Tea in the Fight for Independence
While America isn’t the country known for drinking the most tea, tea actually plays a pretty big role in our history. As early colonists, we loved tea. We loved it so much so that we smuggled it into the colonies when the crown decided to levy heavy taxes on it. After so many violation by the crown on its citizens rights, as well as a lack of representation in governmental decisions concerning the colonies, it was the tea tax that broke the camels back. This led to the Boston Tea Party and finally to a declaration of independence from Great Britain.
The History Leading Up
On December 31st, 1600, Sir George Clifford, the 3rd Earl of Cumberland, who was to be accompanied by 215 knights, an alderman, and a burgess, was granted a royal charter by Queen Elizabeth the first. This newly formed venture was called “Governor and Company of Merchants of London trading into the East Indies.” What a mouthful. No wonder the name was later changed to East India Trading Company. This company became a monarch-backed monopoly of trade and many of their exploitations brought about wars, slavery, the slave trade, British imperialism in India, taxation, and corruption. Yeah, super bad stuff. History is pretty messed up.
We’ll get back to this East India Trading Company a little later. We’re going to jump forward like 100 plus years. The Americas have now been discovered and colonized by Great Britain. Also, the great French and Indian war has already taken place and Great Britain is now up to their eyeballs in debt. And so, like governments like to do, the British parliament decided to tax the crap out of the American colonists with a series of tax acts in the 1760s to pay for their debts. The first was the Stamp Act of 1765 which imposed taxes on pretty much anything printed on paper. Then there was the Townshend Acts of 1767 that levied heavy taxes on the goods imported to the colonies including tea.
While Britain might have thought this was just considering the cost of maintaining the colonies, the colonist did not hold the same sentiment. No one likes to be taxed, but the colonists were more infuriated by the lack of representation they had on these tax decisions. Hence the popular historical slogan of the colonists: “Taxation without representation is tyranny!” This resentment evolved into a colony boycott of taxed imported goods which led the government to reconsider, but not entirely.
On March 5th, 1770, the same day as the Boston Massacre, Lord North, the newly appointed Prime Minister petitioned parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts. In April of that same year, parliament decided to repeal much of the taxes, but they weren’t about to forfeit tax revenues on the roughly 1.2 million pounds of tea consumed by colonists each year.
The Tea Act
The colonies were relieved after the repeal of most of the Townshend Act. This repeal depleted the energy put towards the colonial boycott. Tea, however, was still being taxed and many refused to drink it based on principle, but most continued to consume their favorite beverage. We can’t blame them, but many couldn’t afford or refused to pay the taxes.
Now, remember, the East India Trading Company was the only legal way to buy imported tea, so colonists secretly bought smuggled Dutch tea which was much cheaper. This hurt the East Indian Trading Company who, based on tea boycotts and tea smuggling, was strapped with a ton of tea that just sat on docks rotting.
Why should anyone care about the economic woes of a private company? Well, the British government cared because while the East India Trading Company was a private entity, it still was a massive contributor to the British economy and it provided the means to obtain the riches of the Indies. Oh, and governments love to prop up big businesses.
Therefore, in 1773 British parliament decided to pass the Tea Act which gave the East India Trading Company the ability to ship tea directly to the American colonies. This allowed the East India Trading Company to avoid having to pay taxes in England which would help lower the price of tea in the colonies. The British parliament may have believed that this would appease the colonies enough to concede to the tea act and accept that parliament had the right to impose taxes on the colonies. Man, were they ever wrong!
The Path Toward Revolution
Not only did the tea act allow the East India Trading Company to sell directly to the colonies, but it also granted the sole right to sell tea in the colonies to commissioned agents thereby cutting out the colonial merchants. Not to mention that many of these commissioned agents were vocal advocates for parliament. Bad move Britain. This put the livelihood of prominent and highly influential tea merchants at risk. This act only moved to enrage a sleeping beast.
Shortly after the passing of the Tea Act, the boycotts reignited, this time with fierce resistance. It gave birth to resistance groups made up of merchants and patriots alike including the well-known Sons of Liberty. Many acts of resistance took place that year all leading up to the most remembered act of defiance. On December 16th, 1773, American Colonists adorned with Native American raiment, thought to have been members of the Sons of Liberty, boarded 3 ships docked in the Boston Harbor. With their tomahawks in hand, they cracked open 342 barrels of tea and dumped it into the harbor in protest of the tax on tea imposed by the crown. Ouch! No one likes wasted tea, but we get it.
As you can imagine, this event, which came to be known as the Boston Tea Party, ticked off the British government. Parliament decided to respond with what they called the Coercive Acts. These acts included the repeal of the colonial charter of Massachusetts, the closing of the Boston Harbor until all tea debts were paid back, and the appointment of General Thomas Gage, the commander in chief of British forces in North America, as the governor of Massachusetts. These acts, referred to as the Intolerable Acts by the colonists, helped fuel the fire needed to declare independence as the United States of America.
Celebrating Independence Day with Tea
When the British decided to tax tea in the colonies, it only led to the birth of a nation. On July 4th, 1776, the United States of America declared its independence from Great Britain, and every 4th of July we celebrate this heroic day in history. What better way to celebrate than with tea, to raise your glasses to the men and women who took on the responsibility of fighting tyranny and oppression for a better future? There would be no better way to stick it to the old British monarchy than to drink tax-free tea on the day celebrating the long-fought fight for the independence of this great nation.
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