Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The "Incident" Over the Tea in Boston

On this date in history, 1773, the "incident over the tea" took place in Boston Harbor, as a number of men, lightly disguised as "Indians," boarded a ship anchored in the harbor, broke open all of the chests containing tea, and dumped the contents and chests overboard--all while a crowd of several thousand watched silently from the docks.In response, the British government in London ordered the port of Boston closed. This in turn provoked the various colonies to call for a meeting in Philadelphia to formulate a protest. Eventually, events led to the Declaration of Independence, the American Revolutionary War, and the establishment of the United States of America.

This act is generally portrayed as a reaction by the Americans to the ideal of "no taxation without representation; however, the Tea Act actually reduced the tax paid on tea. It did promise to vigorously enforce the prohibition on importing tea other than from the East India Company, and promise prosection of smugglers. Among the most prominent smugglers of tea (and other goods) was John Hancock (the guy with the big signature).

What often gets overlooked is the role of the "lower sort" in this protest. As Alfred Young demonstrated in The Shoemaker and the Tea Party, the support of these kinds of people was instrumental to accomplishing this particular incident, as well as enforcing the boycott that preceded it.