The Boston Tea-Party


In so far as any single episode may be said to spark a decisive political revolution, this is true of what contemporaries and all later ages know as the Boston Tea-Party. On December 16, 1773 about 50 or 60 sober-minded Boston working men disguised as Indians dumped 342 chests of tea, belonging to the powerful monopoly known as the East India Company, into the waters of Boston harbor. The identity of almost all these men remains a mystery, though it is fairly certain that a leader amongst them was the silversmith and engraver, Paul Revere.

Hundreds of additional chests of tea had been sent to the American colonies by the East India Company — to New York and Philadelphia and Charleston, as well as Boston. As part of the King’s Party’s* political efforts to tighten the reins on the colonies and to place some of the fiscal burdens of the Empire more fully upon those colonies, the Tea Act was passed early in 1773. In April 1773, British Parliament remitted all duties and taxes on teas exported to America, and permitted the Company to sell its teas to its own selected agencies in America — those selected being merchants who had refused the earlier colonial non-importation agreement — rather than, as hitherto required, by public auction in England. The only duty left was a three penny one to be paid in the colonies; with this it was clear that the agents of the East India Company would be able to undersell all other merchants and therefore would have a monopoly of that important trade.

It was this question of monopoly — and not a petty tax — plus the idea of Parliament’s renewed assertion of its right to tax the colonists — that lay behind the tremendous popu- lar resistance to the 1773 legislation. One must bear in mind also that the East India Company controlled tradé in chinaware, drugs, calico, spices and silks from England.

The struggle reached its most intense point in Boston. There repeated mass meetings were held of 5,000 to 7,000 people — immense numbers when one recalls that the total population of Boston at that time was not over some 30,000.

All proposals for a peaceable resolution of the erisis — such as had been reached in New York City, fn Philadelphia and in Charleston — were rejected by the King’s Governor. Planning committees were established by mass organisations and the decision to dump the tea by force was reached and carried out.

As the erisis continued, surrounding towns sent their men to stand with the Boston population. This was a united people — a new people conscious of their rights, organized and determined that no King was to rule them and to force upon their economy so frightful a monopoly as the East India Company.

The King and the King’s Party responded in reaction’s usual manner — more force, more repression. After the Tea-Party came the Intolerable Acts* — the blockading of Boston in order to starve its inhabitants into submission; Massachusetts’ capital was moved to Salem; the members of the Council, hitherto chosen by the province’s lower house, were to be appointed by the King; the Governor was empowered to appoint all law-enforcement officers; and juries were now to be selected by the sheriff. Royal officers were to be tried for alleged crimes only in England, and town meetings were to be held only with the written permission of the Governor — and the Governor was to determine the agenda of such meeting — and the quartering of troops upon the civilian population was to be enforced.

The response of the colorlists was to unite in support of the people of Boston, to unite in rejecting these moves of the King and to create in 1774 the First Continental Congress. So began that “great, really liberating, really revolutionary war’, — as Lenin characterised the Revolution.