protests form a critical part of American history because it is the Boston Tea Party in particular that laid the foundations of our independence from British rule. In the preceding incidences in the decade before the Boston Tea Party, protests had been carried on a smaller scale and were better handled by the British government. In the reactions to the Stamp Act and Declaratory Acts a few years earlier, the colonists had met these Acts with moderate resistance and had forced the hand of the British government to repeal the contentious laws. The Stamp Act, in particular, had been resisted through the resignation of every colonist who was being used by the British government to enforce it. The colonists had followed through with a similar approach with the Tea Act, which had been the legal basis for the duty paid by importers of tea in the colonies but the resignation of consignees did not result in the repealing of the law.
Tea had grown in popularity as beverage among the British in England and was becoming increasingly loved by those in the colonies too. India was the main country where tea was grown in large scale and all imports would be done from India. The British government made it mandatory for the tea to first be sold to middlemen in England who would then export this tea to the colonies after exerting a duty. The East India Company, that was doing this trade was heavily affected by the duties and was on the verge of bankruptcy in 1772 when the duty was lifted and it was allowed to distribute tea to the colonies on t’s own terms by the British government. This made their product exceedingly cheap in comparison to the tea imported by colonist merchants and smugglers who had dominated the trade in America.
When Dartmouth, the first ship carrying the cheap tea arrived at the port of Boston, it fuelled the assembly of thousands of merchants, smugglers, and colonists led by Samuel Adams. The assembly would declare that the British government was subjugating them when they were not represented in it, a direct violation of their constitutional rights. Two more ships would arrive in the days that followed and were met with the same resistance; they were not allowed to unload their cargo. The straw that broke the camels back would be the plunder of the ships by angry men and dumping of the tea into the sea. This act of defiance caused a reactionary response by the British government. The British government responded by enacting new, more repressive laws. They would punish the people of Boston by shutting down the port and introducing Coercive and Intolerable Acts. The Massachusetts Government Act was enacted specifically to establish a firm grip on the colonists in Boston who were now directly under the rule of the British. This law threatened the freedoms of the other colonies and they felt that the law could be reciprocated to rule them too if it was allowed to go on in Boston.
Many people across America saw courage in what happened during the Boston tea party and began applauding acts of defiance against British rule. In the month of September in the following year, the first congress was called. The British saw the danger in what was happening and began rolling back the repressive laws and started efforts for conciliation but the call for independence by the resistance had already gathered too much steam to be stopped. An Anglican clergyman by the name William Smith authored many letters, the most famous one titled Reconciliation Better than Independence but The American Revolutionary War was not to be stopped. The British lost the war and America gained independence.
While the price and demand for tea played a critical role in the protests, the central mantra that caused most people to join in was “No taxation without representation.” The colonists used this mantra to enjoin the rest of the population into the resistance because they would convince them that allowing that allowing tea to be taxed was a threat to any other tradable commodity as it would eventually be taxed too. The reason for this is that alternatives for tea were sough. Previously products such as Labrador tea and other beverages had been introduced to try and intervene and cut the demand for tea and it’s lucrative trade but since tea was not the underlying factor of the conflict these alternatives did not calm the situation. The fact that colonists were being taxed by people they had not elected was the main bone of contention and this would only be resolved when America gained independence.
It is not lost on me that Boston was not the only place where colonialists loved tea in British America. Other big cities like Philadelphia and New York also consumed a lot of tea. Much more than Boston did. These cities, however, had access to tea that was smuggled from the Netherlands (The Dutch) and this tea would be relatively cheaper than the tea that is imported legally. The smugglers who were big players in the industry in New York and Philadelphia did not care much for the duties or levies any form of taxation that the British government imposed on wares. This is why the protests were based in Boston. Boston did not have as many smugglers and therefore heavily depended on legally imported tea to satisfy their population. In fact, when the ships left Britain for America, the number of them that were heading to Boston was more than the number bound for Charleston, Philadelphia and the city New York combined. This point reinforces the argument that the protests were hinged more on the lack of representation for colonists and British Americans in a legislature that insisted on taxing them. If tea had been the main issue then New York and Philadelphia, which had bigger markets for tea, would have been the focal points of the protests.
The reactionary rebuttal acts that the British government took after news reached England that the tea had been sunk at sea by the people of Boston would prove the fear that the colonists had kept saying when they argued that the British government did not care for their interests or representation. The Coercive Acts, which shut down the port of Boston, an important revenue generator for Massachusetts and then effectively withdrew any sovereign power from the people by putting them under direct British rule fostered the colonists to enjoin other colonies and fight for these constitutional rights that they had been talking about in the beginning. These Acts, known as the Intolerable Acts in America proved to the rest of their population that the British government was a threat not just to their constitutional rights of representation but to their natural rights as well (David 1974.) It, however, appears that not Americans wanted to be freed from British rule as evidenced by the document authored by Samuel Seabury in 1774 with the title Great Britain Not Intimidated. It is these Acts that necessitated the calling of the First Congress where future Americans would chart a different path.
In conclusion, I will state that the Boston Tea Party was a necessary step in the evolution of America and happened at the right time before the industrial revolution. The acquired taste for tea by the British, it’s rise in demand and it’s subsequent taxation all played a role in the process but the true goal of the protests was to emancipate Americans from the yoke of British colonial rule.
References:
Teresa O’Neill, ser. ed., “Opposing Viewpoints: The American Revolution, American History Series (San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1992), p.151.
Ammerman, David. “In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774.” New York: Norton. (1994)
Middlekauff, Robert. “The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763–1789” (Revised and expanded ed.). New York: Oxford University Press.(2005)
Hector St. John CrA-vecoeur, “Letters from an American Farmer,” composed in the 1770s, published in (1781).

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