Today in History: The Boston Teaparty

I’m a history buff. I read a lot of history books, fictional and non-fictional. I always try to reconcile the historical accuracy of fiction with the facts. Quite often, historical fiction is very accurate. Not what one would expect.

Today is the 235th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party. Most of us were taught that the Boston Tea Party was all about taxes and taxes imposed without representation. It was, but, perhaps not in the fashion that you thought.

Boston Tea Party: To protest the British Tea Act, members of the Sons of Liberty dumped crates of tea bricks from three British East India Company ships into Boston Harbor.

The issues leading to this act has more to do with trade than with taxes. Taxes were definitely a factor and impacted tea drinkers widely across the colonies. One of the leading Boston protesters was John Hancock, a trader and ship owner. In 1768, his ship, the Liberty, was seized by customs officials and Hancock was charged with smuggling. Tea, at that time, was a product of China and the British East India Company had, for all practical purposes, a monopoly on the trade.

All tea was trans-shipped through British ports allowing Parliament to levy and receive taxes on all items carried through British ports. Hancock, however, bought tea from traders in the Netherlands by-passing trans-shipment through the Britain. For this act, the Liberty was seized and Hancock was charged with smuggling. Hancock hired a lawyer by the name of John Adams and eventually got the charges dropped.

According to wiki…

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 the Netherlands without paying import taxes. In response to this 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.

The facts are that the British Parliament allowed the British East India Company duty free shipment of tea to the American colonies and sell tea at half the price that American traders who did have to pay taxes.

In other words, the Boston Tea Party was more driven by the needs of tax relief for American smugglers that the impact of the tea taxes paid by the colonial consumers. This is proved by the fact that if the Americans bought their tea from the British East India Company, the American consumers received a tax break on the tea.

I revere the Founding Fathers of this country, but let’s also remember that their motives may have been more personal than public.