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THE BOSTON TEA PARTY
As the American colonies began to prosper, King George III became more tyrannical in governing his American subjects. At the same time, the colonists were becoming increasingly resentful of the immoral and illegal treatment they were receiving from their own king.
In 1768, the British Parliament enacted the Townsend Act, which stirred the public’s anger in Massachusetts. This law burdened the colonists with additional taxes to pay for the increased number of British troops in Boston and surrounding towns. On March 5, 1770, the people of Boston were in the streets protesting these abuses when British soldiers, fearing for their safety, fired into the crowd. Of the eleven protesters who were shot, three were killed instantly, and two died later from their wounds. This alarming act became known as the Boston Massacre. To mark this event, Paul Revere, a silversmith, created the now famous etched plate of the massacre from which he printed and distributed fliers to warn other colonists about the escalating use of British force.
Clearly, the British had the upper hand and the power to arrest anyone they suspected of sedition. Nonetheless, citizens of Massachusetts began meeting in secret to discuss ways to organize colonial resistance resist against Parliament’s abuses. In 1764, the Committee of Correspondence was formed in Boston under the leadership of Samuel Adams; his cousin, John Adams; Paul Revere; and John Hancock. A network of swift horseback curriers relayed news about the committee’s plans to the other colonies which soon joined Boston in what became a proxy colonial government. Thus united, the colonists began petitioning Parliament against the Townsend Act. Even though they were successful in having parts of the Act repealed, Parliament maintained its heavy taxes, especially on tea.
Parliament’s insistence upon enforcing its tea tax on the colonists was two-fold. Great Britain’s largest trading partner, and source for tea exporting, was the East Indian Company. For the American colonists, mostly of English heritage, tea was a staple of their diets. Boston Harbor was one of the main trading ports for the colonies, and it provided a lucrative market for the tea trade. At the same time, keeping the tea taxes high was retaliation for having been confronted with petitions from Boston’s Committee of Correspondence.
Incensed by the high taxes on tea, many colonists bought smuggled tea from Holland. Others made tea using herbs from their gardens or stopped drinking tea entirely. As a further protest, the colonists began to develop a taste for coffee.
The action arm of the Committee of Correspondence, the Sons of Liberty, was determined to make an even bolder statement. On December 16, 1773, a group of fifty men, wearing feathers and war paint, conducted a late-night raid of three English merchant ships moored in the Boston Harbor. They seized 342 crates of tea and threw them overboard into the frigid water of the bay.
This bold and revolutionary act, which became known as the Boston Tea Party, resulted in harsh retaliation from the British. On March 28, 1774, Parliament issued the Coercive Acts, which included:
The Boston Port Act – cutting off significant means of colonial commerce;
The Justice Act – making British officials in Massachusetts immune to criminal prosecution;
andThe Quartering Act – required colonists to quarter British troops in their homes.
The colonists preferred to call these acts the Intolerable Acts because it became clear that Parliament’s intent was not only to punish their behavior but also to isolate Massachusetts from the other colonies. However, these acts of martial law struck at the heart of what the colonists held most dear: freedom. Instead of abandoning Massachusetts, the other colonies immediately began sending support and goods to Boston.
Two months later, Parliament enacted the Boston Port Act, which closed off the Port of Boston, and demanded today’s equivalent of $1 million in damages for the lost tea. On the same day, the Sons of Liberty met and passed an economic boycott resolution to “Stop all importation from [and exportation to] Great Britain…till the Act for blocking the Boston Harbor be repealed.” Messengers on horseback swiftly carried the resolution to the rest of the colonies, urging them to send their most respected members to a meeting in Philadelphia to consider their future as free people.
The First Continental Congress assembled from September 5th through October 26, 1774. Fifty-three delegates, from twelve colonies, produced the formal Articles of the Continental Association, which outlined the terms of their economic boycotts, to be presented to Britain’s Parliament. Familiar names, such as John Adams, George Washington, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson approved and signed the Articles. Only Georgia refrained from sending delegates to the convention because, at that time, they were facing possible native tribal uprisings and needed to be on good terms with British troops.
The hardships from British authoritarian rule were felt throughout the colonies. While the colonies tended to help each other in times of need, significant distances between them meant that they had also become accustomed to functioning independently from one another. Trading across colonial borders did not always go smoothly, as some colonies had created different terms of negotiation, and some had even created their own currencies.
During the first few weeks of meeting together, the newly appointed Representatives of the first Continental Congress understood that they needed to find common ground with their fellow colonists because their freedom was at stake. Ultimately, they agreed that the American colonies should form a united front against Parliament’s heavy taxation and their use of martial law against the colonists.
Congress’ Articles of the Continental Association imposed bans on importing and exporting goods from Britain, Ireland, and the British West Indies. The Articles aimed not to harm fellow colonists or impugn their loyalty to the king, but rather to place the blame directly onto Parliament. The Articles gave Parliament until September 10, 1775, to repeal their Coercive Acts. Parliament’s arrogant response to the association’s boycott deadline was to block fishing rights for all North American colonies.