Dec 162017
 

Today is the anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, probably one of the most famous acts of rebellion in the British North American colonies leading to the Revolutionary War.  BUT . . . ask the average US citizen today the facts of the Tea Party and chances are the answers you’ll get will be wrong. So . . . “Where did it happen?” (Duh !!!! But . . . “Why Boston?”)  “When did it happen?” “Why did it happen?” “What happened?” “Who were the participants?” etc. etc. etc. If you grew up and went to school in the U.S. pause now and see if you can answer these questions.  Write down your answers on a sheet of paper and then read on to see how correct you are.  Meanwhile I’m adding a spoiler pause here so you can’t cheat. When you are ready, page down for the answers – and more. Chances are the facts will surprise you.

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking

 

 

Take your time, no peaking.

 

 

OK, we can get started. The short answer is that the Boston Tea Party took place in Boston, Massachusetts, on December 16, 1773. Did you know 1773?  When did the Revolutionary War begin, by the way? It was not 1776.

The Boston Tea Party was a political protest by the Sons of Liberty. Some (not many) of the protestors disguised themselves as Native Americans and, in defiance of the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, destroyed an entire shipment of tea sent by the East India Company. They boarded the ships and threw the chests of tea into Boston Harbor. Maybe you don’t remember the dates, but the physical act of tossing the tea into Boston harbor is probably lodged firmly in memory. Let’s get to specifics, though. What was in the Tea Act and why was it so objectionable to the colonists? Here comes the history, and, chances are, it was not what you were taught. For starters, did you know that many colonial merchants objected to the Tea Act because it made imported tea too cheap? I’m willing to wager a fair amount of money that most of you didn’t (although there’s going to be a few smarty pants who did). You were told it was all about taxation of tea imports by the British government, but there the story gets really messy. Taxation of tea, per se, was not the main issue !!! Hold on, though, the story is complicated.

As Europeans developed a taste for tea in the 17th century, rival companies formed to import tea from China. In England, Parliament gave the East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea in 1698. When tea became popular in the British colonies, Parliament sought to eliminate foreign competition by passing an act in 1721 that required colonists to import their tea only from Great Britain. The East India Company did not export tea to the colonies; by law, the company was required to sell its tea wholesale at auctions in England. British firms bought this tea and exported it to the colonies, where they resold it to merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.

Until 1767, the East India Company paid an ad valorem tax of about 25% on tea that it imported into Great Britain. Parliament laid additional taxes on tea sold for consumption in Britain. These high taxes, combined with the fact that tea imported into the Dutch Republic was not taxed by the Dutch government, meant that Britons and British Americans could buy smuggled Dutch tea at much cheaper prices. The biggest market for illicit tea was England — by the 1760s the East India Company was losing £400,000 per year to smugglers in Great Britain — but Dutch tea was also smuggled into British America in significant quantities.

In 1767, to help the East India Company compete with smuggled Dutch tea, Parliament passed the Indemnity Act, which lowered the tax on tea consumed in Great Britain, and gave the East India Company a refund of the 25% duty on tea that was re-exported to the colonies. To help offset this loss of government revenue, Parliament also passed the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which levied new taxes, including one on tea, in the colonies. Instead of solving the smuggling problem, however, the Townshend duties renewed a controversy about Parliament’s right to tax the colonies.

Controversy between Great Britain and the colonies arose in the 1760s when Parliament sought, for the first time, to impose a direct tax on the colonies for the purpose of raising revenue. Some colonists, known in the colonies as Whigs, objected to the new tax program, arguing that it was a violation of the British Constitution. Britons and British Americans agreed that, according to the constitution, British subjects could not be taxed without the consent of their elected representatives. In Great Britain, this meant that taxes could only be levied by Parliament.