The story behind the Boston Tea Party – Ben Labaree
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The story behind the Boston Tea Party – Ben Labaree

Translator: Andrea McDonough
Reviewer: Bedirhan Cinar You’ve probably heard of the Boston Tea Party, something about a bunch of angry colonists dressed as Native Americans throwing chests of tea into the water. But the story is far more complicated, filled with imperial intrigue, corporate crisis, smuggling, and the grassroots origins of the American Revolution. The first thing you need to know about tea in the 1700’s is that it was really, really popular. In England, each man, woman, and child consumed almost 300 cups of this stuff every year. And, since the English colonized America, Americans were crazy about tea too. By the 1760’s, they were drinking over a million pounds of tea every year. So, when Britain wanted to increase taxes on tea in America, people were not happy, mostly because they had no say in tax decisions made in London. Remember that famous phrase, “No taxation without representation”? The American colonists had long believed that they were not subject to taxes imposed by legislature in which they lacked representation. In fact, rather than paying the taxes, they simply dodged the tax collectors. Since the east coast of America is hundreds of miles long and British enforcement was lax, about 3/4 of the tea Americans were drinking was smuggled in, usually from Holland. But the British insisted that Parliament did have the authority to tax the colonists, especially after Britain went deeply into debt fighting the French in the Seven Years’ War. To close the budget gap, London looked to Americans, and in 1767 imposed new taxes on a variety of imports, including the American’s beloved tea. America’s response: no thanks! They boycotted the importation of tea from Britain, and instead, brewed their own. After a new bunch of British customs commissioners cried to London for troops to help with tax enforcement, things got so heated that the Red Coats fired on a mob in Boston, killing several people, in what was soon called the Boston Massacre. Out of the terms of the 1773 Tea Act, Parliament cooked up a new strategy. Now the East India Company would sell the surplus tea directly through hand-picked consignees in America. This would lower the price to consumers, making British tea competitive with the smuggled variety while retaining some of the taxes. But the colonists saw through the British ploy and cried, “Monopoly!” Now it’s a cold and rainy December 16, 1773. About 5,000 Bostonians are crowded into the Old South Meeting House, waiting to hear whether new shipments of tea that have arrived down the harbor will be unloaded for sale. When the captain of one of those ships reported that he could not leave with his cargo on board, Sam Adams rose to shout, “This meeting can do no more to save the country!” Cries of “Boston Harbor a teapot tonight!” rang out from the crowd, and about 50 men, some apparently dressed as Native Americans, marched down to Griffin’s Wharf, stormed aboard three ships, and threw 340 tea chests overboard. An infuriated British government responsded with the so-called Coercive Acts of 1774, which, among other things, closed the port of Boston until the locals compensated the East India Company for the tea. That never happened. Representatives of the colonies gathered at Philadelphia to consider how best to respond to continued British oppression. This first Continental Congress supported destruction of the tea, pledged to support a continued boycott, and went home in late October 1774 even more united in their determination to protect their rights and liberties. The Boston Tea Party began a chain reaction that led with little pause to the Declaration of Independence and a bloody rebellion, after which the new nation was free to drink its tea, more or less, in peace.


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