The Boston Tea Party was a political protest that took place in Boston Harbour, Massachusetts on December 16, 1773. It was an event which influenced the American independence struggle. The American colonists threw three shiploads of tea chests into the sea, to protest against the tax laws of the British government.
This was the first major rebellious act of the colonists against British rule. They lined up patriots from 13 colonies to fight for independence, thus rejecting the taxation and autocracy of Great Britain.
Before the United States of America became a nation, the American colonists and the British shared a turbulent relationship with each other, towards the end of the 1700s. The colonists, who lived in the areas now known as the United States, were angry with the British control. The British imposed tax on tea, which was an item the colonists were using on a daily basis.
In 1760, when Britain was trapped in debt, it found a way out of that by levying taxes on the American colonists. The British imposed taxes on printed paper, cards, business licences and legal documents through the Stamp Act of 1765. Going a step further, the Townshend Acts of 1767 extended taxes to essential items like paint, paper, glass, lead, tea and so on.
The British government took the stance that taxes were just, but the colonists did not agree. The colonists were angry that taxes were imposed on them without any representation in the parliament and realised that the British were wrong in taxing them only to increase their own income.
There was a street fight between the American colonists and the British soldiers in Boston on March 5, 1770, which later came to be known as the Boston Massacre. The fight erupted after a mob of colonists, disappointed by the presence of the British soldiers in the streets, attacked a British guard at the Boston Customs House by throwing snowballs and oyster shells. Following that, the army arrived and fired many rounds at the mob, thereby killing five colonists and injuring six others. The Boston Massacre and its lapses fuelled the anger of the colonists toward the British.
The British then scrapped all tax levies on the colonists except for tea. Britain, however, was not prepared to forsake the taxes for the 1.2 million pounds of tea consumed by the colonists annually. Protesting against this, the colonists boycotted the tea sold by the British East India Company and imported tea from the Dutch. This pushed the British East India Company to the verge of disaster, as they had millions of pounds worth of unsold tea. The British Parliament passed the Tea Act in 1773, enabling the British East India Company to sell to the colonies much cheaper tea than other tea companies. According to Britannica, as the tea reached the ports of the colonies, the British imposed taxes on them.
Under the leadership of Adams, the Sons of Liberty held a rally against the British Parliament and protested against the arrival of the British East India Company ship Dartmouth carrying tea.
With the help of prominent leaders like John Hancock and Samuel Adams, the colonists protested against the levy of taxes without them having representation. ‘Sons of Liberty’ was a loosely formed organisation of American traders to protest against the Stamp Act and other tax levies. That revolutionary group included patriots like Benedict Arnold, Patrick Henry, Paul Revere, Hancock and Adams.
Under the leadership of Adams, the Sons of Liberty held a rally against the British Parliament and protested against the arrival of the British East India Company ship Dartmouth carrying tea. By December 16, 1773, Dartmouth, along with two other ships, Beaver and Eleanor, arrived with tea loaded from China. The same morning, when thousands of colonists gathered in the wharf and streets around, a meeting took place in the old South Meeting House. Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to send the three ships back to Britain and ordered the tea to be unloaded and the duty paid in Boston Harbour.
That night, a large group of men, including many from the Sons of Liberty, disguised in Native American dress, boarded the anchored ships and threw the tea chests into the sea. Benjamin Franklin, one of the foremost of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, insisted that the British East India Company be reimbursed for the lost tea and even offered to pay it himself.
No one was hurt, and aside from the destruction of the tea, no property was damaged or looted during the Boston Tea Party. There were also reports that the participants cleaned up the ship decks before leaving. Many of those who participated in the Boston Tea Party under the leadership of Adams and Hancock and their group, Sons of Liberty, remain unknown, till date.
The participants refused to reveal their identities even after America became independent, which could be because of the fear of facing civil and criminal proceedings for the destruction of private property. According to History.com, most of those who took part in the Boston Tea Party were said to be below the age of 40 and apparently there were 16 teenagers among them.
Historians are not clear as to whether the protest was planned or not. A large meeting took place that day under the leadership of Samuel Adams to discuss the tea tax and ways to oppose it. However, no one is certain whether Samuel Adams had planned to destroy the tea or a reckless mob had rushed without any prior plan to carry out the act. Later, Samuel Adams said that it was an act of the people protecting their rights and not one of an angered mob.
Boston Harbour was closed down, the Massachusetts constitution was terminated and the independent election of officers to the town was stopped until the cost of the destroyed tea was paid back. The judicial powers were transferred to Britain, and British judges thus basically enforced military law in Massachusetts. Extending the right to worship to the French-Canadian Catholics, under British rule, also irritated the Protestant-majority colonists.
Elected representatives from 13 colonies, excluding Georgia, got together for the First Continental Congress at the Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to discuss ways to fight against British oppression.
Britain hoped that the enforced laws would suppress the revolts and prevent the remaining colonies from uniting, but what happened was just the opposite. All the colonies viewed the punishing laws as proof of Britain’s autocracy and aligned in support of Massachusetts and further planned to put up a defence.
The second Boston Tea Party happened in 1774. About 60 Bostonians boarded the ship Fortune and threw about 30 chests of tea into the sea. According to History.com, though this did not gain the same extent of notoriety as the first one, it encouraged further tea protests in Maryland, New York and South Carolina.
Many colonists started feeling that the enforced British laws had crossed all limits. Elected representatives from 13 colonies, excluding Georgia, got together for the First Continental Congress at the Carpenters Hall in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to discuss ways to fight against British oppression. Though their opinions regarding the ways to move forward differed, the Boston Tea Party united them in their eagerness to gain independence.
The representatives criticised Britain for the enforced laws and urged it to repeal them. They called for a boycott of British goods and declared that the colonies had the right to independent governance and to form and train a colonial militia.
For the colonists, giving up tea was an important part of their rebellion. Many colonists gave up something dear to them to help inch closer towards their goals. The rebellion was thus a turning point, as it allowed people to realise that dissent was acceptable.
The Boston Tea Party played a pivotal role in providing stimulus for the American colonists, who were struggling under the British rule and unfair laws, to launch their fight for independence. After a few years, the United States of America became an independent nation in 1776, and the Boston Tea Party played an important role in achieving that.
Now put on your thinking hats and think about the following questions for a couple of minutes.
Why did this particular event in American history come to be called the “Boston Tea Party”?
Can you think of how the Boston Tea Party accelerated the American revolution?
What were the reasons for the Boston tea party episode?
Write down your thoughts and discuss them with your students, children and your colleagues. Listen to their views and compare them with your own. As you listen to others, note how similar or different your views are to others’.
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