The Boston Tea Party

"There must always be one tax to keep up the right."
King George III of England. Circa 1770.

England in the 1760's had just come out of the seven years war, the most expensive war ever fought up until that time, and the government's debt had about doubled to 130 million Pounds. The English government reasoned that their colonies ought to shoulder a bit more of the burden of repayment. Increased taxes, or rather, better enforcement of those already in existence was begun.

First, the sugar act of 1764 was passed, halving the tax on molasses that formed the basis of making rum, but providing for far stricter enforcement. Boston merchants, long accustomed to running the gauntlet of English law and smuggling in the rum's basic ingredient, suddenly found themselves under fire - literally - from His Majesty's rejuvenated English customs officials. Then came the Stamp Act; specifically imposed on Americans, and thought up by George Grenville, now in charge of English policy in such matters, providing for revenue stamps to be affixed to all legal documents; leases, newspapers, licenses and other such things. The revenue so raised was to be used for protecting and securing the US colonies. The colonial citizens didn't like it, and their assemblies pronounced the act unconstitutional. Some began publicly to burn the stamps; the cry 'no taxation without representation' was uttered, since US colonies did not elect any citizens to the English Parliament. (Lawyer Samuel Adams being one to use the term.)

Seems to me, if you are going to levy a tax, don't put it on the very persons who have the easiest means of voicing dissent, newspapermen and publicans (license holders). At this time, the colonies paid few, if any taxes really and hated in particular any taxes levied 'internally'; that is on the internal activities and trade of each individual colony. External tariffs were seen as something separate.

The Stamp act was soon repealed, but 1767 saw further English efforts to make the collection of colony taxes more efficient, whilst at the same time raising duties on the paper, lead, glass and tea being exported from England to the colonies - the Townshend duties. Colonial agitation increased, and efforts to boycott English goods strengthened, helped often by the womenfolk, the largest consumers of tea. Before long, customs officials attempting to collect the impositions were being 'roughed up' a bit. Two English regiments were sent to Boston to protect them. Their presence in Boston inflamed the antagonism further, when on March 5 1770, armed conflict broke out with three Bostonians dead. The Boston massacre it was termed.

Parliament repealed all the duties, in light of the event, save that upon tea. There always had to be one tax said King George. Things calmed, until 1773, when The East India Company, near bankruptcy and sitting on huge stores of tea it could not sell in England, was permitted by the Tea Act of that year to sell its wares directly within the colonies, without having to pay the usual taxes. The wealthy Boston merchants saw this action as an attack on their businesses, which would allow the English monopolist to undersell them. Plans were laid to prevent East India tea cargoes from landing in colonial ports. In Boston however, the governor refused the plans and made efforts to land incoming cargoes despite the opposition. On December 16th 1773, about 150 men, led by Sam Adams, and dressed as Indians, boarded several of the ships, opened up the tea chests, and dumped them into the harbor. The Boston Tea Party.

Parliament responded with the Boston Port Bill, effectively closing the Boston port until the tea so dumped had been paid for. Compromise between England and the colonies appeared doomed. Indeed, perhaps compromise was not sought. The Declaration of Independence was not far away.


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