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Communicating America’s Founding Principles

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THE TEA REBELLION and THE BOSTON MASSACRE

By Judy Leithe

As the British Colonies in North America began to prosper, King George III became more tyrannical in the governance of his people.  The Stamp Act of 1765 decreed that all colonial paper goods, such as newspapers, fliers, and legal documents, had to be printed in England bearing the Crown’s tax stamp.  The Colonists were outraged by this act of control and taxation.  In Massachusetts, people of all walks of life began having strategy meetings, in secret, knowing British troops could arrest them for sedition at any time.  They called themselves the Sons of Liberty and, with the support of notable leaders such as, John Adams, Samuel Adams, Paul Revere and John Hancock, these patriots began to make themselves known.  After a year of continual protests against British tax collectors, and other British officials in Boston by the Liberty group, Parliament removed this onerous tax, at least temporarily.

In the fall of 1768, British troops were sent to Boston to quell the people’s opposition to the Townshend Act, which included new taxes on British china, glass, lead, paint, paper and tea.  These excessive taxes were intended to be a be a source of increased revenue from which Britain could, among other things, pay for their governance over the American colonies.  After more than a year of tensions, on March 5, 1770, the people were in the streets protesting the taxes, as well as the British forces.  Shots were fired, killing unarmed citizens in what became known as The Boston Massacre.  The Boston silver- and coppersmith, Paul Revere, created a copper etching of the massacre and used it to print fliers of this tragic event (see above).    

As British subjects, the colonists believed they had a right to stand up against these unfair practices.  Members of the Sons of Liberty developed a plan to protest the tea tax.  On December 16, 1774, a group of 50 men, conducted a late-night raid of three British merchant ships moored in the Boston Harbor.  They seized 342 crates of tea and threw them overboard.  This bold and revolutionary act, known as the Boston Tea Party, resulted in retaliation from the Parliament, which then issued the Coercive Acts (March 28,1774).  Among other punishments, the Coersive Acts included:

The Boston Port Act—cutting off significant means of colonial commerce;

The Justice Act—making British officials in Massachusetts immune to criminal prosecution; 

The Quartering Act—requiring colonists to house and quarter British troops in their homes.

The colonists in Massachusetts called these acts, the Intolerable Acts!  It was clear that Parliament’s intent was not only to punish their behavior, but also to isolate them from the other colonies.  However, these acts of martial law struck at the heart of the what all colonists held most dear--freedom.  Instead of abandoning Massachusetts, the other colonies immediately began sending goods and support to Boston. 

The colonists still considered themselves to be British subjects, even after years of repeatedly having their requests for equal representation denied by Parliament.  As things became progressively worse, they knew it was time to take action against these abuses.  In answer to the Boston Port Act, on May 13, 1774, The Sons of Liberty met and passed an economic boycott resolution to “stop all importation from [and exportation to] Great Britain…til the Act for blocking [the Boston Harbor] be repealed…”   Messengers on horseback, including Paul Revere, carried the resolution to New York, Philadelphia, and the colonies beyond, urging them to send their most respected members to gather in Philadelphia for the First Continental Congress (September 5, 1774 – October 26, 1774).

There were 53 delegates from twelve colonies who co-wrote the formal Articles of the Continental Association which outlined the terms of the colony’s economic boycotts against trade with Britain.  Familiar names such as: John Adams, George Washington, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson approved and signed the Articles.  Only Georgia did not send delegates at that time as they were facing possible uprisings from native tribes and needed to be on good terms with British troops.

The colonies had grown accustomed to functioning independently from one another.  Trading across borders did not always go smoothly, as some colonies had created their own currencies and other terms of negotiations. 

Consequently, the first few weeks of the Congress were spent finding common ground with each other.  Ultimately, they agreed that the Colonies should form a united front in opposition to England’s heavy taxation, as well as other trading burdens placed on the colonists.          

The Colonial Congress’ Articles of the Continental Association imposed bans on importing and exporting goods from Britain, Ireland and the British West Indies.  The Articles stated that the Association did not wish to harm fellow-subjects, or their loyalty to the king, but rather placed the blame on Parliament.  The Articles gave England until September 10, 1775 to repeal their Coersive (Intolerable) Acts.

Parliament’s response to the boycott deadline was to block North Atlantic fishing; a blockade which ultimately extended to all of the colonies.

References: 

historyofmassachusetts.org/the-sons-of-liberty
 

bostonteaparty.org/participants
 

bostonmassacre.net
 

ushistory.org/continental-congress