Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Towards Revolution: Tea Act

Depiction of the Boston Tea Party
During the late 1760’s the Thirteen Colonies and the English Parliament in London became embroiled in tax dispute. The previous Sugar, Stamp and Townshend Acts became infamous and faced strong opposition. Radical colonial began to show their anger in form of boycotts and protests. The thirteen Colonies began to unite in their fight against what they perceive as unjust taxation of the English Parliament. In 1770, the Townshend Act failed. But there remained a part of the tax maintained. Taxes on tea was left intact.  And tea would become the next target of anger for the colonials which would bring colonies towards revolution.

The Tea Act began with business crisis. In May 1773, the English East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy. It had imported too much tea that English could buy. As a result. Its warehouses began to be filled with 17 million pounds of tea. Some of which began to rot causing loses to the company. More worrisome was the amount of taxes that the company had to pay to import the overwhelming tea. The company became under the threat of bankruptcy.

For the government of Lord North, the failure of the English East India Company would be a disaster. England would might lose India. Not to mention, the amount that stockholders of the company would lose in the event of the failure of the company. Thus, it was important for Lord North to find a solution to save the English East India Company.

Lord North found his solution in the colonies in America. In the Thirteen Colonies, the tea tax of 3 pennies became useless. It failed to bring the needed revenue to the government because of massive smuggling of Dutch tea and not English tea to the Thirteen Colonies. This decrease in sales of English tea became another cause of loses for the English East India Company. And so in 1773, in order to reduce smuggling and save the English East India Company, the tea act was passed. Under the law, the East India Company was given the privilege to sell tea to the colonies tax free. In addition, it was also given the right to sell directly its tea without the need to go through middlemen. Without the tax and middlemen, the prices of East India Company would be cheaper and affordable for the colonist.

Lord North thought that the colonies would be glad, but he was disappointed. He thought that the colonies would appreciate the cheaper tea prices. But he became dismay that protest began to sound throughout the colonies. The colonials voiced their opposition for the economic attack that the Tea Act brought. The colonials saw the Tea Act as an assault to the livelihood of many colonial merchants who served as middlemen. The Act bypassed these middlemen. Colonial radicals voiced that if the parliament attacked tea merchants, who could be the next. Colonials feared that it was start of London’s move to attack the livelihood of those living in the colonies. Another part of the Act that angered them was the part where the English East India Company could grant franchise to American merchants. Most of those given the franchise were merchants who did not participated in the Townshend boycott and were loyal to England, to the crown, and to the Parliament. Once again, the whole Thirteen Colonies became embroiled in protests and boycotts.

Numerous movement against the Tea Act ensued after the news of the law reach the colonies. Boycott movements against English East India Company began. The women, in particular, showed equal enthusiasm alongside men to oppose the Tea Act just like their opposition during the Townshend Act crisis. Women, who drank tea the heaviest, shared the sentiment of others against the Tea Act and seized drinking tea. Instead of tea, most women turned to coffee. Radicals were more hardcore in showing their opposition to the Tea Act, especially in port cities. They harassed English EIC agents. Burned English tea. In Philadelphia and New York, Sons of Liberty prevented EIC ships from unloading their tea. Meanwhile in Charleston, protesters locked EIC warehouse containing tea and prevented its distribution.

But the center of attention for opposing the Tea Act went to Boston. In November 28, 1773, Governor Thomas Hutchinson wanted to unload newly arrives cargo ships containing EIC tea. However, Sons of Liberty of Boston managed to persuade the captains of the ships to leave without unloading their cargo. However, Governor Hutchinson was keen in unloading the ships in order to collect local taxes. The ships were given twenty days to unload and pay the respective taxes or face seizure. And on December 16, 1773, the deadline came.

And on the night of December 16, a meeting of sons of Liberty and townsfolk was held on the Old South Church under the leadership of Samuel Adams. During the meeting, they planned to board the ships and throw their tea to the Boston Harbor. Three company, 50 men each, was created. One company for the three ships in the harbor. The men that took park made a disguise and dressed like a Mohawk. The three companies along with a crowd of spectators then proceeded to the Boston Harbor. With the cheers and the jubilation of onlookers, the three companies boarded the ships and began to throw overboard crates of tea to the water. It went throughout the night. And in the end, £10,000 of 45 tons of tea were destroyed by the Sons of Liberty. 

The actions of the Sons of Liberty sent shockwaves across the colonies and in London. News spread of the event and became known as the Boston Tea Party. Other Sons of Liberty in other colonies began to emulate the events in Boston. In London, the Parliament was furious for the chaos and destruction. Parliament quickly passed an act to punish Boston for the destruction of the tea. The Coercive Acts would place Boston in a virtual lock down.

The Tea Act was just one of the last straw for the colonials. Because of the Tea Act, more became furious towards London. Especially when the Coercive Acts were passed, which aimed in punishing Boston for opposing the Tea Act openly and actively, caused the colonies to unite that eventually lead to the Revolution. 

See also:
Sugar Act
Stamp Act
Townshend Act

Boyer, P. et. al. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Boston: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2010.

Brinkley, A. American History: A Survey. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Brooks, R. An American History v. 1. New York: McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1985.

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