American Revolution 

The American Revolution

The Boston Tea Party

(Dec. 16, 1773)

 Boston Tea Party


The Boston Tea Party was an act of political and economic protest against the authority of the far-away British government to impose taxes upon American colonies that had no representation in Britain's Parliament. The English subjects who lived in the American colonies felt that they should have the same political rights as other free-born Englishmen; in particular, the right to have representatives sit in Parliament and take part in the debates and creation of laws that affected the colonies.

Following Britain's victory over France in the French and Indian War, the British government looked for ways to pay for the debts incurred by the war. Since the war had largely been fought to protect the English colonies in America, the government felt it would be appropriate to let the American colonists pay for their own defense through the imposition of new taxes.


The Stamp Act and the Townsend Acts had imposed multiple taxes on the American colonies as a way to pay for British administration and defense of the colonies. These taxes caused considerable political agitation in America, leading to many protests. The most violent protest culminated in the infamous Boston Massacre of 1770, and the most celebrated act of non-violent protest occurred three years later in what came to be called the Boston Tea Party.

The British government repealed most of the onerous tax laws that the Americans complained about, but kept a tax on tea, which was a part of nearly everyone's daily meals. The governement wanted to keep the this tax in place largely to maintain its power to levy taxes on the colonies. The American colonists responded by refusing to let the tea ships of the East India Company (which held the monopoly on shipping tea to the colonies) dock and unload their taxable cargoes. Tea ships bound for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston were all turned away. The tea ships bound for Boston managed to dock, but were unable to unload their tea. Thus, they sat at dock and waited.

When the East India Ship the Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November of 1773, Samuel Adams organized a meeting to be held at Faneuil Hall on November 29. Several thousand people arrived, forcing the meeting to be re-located to the larger Old South Meeting House. Adams' meeting passed a resolution, introduced by Adams, urging the captain of the Dartmouth to leave Boston Harbor without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting chose twenty-five men to watch over the Dartmouth and ensure that the tea was not unloaded.

Massachusetts Governor Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave without paying the tax. Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor On December 16, about 7,000 people had again gathered at the Old South Meeting House. Upon hearing a report that Governor Hutchinson still refused to let the tea ships leave, Samuel Adams announced that "This meeting can do nothing further to save the country." According to eyewitness accounts, people did not leave the meeting until ten or fifteen minutes after Adams's alleged "signal," and Adams in fact tried to stop people from leaving because the meeting was not yet over.

While Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, quite a few Bostonians left the Old South Meeting House and headed toward Boston Harbor. Later that evening, a group of 30 to 130 men, some of them dressed as Mohawk Indians, forced their way onto the three tea ships, and, over the next three hours, dumped all 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor.

Samuel Adams, who was a professional agitator, probably did not actually plan or aid the effort to dump the tea, but he immediately saw the propaganda value of the protest, and began working to publicize and defend it this act of political protest. Adams argued that the Tea Party was not the act of a crazed mob, but arose out as the only response available to the colonists who were defending their reasonable principles and that they took this action as only remaining option the people had to defend their constitutional rights.

Governor Thomas Hutchinson had been urging London to take a hard line with the Sons of Liberty, as the main protest group involved in the Tea Party was known.

Back in Britain, even those politicians and members of Parliament normally friendly to the plight of the colonies were shocked at this apparent act of lawlessness they united with the more conservative elements in Parliament against the colonies. Prime Minister Lord North declared, "Whatever may be the consequence, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over." The British believed that the Tea Party could not go unpunished and responded by closing the port of Boston and put in place other laws known as the "Coercive Acts".

In America, Benjamin Franklin stated that the destroyed tea must be repaid, to the amount of £90,000 (English Pounds). Robert Murray, a New York merchant went to Lord North with three other merchants and offered to pay for the losses, but the offer was turned down. A number of colonists were inspired to carry out similar acts, such as the burning of the Peggy Stewart. The Boston Tea Party eventually proved to be one of the major reactions leading up to the American Revolutionary War, which began in April of 1775.


In February of 1775, Britain passed the Conciliatory Resolution which ended taxation for any colony which satisfactorily provided for the imperial defense and the upkeep of British officers. This act did not stop the momentum toward war that had been building for many years.



Links and Resources:


The Boston Tea Party,

Boston Tea Party Historical Society

Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum

LIBERTY! . Chronicle of the Revolution . Boston 1774 --PBS

The American Revolution (The Boston Tea Party)

The Coercive Acts Search Engine

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