The Tea Act 1773 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain. It was passed to help the financially strapped British East India Company and to help them reduce the massive amounts of tea in their London warehouses.
The Tea Act which was enacted in April of 1773, gave the East India Company a virtual monopoly on the importation and sale of tea in the American colonies. England had been victorious in the Seven Years War but now the country too was massively in debt. Parliament looked to the American colonies to ease their debt.
First, they passed the Stamp Act in 1765. The colonists rebelled against paying it, eventually resorting to mob violence to prevent paying for this tax which the colonists considered “taxation without representation” which would be repeated again. Eventually, Parliament would repeal the Stamp Act in 1766.
A year later Charles Townshend, Chancellor of the Exchequer, in charge of the government’s collection of revenues passed the Townshend Revenue Act. Townshend’s act placed taxes on a number of goods imported into the colonies, including tea, glass, paper, and paint.
The thought was to tax the colonies to pay for the salaries of the Colonial governors. Once again the colonists rebelled against this. The colonies had already paid for the governor’s salaries from the elected assemblies of each colony. This gave them a modicum of power over the King’s governors which if the money was coming from Parliament would erase that.
The colonists were outraged and organized boycotts of all of the imported goods. That too was successful and Parliament rescinded all of the Townshend Acts in 1770 except the tax on tea which the English believed showed their right to tax the colonies.
The boycott of goods was over but the issue of the tea was a sticky one between the British authorities and the colonists. While many of the colonists refused to drink tea out of principle, many others were buying tea from the Dutch as it was much cheaper than the tea from the East India Company. Part of the Tea Act’s purpose was to undercut the price of illegal Dutch tea, thus bailing out the East India Company and putting a stamp on Parliament’s right of taxation to the colonies.
It was granting the East India Company a monopoly along with their brokers of selling tea in the colonies. Many of the brokerage firms selling the tea were either fully or partially owned by the colonial.governors, which further inflamed many already hot-headed colonists including many from Massachusetts. In the Bay State Colony, a group of firebrands called the “Sons of Liberty” was a secret society that was formed in all 13 colonies to protect the rights of colonists, especially the right of taxation without representation. Among the more prominent members were Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and Benjamin Edes in Boston.
The Sons of Liberty warned the colonists that the tax on tea was a Trojan Horse, designed to accept unfair taxation of the colonies by Parliament. In many of the cities along the coast, in New York, Philadelphia and Charleston, mobs of angry colonists harassed the brokers into resigning and stopped the offloading of tea from ships.
The East India Company had tea leaves beginning to rot on the docks of London, they shipped over 500,000 pounds of tea to the colonies in the fall of 1773. Despite the work of colonists, which refused to accept the tea, in Boston, colonial governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to go along. His two sons and a nephew were the brokers for the tea. The HMS Dartmouth arrived in Boston in late November, shortly afterward, two more ships (the Eleanor and the Beaver), arrived in Boston.
Many Bostonian’s, including Samuel Adams, tried to convince the governor to no avail, to return the tea to London. The Sons of Liberty had several mass meetings and finally decided to act. On December 16, about 130 Sons of Liberty donned disguises, masking themselves as Mohawk Indians and boarded the three ships in Boston Harbor. The Mohawk disguises were noteworthy in that the colonists were identifying themselves more as “native Americans” than as British.
The men boarded the tea ships and over a three-hour span, dumped the tea into Boston Harbor in front of a large crowd of townspeople. The 347 tea chests were axed and dumped amid loud cheers from the crowd. The British reaction was swift.
Parliament passed the “Coercive Acts” which closed the port of Boston until the tea destroyed in the harbor was paid for. The loss of the tea was valued at 90,000 pounds which is about $1.7 million dollars today. General Thomas Gage was installed as the military governor of Massachusetts and British soldiers were to be quartered in the homes of citizens.
One thing that was a direct consequence of the Tea Act and the resultant fallout from the Boston Tea Party was that many of the Sons of Liberty, including Sam and John Adams, believed that drinking tea was unpatriotic following the events in Boston. That started the trend of Americans of having coffee as their preferred drink, which continues today.
But the events set in motion a series of events that culminated in the Battles of Lexington and Concord.