After the French and Indian War, the British imposed many measures to exact the losses they incurred from American colonists. One of these measures came in the form of the Tea Act in 1773.
The Tea Act was passed in the parliament of Great Britain with the aim to aid the troubled British East India Company and also to coax the American colonists to accept the British government’s right to legislate them.
The British Empire had hoped to enrich its coffers by carrying out trade within her colonies across the globe, however, the smuggled tea supplied by the Dutch traders in America had become a nuisance to this plan.
In order to discourage the colonists from purchasing Dutch tea, the English tea was sold at a much cheaper rate.
However, the Townshend duties were applied to the purchase of the tea in an attempt to implicitly make Americans pay taxes to the Empire.
This act came along with many other laws that sought to take away the rights of the American colonists in self-government.
The colonists organized protests against the laws and deeply resented the British tactics against the American colonies.
The Tea Act resulted in the Boston Tea Party of 1773 when a group of colonists called the ‘sons of liberty’ boarded the ships harbored at the Boston Port.
They threw away several chests of British tea into the water as a form of protest against the act.
This incident enraged the British parliament. King George III in his speech said that the American colonists were harming British commerce and trade.
Soon the British retaliated by introducing what came to be known as the Intolerable Acts which were viewed by the colonists as an attack on their constitutional and natural rights.
The tension between the British Empire and the American Colonists finally came to a head in the American Revolutionary War in 1775.
The American theater of the Seven Years’ War in Europe ended with the victory of the British against the French in 1763 in the French and Indian War.
All the 13 Colonies of America that had fought along the British had now come directly under the authority of the British Crown.
However, the war had also caused several losses to the British government and plunged Britain into debt.
The total debt incurred was about 122 million pounds at the yearly interest of 4.4 million pounds. The main focus of the British Empire after the war was on the recovery of the debt through the newly acquired lands.
In 1763, King George III declared in the Proclamation of 1763 that the American colonists cannot expand into the Indian Reserve without the permission of the Crown.
It further restricted the fur trade with Native Americans unless conducted through British offices.
The proclamation was designed to better the relations with the Native Americans after the Pontiac Uprising and also to expand the colonies in an orderly way.
The American colonists, however, did not share this view of the proclamation including George Washington. They perceived it as unnecessary interference of the British government in the affairs of the colonists.
They believed that the Indian Reserve was a rightful gain from the French and Indian War and the colonists had the right to expand their settlements in the Ohio Country.
Many colonists who had established a lucrative fur trade with the Native Americans were upset with the provisions of the proclamation.
They ignored the proclamation and continued to expand westward. The proclamation had sown the seeds of distrust and enmity between the colonists and their new rulers.
The British had realized the need to put stricter control over the colonists because of the disregard many settlers showed toward imperial laws.
They also felt that the American colonists need to pay their share of the debts incurred in the defense of the colonies. Hence, they began reforming the imperial system to control the navigation and trade in America.
The first attempt was made in the form of the Sugar Act in 1764. It tried to tax the colonists on the purchase of sugar and molasses and prevent smuggling from Dutch traders.
Even though this law was present in the colonies since the 1730s there was very little enforcement and the colonists smuggled the sugar and molasses produced in non-British Caribbeans.
The Sugar Act caused an outcry among the colonists and they protested by boycotting British goods. Though the protests were effective they did not deter the British from introducing other acts.
In 1765, the British parliament passed the Stamp Act which made it mandatory for all printing to be done exclusively on the stamped paper made in London.
Whether they were legal documents, magazines, newspapers, and even playing cards, they had to be printed on the paper bearing the embossed revenue stamp.
This act was aimed at raising revenue to pay for the British officers that were stationed in the colonies.
Since this act had implications for practically everyone the discontent widened enormously among the colonists.
The parliament had to repeal the act as a result of the massive resistance put up by the colonists called the Stamp Act Crisis.
This did not satisfy the colonists as they saw a number of other actions of the British as harmful to their sovereignty.
For instance, the introduction of the Quartering Act in the same year forced the colonial assembly members to provide accommodation facilities and other supplies to the British officers.
The colonists objected to it by questioning the need for a ‘standing army’ in the 13 colonies and also accusing the government of taxing them indirectly by forcing them to bear the daily expenses of the British soldiers.
When the colonists refused to comply with the acts, the British dissolved the New York assembly in 1767 to punish them.
This punitive measure of the British parliament shocked the colonial settlers and they questioned the right of the Empire to do so without any representation of the colonists in the parliament.
Causes Leading to the Tea Act, 1773
The Stamp Act had mobilized artisans, traders, thinkers, and many members of the American society to refuse the British policy of taxation on the motto of ‘No taxation without Representation’.
The virtual representation model of the British was detested by the American colonists because it did not allow the election of local legislators by the people.
The conflict and misunderstandings grew between the British parliament and the 13 Colonies with the imposition of the Townshend duties in 1767 on paper, glass, tea, paint, and other goods imported from Great Britain.
Some colonists understood the requirement of taxes in order to regulate colonial trade, however, the events preceding the legislation of the Townshend Acts had left very little trust between the two parties.
Plus the presence of troops to control the smuggling reminded the colonists of their subservience to the English Crown.
In Boston, many clashes broke out between the troops and colonists. In 1768, when New York and Philadelphia joined Boston in the boycott of British goods the clashes took a violent turn.
The parliament had repealed the Townshend acts on everything except tea in view of the growing protests. However, before the news could reach the colonists, a violent clash broke out again, only this time it was deadly.
Five Bostonians died in the altercation with over a dozen injured on March 5, 1770, in an event that became known as the Boston Massacre.
This event served as a symbol to all Americans about their oppression at the hands of the British parliament.
The colonists had no doubt that the British were trying to take away the liberties of the colonists and enslave them to the British Crown. Any hope of reconciliation faded away rapidly after the Boston Massacre.
Many American colonists had begun to use potential weapons like newspapers to communicate their complaints. It slowly formed a unity among the various colonies and organized movements began to take place.
The pressure of the debt forced King George the III and the parliamentarians to exert increasing control over the colonies. Soldiers were stationed to regulate trade and compliance with the English laws like the Navigation Act.
The introduction of the Tea Act in 1773 decidedly broke the patience of the American colonists.
The Boston Tea Party
When the Tea Act was announced in 1773, it was intended to help the British East India Company financially.
The British East India Company had procured several shipments of tea from Asia but had no buyers because of the illegal trade conducted by the Dutch traders in the American colonies.
The Dutch supplied about 86% of the total tea consumed in America which meant that the East India company’s stock lay in their London warehouses.
The Tea Act was introduced to address both the issues as the cheaper rates of the British tea created a monopoly in America for the East India Company and it also tackled the nuisance created by the Dutch smugglers for the British government.
Furthermore, the Townshend duties applied to the tea would implicitly force compliance of the colonists to English taxes, thus serving a third purpose.
However, this very calculated risk soon backfired in the form of massive protests in several colonies against the Tea Act.
A boycott of the tea was organized in various colonies on a large scale. Leaders of the colonies prevented the ships from anchoring on the harbors thus obstructing the delivery and the distribution of the tea.
In Boston, the protests took a violent turn when the ships carrying the tea anchored at the harbor but refused to leave.
Several groups of 50 people each who were dressed like the Native Americans boarded the 3 ships and broke the chests filled with tea before dumping it in the water.
The events that occurred at the Boston Port on December 16, 1773, went down in the history books as the Boston Tea Party.
When the news reached other colonies, similar protests were staged to amplify the American resentment against their rulers.
The British parliament was enraged when news of the Boston Tea Party reached London. It united parliamentarians of all backgrounds against the American radicals.
King George III, in his speech, accused the colonists of hurting the British Commerce and disregarding the constitution.
The British parliament found it imperative to punish the miscreants and exert authority over the colonists more aggressively to suppress the development of the resistance movement.
In order to do this, the British Parliament passed a set of laws that were known as the Intolerable Acts in America and the Coercive Acts in Britain.
These acts closed the Boston port for any business until the losses were paid by the colonists. They also unilaterally abolished the Massachusetts Charter which greatly reduced the colonist’s power of self-government.
Furthermore, they reintroduced the Quartering Act with a sting, allowing the governor to accommodate the British officers in unoccupied buildings if the assembly failed to do so on its own.
And the final nail was hit with the Administration of Justice Act which gave the opportunity to a British officer accused of a crime in America to be tried in Great Britain or elsewhere.
George Washington called this act the Murder Act because it allowed the British officers to harass and torture the colonists without having to pay for their crime.
The American colonists were prepared to fight for the cause of Boston as they feared that the same could be done to them.
The British had hoped to isolate the Bostonians, however, the unfair measures taken by the parliament worked to unite the colonists against the British instead.
The committee of correspondence was soon formed with the delegates of all the colonies.
The First Continental Congress was held by the Patriot leaders which created an agreement to boycott all British goods across the colonies.
The anger against the British and sympathy for Massachusetts would later culminate into the American Revolutionary War and the Independence of the colonists from the British Empire.