The Boston Tea Party, an act of political protest on December 16, 1773, is one of the most famous events in American history and is often seen as kicking off the revolutionary war that created the United States. There had been increasing anger towards new taxes levied upon the colonies and commercial monopolies on imports to the colonies enforced by Great Britain. Many people in the colonies resented the fact that they had no representation in the parliament that passed these laws.
The Townshend Acts
As part of the Townshend Acts of 1767, parliament voted to levy taxes on the colonists. Since there was no colonial representation in parliament, colonial leaders declared the tax illegal because the British constitution said that British subjects could not be taxed without the consent of their elected representatives. Protests and boycotts resulted in the repeal of the tax on everything except tea in 1770 and the protests died down.
The Tea Act of 1773
Although parliament had long upheld the East India Company's monopoly on tea imports to the American colonies, the tea taxes led to a flourishing trade in tea smuggled from the Netherlands. In an effort to stem the illegal trade, parliament significantly lowered the tax in the Tea Act of 1773, allowing the East India Company to sell their tea at a slightly lower price than the smugglers. However, the tea tax associated with the Townshend Acts was not repealed, but they attempted to hide the fact that it was still operating.
Resisting the Tea Act
This caused outrage among colonists and encouraged them to once again start protesting against "taxation without representation," one of the most famous political slogans in American history. Not only were people upset about nonconsensual taxation, but many merchants were worried that the government enforced monopoly of the East India Company's tea would eventually extend to other types of commerce, shutting down colonists businesses.
By the time the East India Company sent out its first round of shipments under the new laws, news was reaching the colonies and people were beginning to protest. Four out of the seven ships were bound for Boston, which had also suffered the most under the Townshend Acts. In the other three colonies to which ships were bound, protesters were able to turn the ships around and send them back to Britain. However, the Massachusetts governor was determined not to give in, so the first ship, the Dartmouth, arrived in Boston Harbor in late November.
Samuel Adams, a major political leader from the Whig party, called a mass meeting at Faneuil Hall on November 29th, but so many people came, the hall couldn't hold them and they had to move. They decided to encourage the captain of the ship to turn around without paying the import duties and left men to watch to make sure that the ship was not unloaded. The law stated that the import duty must be paid within 20 days, so on the last day before the deadline, December 16th, there was another meeting. They decided that the meeting would do nothing and people began to act, led by The Sons of Liberty, a group agitating for independence from Britain.
The Tea Party
Several people had prepared costumes based on the traditional warrior dress of the native American Mohawk tribe. Their costumes were designed to both disguise them and declare that they were Americans rather than British subjects. Between 30 and 130 men, many dressed as Mohawk warriors, boarded three ships and dumped all 342 chests of tea into the harbor.
The Boston Tea Party inspired several other events resisting British laws leading up to and throughout the Revolutionary War. If you visit Boston, you can go to the Tea Party museum and see the site at which we believe the Tea Party took place at the end of what is Pearl Street today.
Taxation continues to be a contentious issue to this day, and some U.S. groups in 2007 who believed that government should shrink and taxes should be lower claimed to model themselves on the ideas represented by this event. The modern Tea Party Movement, attached to the Republican Party, is not as strong as it was but had a major effect on several elections, and they still hold some seats in Congress today.
Originally from Columbus, Ohio, Ani is a fan of exploring new places through photography and the local cuisine. After earning her BFA in photography from NYU and gaining communications experience at International Planned Parenthood Federation, she joined InterExchange in 2012, and worked as the Marketing Producer until 2016.