The Tea Act of 1773

The Tea Act passed Parliament on 17 April 1773, giving the struggling and overstocked British East India Company the right to ship tea tax-free  into Britain’s North American colonies. Although the Colonists would still have to pay Townshend duties on their end, the lack of tax on the exports meant that the tea would be radically cheaper than tea prices anywhere else. The tea would even be cheaper than anything smugglers could provide. With any luck, the cheap tea would be too much of a bargain for the grousing, rebellious colonists to resist buying, and the purchase of tea would act as implicit agreement to Britain’s right to levy taxes on its citizens in North America.

Well, there was no luck to be had for King George III.

Colonists in the Thirteen Colonies recognized the implications of the Act’s provisions, and a coalition of merchants, smugglers, and artisans similar to that which had opposed the Stamp Act 1765 mobilized opposition to delivery and distribution of the tea. The company’s authorised consignees were harassed, and in many colonies successful efforts were made to prevent the tea from being landed. In Boston, this resistance culminated in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, when colonists (some disguised as Native Americans) boarded tea ships anchored in the harbour and dumped their tea cargo overboard.

Boston Tea Party

Britain reacted swiftly in the worst way possible. The decided to punish the revolting Colonists (see what I did there?) and passed the Coercive Acts to make them sorry for being so naughty. Britain also appointed General Thomas Gage to be the royal governor of Massachusetts and put a yolk on the necks of those disobedient, disloyal Massholes. 

Of course, NOTHING makes people repent rebellion and resume patriotic adoration of the Home Power like being treated badly! Not since Henry VIII’s “rough wooing” of Scotland to get his hands on the little Queen Mary has an attempt to bully people into submission backfired so spectacularly. Instead of coercing the Colonists back into the fold, British retaliation simply pushed more people into a rebellious frame of mind, leading to the onset of American War of Independence two years and two days after the passage of the Tea Act.

As an American child in elementary school in America, we were taught all the taxation Britain levied on the Colonies was both harsh and unfair, bordering on unholy. We also learned that the Boston Tea Party was an incredibly brave act by plucky patriots. Well, not so much with either of those things, to tell the truth. In reality, taxation was not that bad because the British didn’t enforce it very much, and the taxes were to pay for the French and Indian War which the Colonists had started in an attempt to illegally grab land from the French and Native Americans to hunt for fur. How dare the Brits ask that we pay our fair share of a war we started and they had to rescue us from, the brutes! Plus, they often took the side of Native Americans over the Colonists when all the Colonials wanted to do was to take more Native lands in spite of legal treaties! What monsters!


Moreover, the “patriots” who committed the Boston Tea Party were a bunch of smugglers pissed off that the new tea undercut prices for illicit tea. Worse, the East India Companies tea was of better quality! How very dare they provide Colonists with cheaper, better tea than local smugglers could! Oh, and to top it all off Great Britain was letting Catholics in Quebec have the rights to the fur-rich lands in Ohio the Colonists wanted! Future Americans were not going to put up with that kind of religious tolerance, especially if it interfered with profit!

We also didn’t talk much about the fact that Britain did its best to address all the Colonial grievances, but the Founding Fathers were having none of it:

Parliament passed the Taxation of Colonies Act 1778, which repealed a number of taxes (including the tea tax that underlaid this act) as one of a number of conciliatory proposals presented to the Second Continental Congress by the Carlisle Peace Commission. The commission’s proposals were rejected.

There was a good reason why many British people considered the former colonies to be the home of savage and uncivil roughnecks for most of the Regency period. Its sad that Mansfield Parsonage effectively ended in May 1812, because it deprived me of a chance to write dialog discussing the newly-begun War of 1812 that June. I can tell you, however, that the war was unpopular even without sympathy for the Americans, inasmuch as Britain’s troops were already overstretched by the years of the Napoleonic Wars. Almost no one in the UK considered America important enough to be fighting with, and that the whole thing was a waste of time and energy on the British side.

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