The history of the Boston Tea Party



The British government, having rashly determined to enforce the Tea-duty Act, of which the most considerable effect hitherto was a vast importation of smuggled tea into America by the French, the Dutch, the Danes, and the Swedes, attempted to compass by policy what constraint and authority had proved insufficient to accomplish. The measures of the Americans had already occasioned such diminution of exports from Britain that the warehouses of the English East India Company contained above seventeen millions of pounds of tea, for which it was difficult to procure a market. The unwillingness of the Company to lose their commercial profits, and of the ministry to forego the expected revenue from the sale of tea in America, induced a compromise for their mutual advantage. A high duty was imposed hitherto on the exportation of tea from England; but the East India Company were now authorized by act of Parliament to export their tea free of duty to all places whatever (may, 1773). By this contrivance it was expected that tea, though loaded with an exceptionable tax on its importation into America, would yet readily obtain purchasers among the Americans; as the vendors, relieved of the British export duty, could afford to sell it to them even cheaper than before it was made a source of American revenue.

The crisis now drew near when the Americans were to decide whether they would submit to be taxed by the British Parliament, or practically support their own principles and brave the most perilous consequences of their inflexibility. One common sentiment was awakened throughout the whole continent by the tidings of the ministerial device, which was universally reprobated as an attempt, at once injurious and insulting, to bribe the Americans to surrender their rights and bend their own necks to the yoke of arbitrary power. A violent ferment arose; the corresponding committees and political clubs exerted their utmost activity to rouse and unite the people; and it was generally declared that, as every citizen owed to his country the duty at least of refraining from being accessory to her subjugation, every man who countenanced the present measure of the British government should be deemed an enemy of America. .

The East India Company, confident of finding a market for their tea, reduced as it was now in price, freighted several ships to America with this commodity, and appointed consignees to receive and dispose of it. Some cargoes were sent to New York, some to Philadelphia, some to Charleston, the metropolis of South Carolina, and some to Boston. The inhabitants of New York and Philadelphia prevailed with the consignees to disclaim their functions, and forced the ships to return with their cargoes to London. The inhabitants of Charleston unladed the tea, and deposited it in public cellars, where it was locked up from use and finally perished. At Boston, the consignees, who were the near kinsmen of Governor Hutchinson, at first refused to renounce their appointments (November 5); and the vessels containing the tea lay for some time in the harbor, watched by a strong guard of the citizens, who, from a numerous town meeting, dispatched peremptory commands to the ship-masters not to land their obnoxious cargoes. . [The consignees] proposed then to the people that the tea should be landed, and preserved in some public store or magazine; but this compromise was indignantly rejected. At length the popular rage broke through every restraint of order and decency. From the symptoms of its dangerous fervor the consignees fled in dismay to the Castle; while an assemblage of men, dressed and painted like Mohawk Indians, boarded the vessels and threw the tea into the ocean (December 16).

It was remarked with some surprise that during the whole of this transaction the civil and military force of government, including the garrison of Castle William and several ships of war in the harbor, remained completely inactive. The governor, indeed, issued a proclamation forbidding the people to assemble in factious meetings. But the council, when their protection was implored by the consignees, refused to interfere at all in the matter; and though, after the outrage was committed, they condemned its perpetration and invoked legal vengeance upon all who had been engaged in it, the futility of this demonstration was obvious to every eye. To procure legal proof that would implicate even a single individual was notoriously impossible.





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