Patriots agitate: Boston Tea Party

During a three-year interval of calm, however, one element strove energetically to keep the controversy alive. A relatively small number of "patriots" or "radicals" took the position that the colonists' victory was illusory. As long as the tea tax remained, the principle of Parliament's right over the colonies remained. And at any time in the future the principle might be applied in full with devastating effect on colonial liberties.

Typical of the patriots was their most influential and effective member, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, who toiled tirelessly for a single end: independence. From the time he graduated from Harvard College, he was a public servant in some capacity-inspector of chimneys, tax-collector, moderator of town meetings. A consistent failure in business, he was shrewd and able in politics. The New England town meeting was the theater of his action. His tools were men, winning the confidence and support of shipyard roustabouts and ministers of the gospel. His major achievement was freeing these plain people from their awe of their social and political superiors and making them aware of their own importance. His second task was to arouse them to action. In newspapers he published articles; in town meeting and provincial assembly he instigated resolutions and speeches appealing to their democratic impulses. In 1772, Adams induced the Boston town meeting to select a "committee of correspondence" to state the rights and grievances of the colonists, to communicate with other towns on these matters, and to request them to draft replies. Quickly, the idea spread. Committees were founded in virtually all the colonies, and out of them soon grew the base of effective revolutionary organizations.

In 1773, Britain furnished Adams and his co-workers with a desired issue. The powerful East India Company, finding itself in critical financial straits, appealed to the British government and was granted a monopoly on all tea exported to the colonies. Due to the Townshend tea tax, the colonists had boycotted the company's tea and, after 1770, such a flourishing illegal trade existed that perhaps nine-tenths of the tea consumed in America was of foreign origin and imported duty-free. The Company decided to sell its tea at a price well under the customary one through its own agents, thus simultaneously making smuggling unprofitable and eliminating the independent colonial merchants. This ill-considered step aroused colonial traders and threw them again into alliance with the patriots. It was not only the loss of the tea trade but the principle of monopoly that stung them to action. In virtually all the colonies, steps were taken to prevent the East India Company from executing its designs. In ports other than Boston, agents of the company were "Persuaded" to resign, and new shipments of tea were either returned to England or warehoused. But in Boston, the agents refused to resign and with the support of the royal governor, preparations were made to land incoming cargoes regardless of opposition. The answer of the patriots, led by Samuel Adams, was violence. On the night of December 16, 1773, a band of men disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded the three ships and dumped the offending leaves into the water.