Patriots Agitate: The Boston "Tea Party"
During a three-year interval of calm, a relatively small number of "patriots" or "radicals" strove energetically to keep the controversy alive. As long as the tea tax remained, they contended, 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 effective leader, Samuel Adams of Massachusetts, who toiled tirelessly for a single end: independence. From the time he graduated from Harvard College, Adams 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, with the New England town meeting the theater of his action.
Adam's tools were men: his goal was to win the confidence and support of ordinary people, to free them from awe of their social and political superiors, make them aware of their own importance, and arouse them to action. To do this, he published articles in newspapers and made speeches in town meetings, instigating resolutions appealing to the colonists' democratic impulses.
In 1772, he 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 set up in virtually all the colonies, and out of them soon grew a 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. Because of 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 through its own agents at a price well under the customary one, thus simultaneously making smuggling unprofitable and eliminating the independent colonial merchants. Aroused not only by the loss of the tea trade but also by the monopolistic practice involved, the colonial traders joined the patriots. In virtually all the colonies, steps were taken to prevent the East India Company from executing its design.
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. 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 three British ships lying at anchor and dumped their tea cargo into the Boston harbor.