The incident that has been termed the Boston Tea Party occurred on December 16, 1773, when government officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed-imposed tea to Britain. A group of colonists boarded the ships in disguise and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor (BTPHS). The Tea Act of 1773 essentially allowed one of Britain’s greatest commercial interests of the day, The East India Company, a monopoly over tea imports to all British colonies. Due to increased competition from the Dutch and the already high tax the Crown placed on tea, the East India Company had a surplus of tea. The solution that King George III and Parliament came up with was to force this tea on the colony (Knollenberg 93). Basically, a captive market was created for British products by the British Government. There was fear amongst the colonists that this could extend to products other than tea. The colonists’ actions and the government reaction widened an already growing chasm between Crown and colonists (Larabee 106).
During the years of 1754 through 1763, the British Empire was involved in The French and Indian War, a protracted conflict with rival power France for control of settlements in America. The French allied themselves with Native American tribes to rid the colonies of the British. At the end of this conflict, Britain was successful in securing the conquest of Canada. During this period of time, the thirteen American colonies flourished and grew increasingly less dependent on Great Britain. With the need to re-establish control over the Colonies and recoup their war costs, Parliament passed a series of acts to which did nothing but agitate the already frustrated colonists and further strain relations between the Crown and the Colonies (Cave 2004).
There were two major actions by Parliament that exacerbated the already strained relationship with the Colonies. First, the Stamp Act of 1765 met with significant colonial resistance. This act required that printed material in the colonies carry a tax stamp. These printed materials included: legal documents, magazines, newspapers and other types of paper frequently used throughout the colonies (Goldfield 144). Second, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts. These five Acts has the purpose to raise revenue in the colonies to pay the salaries of governors and judges so that they would be independent of colonial control, to create a more effective means of enforcing compliance with trade regulations, to punish the province of New York for failing to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act, and to establish the precedent that the British Parliament had the right to tax the colonies (Larabee 32-33). Both items created resentment and highlighted the issue of taxation without representation.
The Boston Tea Party event was not a singular incident and it had very little to do with the tea itself. The tea shipment became a sticking point between the British and the colonists as it was the taxation on the tea that was objectionable. The core issue of being taxed without having fair legislative say in the government had been a recurring theme in the years leading up to 1773. When the Boston Tea Party incident took place, the more militant colonists felt they had no other options available to them. Previous complaints or entreaties to Parliament, Prime Minister Lord North, or King George III went without resolution (Alexander 126). As such they took matters into their own hands. American Patriot Samuel Adams argued at the time that the incident was not the act of a lawless mob, but rather a protest based on principle. The colonists felt their rights were eroding and were moved to action (Alexander 129).
The fallout from the Boston Tea Party was severe and greatly impacted the economy of Boston. Authorities in Britain and the colonies were outraged and felt that this action could not go unpunished. A series of acts were passed by Parliament in 1774 that were collectively called the “Coercive Acts.” The Boston Port Act closed the Port of Boston as punishment until the destroyed tea was paid for in full and the king was satisfied that Boston was firmly under British control. This created animosity as it affected all of Boston, regardless of connection with the Boston Tea Party and did not allow for a defense to be given against the charges. The Massachusetts Government Act took away the colonists’ ability to select their own local officials. All members of the colonial government had to be appointed by the governor or king. This reverberated throughout the colonies as it was feared that such a thing could happen elsewhere (Ammerman 9-10).
The Administration of Justice Act allowed the governor to move trials of accused royal officials to another colony or to Great Britain if he believed the official could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. Although the act stipulated that witnesses would be paid for their travel expenses, in practice few colonists could afford to leave their work and travel to England to testify in a trial. There was also there fear that British officials could harass American colonists and escape justice. The Quartering Act applied to all of the colonies, and sought to create a more effective method of housing British troops in America. Previously, the colonies had been required to provide housing for soldiers. However, colonial legislatures had not been cooperative. Here under this act the governor was allowed to house soldiers in other buildings if suitable quarters were not provided (Ammerman 10).
The Coercive Acts did not have the desired effect. The British felt that these acts would isolate radicals in the colonies and push the American colonists to concede the authority of Parliament over their own elected governments. Great Britain miscalculated how these would be taken and soon learned that harsh nature of these acts galvanized support against Parliament. Many viewed the Coercive Acts as a violation of their constitutional rights, their natural rights, and their colonial charters. They therefore viewed the acts as a threat to the liberties of all of British America, not just Massachusetts. The acts promoted sympathy for Massachusetts and encouraged colonists from the otherwise diverse colonies to form the First Continental Congress. The Continental Congress created the Continental Association, an agreement to boycott British goods and, if that did not get the Coercive Acts reversed after a year, to stop exporting goods to Great Britain as well. The Congress then also pledged to support Massachusetts in case of attack. Which of course meant that all of the colonies would be drawn into the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord (Ammerman 15).
Over time, the Boston Tea Party has become synonymous with unfair taxation and the abuse of government overstepping its boundaries. In 1773 Boston, the seeds of the American Revolution were being sewn. Through miscalculation and sheer abuse of the colonial system, Britain strengthened support for a growing movement toward independence. The Boston Tea Party then became more than a principled protest action against taxation; it became an event that demonstrated that a power cannot sustain rule with “consent of the governed.” The governed in this case, went on to fight and die for their rights. For the British government, its shortsightedness brought about its own downfall in this case.
Alexander, John K. Samuel Adams: America's Revolutionary Politician. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 2002. Print.
Ammerman, David. In the Common Cause: American Response to the Coercive Acts of 1774. New York: Norton, 1974. Print.
Cave, Alfred A. The French and Indian War. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004. Web. 12 February 2010.
Knollenberg, Bernhard. Growth of the American Revolution, 1766–1775. New York: Free Press, 1975. Print.
Labaree, Benjamin Woods. The Boston Tea Party. Originally published 1964. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1979. Print.
“What Was the Boston Tea Party?” Boston Tea Party Historical Society. 2008. Web. 12 February 2010.
Goldfield, David R., Dejohn-Anderson, Virginia and Abbot, Carl. The American journey: a history of the United States. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2009. Print.
Young, Alfred F. The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution. Boston: Beacon Press, 1999. Print.