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The 'Boston Tea Party' was an early American anti-tax protest


Updated: 2008/02/14 PM 1:10:47   Comment

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Image:Boston tea party.jpgThe Boston Tea Party Was Actually an Anti-Monopoly Protest

On the website of the modern East India Company, it states: "... the infamous Boston Tea Party in 1773 was a direct result of the drawback of the government in London of duties on tea which enabled the East India Company to dump excess stocks on the American colonies, and acted as a rallying point for the discontented."[4]

American colonists resented this favored treatment of a major company, (East India Co.) which employed lobbyists and wielded great influence in Parliament. Protests resulted in both Philadelphia and New York, but it was those in Boston that made their mark in history. John Hancock organized a boycott of tea from China sold by the British East India Company, whose sales in the colonies then fell from 320,000 pounds (145,000 kg) to 520 pounds (240 kg). By 1773, the company had large debts, huge stocks of tea in its warehouses and no prospect of selling it because smugglers, such as Hancock, were importing tea from Holland without paying import taxes. The British government passed the Tea Act, which allowed the East India Company to sell tea to the colonies directly and without "payment of any customs or duties whatsoever" in Britain, instead paying the much lower American duty. This tax break allowed the East India Company to sell tea for half the old price and cheaper than the price of tea in England, enabling them to undercut the prices offered by the colonial merchants and smugglers.[1]

Still reeling from the Hutchinson letters, Bostonians suspected the removal of the Tea Tax was simply another attempt by the British parliament to squash American freedom. Samuel Adams, wealthy smugglers, and others who had profited from the smuggled tea called for agents and consignees of the East India Company tea to abandon their positions; consignees who hesitated were terrorized through attacks on their warehouses and even their homes.[2]

The Tea Act Actually Lowered Taxes

As Thom Hartmann points out in his 2003 book, Unequal Protection:

"Many people today think the Tea Act—which led to the Boston Tea Party—was simply an increase in the taxes on tea paid by American colonists. Instead, the purpose of the Tea Act was to give the East India Company full and unlimited access to the American tea trade, and exempt the company from having to pay taxes to Britain on tea exported to the American colonies. It even gave the company a tax refund on millions of pounds of tea they were unable to sell and holding in inventory.

One purpose of the Tea Act was to increase the profitability of the East India Company to its stockholders (which included the King), and to help the company drive its colonial small business competitors out of business. Because the company no longer had to pay high taxes to England and held a monopoly on the tea it sold in the American colonies, it was able to lower its tea prices to undercut the prices of the local importers and the mom-and-pop tea merchants and tea houses in every town in America.

This infuriated the independence-minded colonists, who were, by and large, unappreciative of their colonies being used as a profit center for the multinational East India Company corporation. They resented their small businesses still having to pay the higher, pre-Tea Act taxes without having any say or vote in the matter. (Thus, the cry of "no taxation without representation!") Even in the official British version of the history, the 1773 Tea Act was a "legislative maneuver by the British ministry of Lord North to make English tea marketable in America," with a goal of helping the East India Company quickly "sell 17 million pounds of tea stored in England ..."[1]

The Boston Tea Party Was Similar to Modern Day Anti-globalization Protests

"...the Boston Tea Party resembled in many ways the growing modern-day protests against transnational corporations and small-town efforts to protect themselves from chain-store ; retailers or factory farms. With few exceptions, the Tea Party's participants thought of themselves as protesters against the actions of the multinational Kast India Company and the government that "unfairly" represented, supported, and served the company while not representing or serving the residents." [1]

Pamphleteering Helped Spread the Word

A newsletter called The Alarm signed by an enigmatic "Rusticus," articulated the discontent of colonial Americans about England's largest transnational corporation and its behavior around the world:

"Are we in like Manner to be given up to the Disposal of the East India Company, who have now the Assurance, to step forth in Aid of the Minister, to execute his Plan, of enslaving America? Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given simple Proof, how little they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or Lives of Men. They have levied War, excited Rebellions, dethroned lawful Princes, and sacrificed Millions for the Sake of (Jain. The Revenues of Mighty Kingdoms have centered in their Coffers. And these not being sufficient to glut their Avarice, they have, by the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions, and Monopolies, stripped the miserable Inhabitants of their Property, and reduced whole Provinces to Indigence and Ruin. Fifteen hundred Thousands, it is said, perished by Famine in one Year, not because the Earth denied its Fruits; but [because] this Company and their Servants engulfed all the Necessaries of Life, and set them at so high a Rate that the poor could not purchase them." [5]

A First-person Account of the Boston Tea Party

According to the only firsthand account of 1773, (Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party ca. 1834)

"The [East India] Company... received permission to transport tea, free of all duty, from Great Britain to America ... Hence, it was no longer the small vessels of private merchants, who went to vend tea for their own account in the ports of the colonies, but, on the contrary, ships of an enormous burthen, that transported immense quantities of this commodity, which by the aid of the public authority, might, as they supposed, easily be landed, and amassed in suitable magazines. Accordingly, the company sent its agents at Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, six hundred chests of tea, and a proportionate number to Charleston, and other maritime cities of the American continent. The colonies were now arrived at the decisive moment when they must cast the dye [sic], and determine their course ..."

"These opposers [sic] of the measure in England [the Tea Act of 1773] wrote therefore to America, encouraging a strenuous resistance. They represented to the colonists that this would prove their last trial, and that if they should triumph now, their liberty was secured forever; but if they should yield, they must bow their necks to the yoke of slavery. The materials were so prepared and disposed that they could easily kindle."[3]

"Taxation Without Representation" had a Populist Context

"Thus, "taxation without representation" also meant hitting the average person and small business with taxes while letting the richest and most powerful corporation in the world off the hook for its taxes. It was government sponsorship of one corporation over all competitors, plain and simple."[1]


  1. Unequal Protection by Thom Hartmann (2002) pg.45-63
  2. Brands, H.W. Benjamin Franklin (Anchor Books, 2000) p.465
  3. Retrospect of the Boston Tea-Party with a Memoir of George R. T. Hewes, a Survivor of the Little Band of Patriots Who Drowned the Tea in Boston Harbour in 1773, published in New York by S. S. Bliss in 1834.
  4. www.theeastindiacompany.com
  5. The Alarm pamphlet signed by Rusticus, 1773

External links

Boston Tea Party. (2008, February 14). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 16:48, February 14, 2008, from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Boston_Tea_Party&oldid=191336347

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