The Boston Tea Party
August 9, 2021
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Every major historical event always has a catalyst that triggers the process. Each epoch-making event is almost always preceded by certain circumstances that serve as an impetus for activating people’s consciousness. Thus, the Boston Tea Party was the protest of American colonists in response to the actions of the British Government that resulted in the destruction of the cargo of tea, belonging to the East India Company in Boston Harbor. Vickers mentioned that up until the American Revolution, the colonists considered themselves still British at heart, not Americans yet (510). However, this event, which became the beginning of the American Revolution, was quite symbolic in American history. The factor that caused the uprising of colonists was the Tea Law that was adopted by England in 1773 and imposed upon them certain conditions of the metropolis for the purchase of an English drink. Thus, the period chosen for the study became a turning point in the relations between England and its 13 North American colonies. The free development of capitalism was incompatible with the colonial oppression of the metropolis that sought to retain its colonies within the framework of feudal development. Therefore, the aim of this work is to analyze how the contradictions in relations between England and its North American colonies were born and developed, which ultimately led to the pretext of the beginning of the war for the colonies’ independence. This event transformed into the drive in American history, indicating the beginning of the American Revolution, and marked the peak of colonies’ resistance to the British policies that oppressed and violated their rights.
Background of the Conflict
The 18th century was of the peak of England’s world hegemony. Thus, this process reached its highest point when France and Spain recognized their defeat in the Seven Years’ War and signed the peace treaty of 1763, according to which the former lost Canada to the English crown, while the latter gave away Florida. Now, the entire eastern coast of North America was in the hands of England that immediately decided to take further steps towards the establishment of its authority in the colonies (Walker 17). However, by this time, in the 13 colonies themselves, certain circumstances facilitated the beginning of the resistance to their metropolis. The continental colonies did not have slavery, unlike Jamaica, where slaves were the majority of local population. Thus, they did not rely upon the British military to look after their requests. By this time, over a third of the white population of the colonies was non-English people, including the representatives of nationalities (primarily Irish and Dutch) who harbored fierce hatred towards England. According to Carr, the combined impact of more than 100 years of British neglect, improper management laid the foundation for the future unrest in the colonies (2). Most importantly, these colonies grew so much that their population was close to three million. While England was busy with crushing its rivals and conquering the world, in which it received some assistance from the colonies, the latter had achieved quite significant successes in the field of economy, created viable political organisms. Most importantly, they developed a clear and conscious sense of solidarity, which was a sign of the birth of a nation.
Tea Trade Until the Beginning of the Conflict
Tensions between Britain and its North American colonies arose when the Parliament first attempted to impose a tax on the colonies to increase profits. After the Europeans had learned of the existence of tea, numerous marine companies were formed, importing it from the eastern regions of India. In 1698, the English Parliament gave the English East India Company a monopoly on the supply of tea to Britain (Gunderson 10). In 1721, the Parliament issued a law, prescribing to buy tea only in Britain to suppress competition in North American colonies. Because of high taxes and duties, it became more profitable for the population to buy contraband tea, mainly from Dutch sources, whose imported tea was not taxed. Despite the fact that the largest market for contraband tea was in England, illegal tea was delivered via a short route.
Colonists noted that, according to the British Constitution, British subjects could be taxed only by their representation in the Parliament. As there was no such representation, colonists cannot be taxed with such taxes. Thus, the colonies boycotted the Stamp Collective Act (1765) as well as the laws of 1767. Considering the unrest in the colonies, the East India Company was in an difficult financial situation in 1773. According to McDougall, in 1775, Britain’s Intolerable Acts finally pushed the colonies to rebel (8). The main directions of the British colonial policy were clearly formulated. Thus, they aimed to monopolize the market for the products of the British industry, and to this end, to limit local industrial production. Britain aimed to develop shipping only within English possessions and monopolize the economic benefits of trade. Further, it wanted to prohibit colonization by the colonists of the western lands, to centralize the political management of the colonies, to limit the rights of self-government bodies, primarily in financial and legal matters, and to strengthen the role of the military in the life of the colonies.
The failure of the law on stamp duty formed a large gap in the expected income of the British Empire, the financial burden of which was exacerbated by the fact that in early 1767, the land tax in England itself had been sharply reduced, resulting in the decline of domestic revenues by half a million pounds a year. Therefore, in June 1767, at the suggestion of Charles Townshend, the Minister of Finance, the Parliament approved several laws that received the name of Townshend Acts on behalf of their author. Hamby noted in his article that London required more cash for the expansion of its territories while at home, citizens began to protest against high taxes (53). If the law on stamp duty meant an attempt to introduce a direct taxation, the new regulations were to compensate for the British coffers by indirect taxation by means of imposing duties on certain consumer goods (Gunderson 20).
In total, three acts were adopted. One of them had the purpose of regulating trade, provided for the extraction of income by imposing tax on the goods, imported into the colony, such as paints, paper, glass, and tea. Simultaneously with this law, two more acts were adopted, which also had a direct bearing on the issue of the future fate of the colonies. In order to strengthen the apparatus of colonial administration, an Act was issued to establish a Higher Customs Administration with headquarters in Boston. This administration was vested with broad powers. In addition to these acts, according to Holton, the legal decree of 1763, which restricted pioneer settlement and the sale of lands, west of the Appalachian Mountains, prompted the colonies to the open rebellion against Britain (453). Finally, the third Act announced the dissolution of the legislative assembly of New York as a punishment for protesting against the adoption of the Apartment Act of 1765 that presupposed the deployment of British troops in the colonies. The latter refused to comply with this Act.
In response to the activities of the English government, colonial newspapers resumed their campaigns of anti-English agitation. New articles and pamphlets against the policy of the metropolis quickly appeared in the colonies. At this stage, the peculiarity of this anti-British campaign was in the fact that its efforts were focused on organizing a boycott of English goods. Trade with the colonies brought England 6 million pounds annually, while stopping this trade would hit the British economy quite hard. Thus, members of the Virginia Legislative Assembly, dissolved by the Crown, adopted the plan of the Association to boycott English goods (Gunderson 30). Moreover, the representatives of the propertied elite of merchants actively participated in the boycott campaign. On the one hand, such a move was explained by the English desire to have people in the colonies under its control. On the other hand, the elite had their interest in organizing an effective rebuff to England that encroached on their money and property. Amidst this boycott campaign, Boston newspapers appealed eloquently to the position of the supporters of boycott – they did not need crowds or riots, and did not need to touch their most hated enemies and their property. They should take care of their money, and they would save their country. Thus, the protest movement against Townshend’s Acts caused a new upsurge of colonies’ protests against the metropolis.
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The Tea Law
Since it became apparent that Townshend’s Acts would not yield the desired results, in April 1771, the English Cabinet decided to abolish them, stressing this time the Crown’s supreme rights by symbolically preserving the duty on tea imported into the colony. The Tea Act gave the East India Company a full power of the tea trade, which would demolish the exchange in the provinces (Brennan 26). This move by England did not mean a change in the politics of the metropolis. However, it was dictated by considerations of a tactical order and was designed to weaken the wave of discontent in the colonies. Nevertheless, the colonial liberation struggle was no longer confined to the question of taxes but it had a much more serious agenda. The evidence of this were the events in Boston just on the day when the British Government submitted a proposal to repeal the Townshend Acts to the Parliament. However, even before these events, the situation in Boston was so tense that, according to the British colonel Dalrymple, he had to live in constant fear of the uprising (Gunderson 23). To defuse the tension, the British command decided to reduce the number of troops, stationed in Boston. However, this did not change the situation. On the night of March 5, a rumor spread that an attack on customs was being prepared (Gunderson 23). Thus, a small detachment of British troops was sent, and they formed a protective line. A crowd gathered around the soldiers. When one of the officers was hit with a stick, soldiers received the order to shoot. Three people were killed, two were fatally wounded, and several people were slightly injured.
The crowd dispersed, but the ringing of bells and drumbeat echoed in the city. There was a call to arms. There were rumors that the British command had developed a plan for the destruction of the supporters of patriotic movement. This version was widely distributed and even confirmed by the local press. The British authorities were accused of deliberately killing innocent people. After these events in Boston, the mass movement grew rapidly. A new stage in the liberation struggle of the colonies began, and it was the stage of active resistance (Walker 68). Simultaneously, the agrarian movement intensified against feudal obligations, and it had a particularly large scale in the colonies of New York, North and South Carolinas. Thus, the troops scattered all over the territory of the colonies could not close the western border from the farmers who had unwittingly moved to the West.
Results and Legacy
Britain considered the destruction of the property of the East India Company as a riot, closed the port in Boston, and tightened colonial legislation. However, the rest of the North American provinces supported Boston, thus rejecting tea and replacing it with herbal drinks and coffee, and then raising their weapons against the metropolis and starting the struggle for their independence.
Granting the Representation in the British Parliament
Initially, the objective of American pilgrims was not a full autonomy from Britain. They tried to have a representation in the British Parliament. However, the British grandees refused to meet their requirements. The new law did not bring joy to the American colonies, only discontent. Protests caused the preservation of duties on imported tea in the colony. In addition, the colonists acted under the motto ‘no taxes without representation’, continuing to demand seats in the British Parliament. However, the North American colonies were not pleased by the fact that their internal issues were decided solely by the British Parliament and not by their self-governing bodies (Walker 19). They insisted that only persons selected by the colonists themselves had the right to impose taxes.
A considerable role in the protests belonged to colonial traders, many of whom had earned quite significantly while smuggling tea. According to Hallwood and Ponivas, as a free nation, the provinces could receive monetary and military assistance from different regions, they could also form new trade relations with other European nations, while their united stand in their struggle against the metropolis would make it easier for them to achieve victory (29). The emergence of a monopoly in the form of the East India Company threatened them with financial losses. There was some fear that London would give all rights to supply goods to the New World to the big companies, but this was already fraught with complete ruin.
Diversion of the “Sons of Freedom”
In the early autumn of 1773, the East India Company sent seven ships with tea to the colony. While the ships were still in the sea, American colonists, having studied the Tea Law, finally concluded that this law contradicted their interests, and they continued with their protest actions. Among the leaders of the protest movement were the members of the organization Sons of Freedom that advocated the independence of the American colonies (Gunderson 16). The tactics of the protest were initially purely peaceful: activists pressed on American buyers of tea who were forced to stop their purchases. Thus, unclaimed tea was either confiscated by the customs authorities or was returned on the same ship to London. In all colonies, activists achieved their goal without entering into a tough conflict. However, in the colony of Massachusetts, in Boston, the situation was quite difficult. The Royal Governor said that ships with tea would be taken at the port of Boston and unloaded.
When the ship Dartmouth appeared in the port of Boston, a mass rally began in the city, the participants of which sought to send the goods back to England. Under the law, the ship was to be unloaded, and the duty for the goods was to be paid in 20 days, or the products would be reallocated by custom service officers (Walker 8). However, the Governor said that the ship would not leave without the payment of duty, and it would be unloaded in any case. In the meantime, two more ships with tea arrived. The situation was quite heated.
The confrontation lasted until December 16, when the 20 days for the payment of duty expired. Thus, Dartmouth did not receive permission to return to England. Then, the radicals from the movement Sons of Freedom began to act. Dressed in Indians, the group, which included several dozen people, penetrated the ship, actually taking her under control, and within three hours, they dropped to the harbor 342 boxes of tea, with the total weight of 70,000 pounds (Walker 58). As Keown stated, the government had full rights for self-defense after all other attempts to settle had been exhausted but still, the use of military force had to be considered very thoroughly (280).
The news of the troubling events in Boston stirred London and other North American colonies. Thus, in London, the drowning of boxes was considered as the destruction of the property of the East India Company, and, in fact, the British Crown considered this event as a riot (Walker 72). Governor Hutchinson demanded immediately to detain and punish the radicals. In retaliation for the sabotage, the British government declared the port of Boston closed and toughened the laws in Massachusetts, further limiting the rights of colonists. However, in the colonies, people mostly welcomed the action in Boston. Thus, the discontent with the metropolis reached its peak, and the colonies were ready for an open struggle for their independence. In this situation, someone had to make a first move. In Boston, the move was made by the Sons of Freedom.
Controversial “Tea Party”
As an act of support of the Bostonians, other colonies began a campaign of abandoning tea and replacing it with herbal tinctures or coffee. In the wake of the events in Boston, events developed quickly and tension escalated. The British, seeing the support of Massachusetts by different states, dissolved all local government bodies, transferring power to the British officials. Moreover, in Boston, they had to introduce the military administration.
All these actions only caused greater radicalization of sentiments in the colonies. The confrontation grew more and more seroius, and in 1775, it turned into an open armed conflict, during which the Declaration of American Independence was proclaimed in 1776 (Walker 62). Thus, the eight-year war ended with the defeat of Britain and the signing of the Paris Peace in 1783, according to which the metropolis gave the full autonomy to the United States (Gunderson 43). However, the event, which had launched the process of the American Revolution, was not emphasized by historians for another half a century. Only later, they included this episode in the history of the United States and called it the Boston Tea Party, but this term appeared in American colonies almost immediately after those events.
The Boston Tea Party did not quite fit into the fundamental principles of American society such as the respect for laws and the institution of private property. For example, a well-known American politician and one of the founders of the United States, Benjamin Franklin, believed that the colonists ought to have paid for the entire shipment of drowned tea to its owners. However, eventually, the Boston Tea Party became an integral part of the history of the United States.
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From all of the above mentioned, one could conclude that for England, North American colonies were only the means of enriching its budget and a source of raw materials. Moreover, the British authorities applied significant efforts to support this position. However, the bold actions of Bostonians were enthusiastically supported by all North American colonies without exception. In London, the Boston Tea Party was seen as an attack on the property of Britain and its domination over the colonies. The conflict between England and its North American colonies was engendered by the existing social contradictions. At the same time, the colonists saw only the strengthening of the centralization of government, the deployment of thousands of soldiers to the colonies, the violent encroachments of England on established civil rights such as the attempts to destroy a democratic political order, to limit the area of ??settlement of colonists by a narrow strip of land adjacent to the coast, and to establish maximum restrictions in trade and industry.
While important processes took place in the colonies, such as the rapid growth of self-esteem, fights with enemies in the south, north, and west as well as the increasing isolation from England, the latter began to pursue a policy of increasing exploitation in an environment, where even long-standing bonds caused more and more outrage. Oppression provoked rebuff that led to penalties, while punishments prompted indignation. The response to the outrage was repression. Further, it led to a pretext for the revolution, and the Boston Tea Party became exactly such a pretext. Thus, it was obvious that England’s attempt to centralize the administration only rallied the colonies and set them on a revolutionary path.