Boston Tea Party

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1789 engraving

The Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773) was an act of vandalism which has been highly mythologised into an act of democratic rebellion. The Sons of Liberty, roused into action by Samuel Adams,Wikipedia thinly disguised themselves as Native Americans,[note 1] and boarded ships of the British East India Company, dumping 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor (thus making the tea undrinkable, even for Americans). However, this would have been acceptable if only the colonists had thought to pre-boil the ocean and add a splash of milk.


Bostonians and other colonists had been subjected to a tax on tea as well as paint, paper, and glass with the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767.[2] Protests and non-importation movements by the colonists led to the repeal of the Townshend duties in 1770, with the exception of the duty on tea. In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act which allowed the struggling East India Tea Company to sell a half million pounds of tea in the colonies while bypassing the importation taxes normally paid under the British Navigation Acts. For all practical purposes, the 1773 Tea Act gave the East India Tea Company a monopoly by allowing them to charge less than other merchants.[3]

Despite the fact they were now paying less for tea, American colonists protested the act. It wasn't because they hated tea or disliked the East India Company. It wasn't because they thought the tax was too high; it was set at a three pence per pound of tea, meaning the price of a cup of tea rose only by one-tenth of a penny, and besides, the colonists drank far more booze than tea.[1]:7 Rather, they were protesting the fact that they were getting taxed in the first place. They had opposed under the Townshend Act on the premise of "no taxation without representation", as the colonists were unable to vote in Parliament's elections. But Parliament had no problem levying taxes on the colonists, and strangely enough, the colonists didn't particularly like this.[note 2]

Incidents like the Boston Tea Party were avoided in other port cities, where East India ships left without unloading their cargo in the face of protests by colonists. Massachusetts governor Thomas Hutchinson, however, forbade the tea ships from leaving port without paying the duty on tea, putting them in a bind. The ships couldn't just leave without paying, unless they wanted to come face-to-face with the wrong end of the British guns at the nearby fort, and by law, once they've entered the harbor, they can't leave without unloading their cargo. But they can't really land either, because the Sons of Liberty were constantly patrolling the wharves, deadset on preventing the tea from being unloaded. Plus, there was a time limit: if they don't pay up and unload the tea within twenty days, their cargo will be seized and confiscated.[1]:164 Guess what happened after those twenty days?

It was during this period that coffee became the morning beverage of choice in the American colonies.


Due to much of the dumped tea washing up on the other side of Boston Harbor, on what is now Revere Beach, to this day one can buy small bottles of seawater with genuine Tea Party leaves floating around in them.

Modern wannabes[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Tea Party movement

In the early months of the Obama Administration, as the President moved to stabilize the falling economy, semi-grassroots movements calling themselves "Tea Parties" sprung up across the United States in "protest". They adopted the backronym "Taxed Enough Already", heavily ironic since US taxes are at their lowest point since the Eisenhower era. In Cape Coral, Florida, the local Tea Party was denied a permit to peaceably assemble, which resulted in a great hue and cry on the Internet, but no civil disobedience.

King George III must be kicking himself in his grave, realizing now that he could have quashed the American Revolution simply by denying them permits. The movement spread and continued to exist in 2012, but after suffering some setbacks in the 2012 elections and fiscal cliff, has slowly fallen out of regard and drifts farther and farther to the far-right and cray-cray under the leadership of some asshole.

Additional reading[edit]

  • John Ferling, A Leap in the Dark: The Struggle to Create the American Republic (Oxford University Press, 2003)
  • Robert Middlekauff, The Glorious Cause1048247 09:59, 26 April 2007 (EDT) (rev.ed.) (Oxford University Press, 2005).
  • Harlow Giles Unger, American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked A Revolution (Da Capo Press, 2011)


  1. Why they disguised themselves as natives is a bit of mystery. Historian Harlow Giles UngerWikipedia claims the colonists saw Indians as a "symbol of freedom",[1]:3 essentially making it a political statement. This isn't as improbable as one might think. The Colonies had a very strange love-hate relationship with the various tribes. On the one hand, manifest destiny and racism, but on the other, a very much romanticised "Noble savage" view. In the early days, many native tribes posed an existential threat to the colonies; colonists kept sneaking off to join them. Turns out when one side is offering you indentured servitude (i.e., debt slavery), puritanical religion, and a noticeable lack of vaginal intercourse, the other side starts looking pretty good.
  2. Even in Britain at that time, only 10% of adult males were entitled to vote.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 American Tempest: How the Boston Tea Party Sparked A Revolution by Harlow Giles Unger (2011) Da Capo Press, 2011 ISBN 978-0-306-81962-9
  2. Great Britain: Parliament - The Townshend Act, November 20, 1767
  3. Great Britain : Parliament - The Tea Act, May 10, 1773