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Days that changed America: The Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773)

The Boston Tea Party led to the Coercive Acts and revolution.
The Boston Tea Party led to the Coercive Acts and revolution.

The American colonists and parliament tangled for nearly a decade over taxation. Britain felt they had the right to tax their colonists while the Americans just did not want to pay. The two sides engaged in a back and forth throughout the sixties that culminated in the Boston Massacre in 1770. The issue seemed to die down for a time. Then, the British instituted a tea tax. This infuriated the Patriots who launched the Boston Tea Party. This movement and the British reaction changed the dynamic. Britain responded with draconian measures that frightened Americans in all 13 colonies. The mutual fear and suspicion born in Boston Harbor led to the Revolutionary War.

The British attempted to raise direct revenue from the colonies for the first time in the 1760s. The French and Indian War virtually bankrupted the empire. In response, parliament hoped the colonists could assist in bringing down the deficit by paying for their own administration and defense. Each time parliament passed a new tax, the colonists demurred, protested, boycotted, and rioted until the British backed down. Events came to head with the Boston Massacre. British soldiers shot into a crowd of protesters. American propaganda turned the five killed into martyrs. Parliament backed down on the tax issue and the colonists seemed satisfied until the Tea Act of 1773.

The British East India Company needed a bailout. The British government decided to assist the cash strapped monopoly by instituting a tea tax. The price of tea actually dropped after the Tea Act. Despite this, the American colonists opposed the tax on principle. Patriots felt that supporting the act could lead to more oppressive taxation. As a result, they opposed the Tea Tax as they opposed earlier British attempts to raise revenue through the colonies.

The Sons of Liberty and other patriot groups attempted to pressure officials into blocking British tea from entering American ports. They succeeded in Charleston and Philadelphia, but a standoff developed in Boston. Samuel Adams called a mass meeting against the tea and "taxation without representation" in an attempt to pressure crown officials in Massachusetts. However, Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea ship Dartmouth to leave Boston harbor without paying the tea duty. In the meantime, two additional tea ships arrived in Boston.

On December 16, 1773, 7,000 Bostonians gathered to discuss strategy. Samuel Adams led the mass meeting, but could not restrain the crowd. Many left early to don Indian garb and marched to the vessels. As many as 130 men boarded the British ships to dump 342 tea chests into Boston Harbor. Afterward, Adams and his compatriots worked overtime to defend their brethren as patriots as opposed to an angry mob. The action inspired other Americans to carry out similar actions.

Governor Hutchinson pushed the government to take a hard line against the colonists. Parliament responded with the Coercive, or Intolerable, Acts. The acts closed Boston Harbor, banned town meetings, placed the Massachusetts government under direct British control, moved trials of royal officials to England, and called for the quartering of troops. These acts outraged Boston and frightened the rest of the colonies. If the British could take draconian steps against Massachusetts, then they could do the same elsewhere. The Patriots responded to the Coercive Acts by organizing for eventual military resistance. They established the Committees of Correspondence to keep open lines of communication between the colonies. The Patriots also called for a Continental Congress to address their grievances. Britain hoped to isolate the radicals. Instead, they radicalized the moderates. The march to war had become unavoidable.

The Boston Tea Party led to the Coercive Acts. The Coercive Acts led directly to the American Revolution. In 1773, a group of colonists decided to strike the British in an act of defiance. They opposed the Tea Act and decided to dump tea crates into Boston Harbor. The British response fueled the Patriot cause, frightened moderates, and led the colonies to organize.

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