The Tea Act

First edition of the Tea Act of 1773
 
“Resolved, that whoever shall aid or abet, or in any manner assist, in the introduction of tea from any place whatsoever, into this colony, while it is subject, by a British Act of Parliament, to the payment of a duty, for the purpose of raising a revenue in America, he shall be deemed an enemy to the liberties of America."
 
The Association of the Sons of Liberty of New York
The Tea Act of 1773 was primarily intended to help the struggling East-India Company. At the time it was passed the American colonies entered the equation only indirectly. Parliament’s intent was to make it cheaper for the Company to export tea to the American colonies, thereby increasing the Company’s revenues. However, the Americans felt they had unfinished business with Parliament regarding the tea trade, for the 1770 Repeal of the Townsend Duties had repealed all the 1767 Townsend duties except for the tax on tea. Parliament’s intent in preserving the tea tax was largely symbolic and meant to re-affirm that Parliament had absolute sovereignty over the colonies “in all cases whatsoever,” as the Declaratory Act of 1766 had stated. The Americans were sensitive to Parliament’s subtlety in these matters, as indicated in the following excerpt from a document known as “The Association of the Sons of Liberty in New York,” published Dec. 15, 1773: “Parliament, in 1770, repealed so much of the Revenue Act as imposed a duty on glass, painters’ colours, and paper, and left the duty on tea, as a test of the parliamentary right to tax us.”
 
As the Repeals of 1770 had not included a repeal of the tea tax, Americans were still boycotting British tea as they had been for five years, during which time they had turned to smuggling Dutch tea. The Americans knew the boycott had put the East-India Company in dire straits and expected that economic forces would eventually make a repeal of the tea tax—and a symbolic victory of their own—inevitable. The Tea Act of 1773 infuriated colonial leaders precisely because it was designed to lower the price of tea without officially repealing the tea tax of the Revenue Act of 1767. The colonial leaders thought the British were trying to use cheap tea to, in the words of Benjamin Franklin, “overcome all the patriotism of an American.” If this was indeed Parliament’s intent, the plan backfired mightily.
 
The first public statement against the Tea Act was a document known as the Philadelphia Resolutions, printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette on October 16, 1773, from which the following is excerpted:
 
That the duty imposed by Parliament upon tea landed in America is a tax on the Americans...
 
That the express purpose for which the tax is levied on the Americans, namely for the support of government, administration of justice, and defence of his Majesty’s dominions in America, has a direct tendency to render assemblies useless and to introduce arbitrary government and slavery.
 
That a virtuous and steady opposition to this ministerial plan of governing America is absolutely necessary to preserve even the shadow of liberty and is a duty which every freeman in America owes to his country, to himself, and to posterity.
 
In late November the first tea ship, the Dartmouth, arrived in Boston. The ship’s cargo, 342 chests of tea, was broken up and dumped in the harbor by men dressed as Indians. The Massachusetts Gazette and Boston Weekly News-Letter described the mood in Boston after the tea party: “The next day joy appeared in almost every countenance, some on occasion of the destruction of the tea, others on account of the quietness with which it was affected.” Whatever Parliament’s intentions were in passing the Tea Act, the outcome was fateful as news of the Boston Tea Party prompted Parliament to pass the so-called “Intolerable Acts” of 1774, Acts which in turn led to the outbreak of warfare.  
 
 
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