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Thursday, November 8, 2012



The “Tea Party Movement” was started in 2006. It is largely a conservative populist movement that leans toward libertarianism. The movement advocates reduced government spending, eliminating deficit budgets, balancing the Federal budget, and most of all - cutting taxes. Although there is no single leader, some Tea Party personalities include, Sarah Palin, Ron Paul, Michelle Bachmann, and Glenn Beck. Since 2009, the movement has been sponsoring political rallies (usually called “Tea Parties”) and supported political candidates.

The various groups associated with the movement closely identify themselves with the 1773 Boston Tea Party. Where, allegedly, American patriots, outraged when the British raised the price of tea by imposing new taxes, boarded three ships in Boston Harbor that carried tea owned by the British East India Company and threw the cargo overboard. Every school child knows the story. It represents a blow against oppression for freedom to most Americans. But, is that how it actually happened? Maybe not entirely.

The Boston Tea Party, as it became known a century after the event, was somewhat a product of rewritten history. It did not take place because the British raised the price of tea, but because the East India Company actually lowered the price. And it was not the spontaneous event told in history books, but a carefully planned demonstration by people who stood to lose a great of money if cheap tea was dumped onto the American market.

It all started well before the tea dumping. It was ignited when the British East India Company raised tea prices to accommodate new tax increases put on them by the British Parliament. As often happens when prices dramatically rise, a thriving black market develops. American entrepreneurs began importing (actually smuggling) contraband tea in from the Netherlands and selling it well below the price of British tea. Allegedly, some venerated patriots were involved in this profitable trade although evidence has evaporated over the 200+ years since (although suspicions are that Sam Adams and John Hancock were involved). As smuggled Dutch tea became available, Americans refused to buy and drink British tea.

The East India Company became so overstocked with unsold tea, that they had a seven year supply sitting in storage in England. To unload some their inventory and eliminate illicit competition, the company slashed its prices to below black market rates. When shiploads of the cheap British tea arrived in America, a curious thing happened. Instead of the colonists being happy, they were angry. The people thought they were being manipulated by the British when, in fact, they were being manipulated by the black marketeers. These men organized a series of “spontaneous” protests disguised as resistance to British persecution, at least to some extent.

Three ships carrying East India tea were anchored in Boston Harbor - the Dartmouth, Eleanor, and Beaver. Their captains were threatened with sabotage if they attempted to unload their cargo. Colonial leaders, headed by Samuel Adams, urged Massachusetts Governor Hutchinson to prohibit the British from unloading and ordering the ships back to England. Hutchinson was maintained in office and paid by the Parliament and refused to concede to the colonist’s requests. Adams organized an anti-tea rally drawing 8,000 people (half the population of Boston). Now, no one is accusing Adams of being a black market merchant, but there were frequent contributors to “the cause.” When Adams was addressing the crowd, he got word that Hutchinson had refused to stop the unloading one last time Adams said, “There is nothing more this meeting can do to save the country.” (Save the country?)

At the same time another group was assembling at the home of businessman Benjamin Edes. There were fifty carefully chosen men there to prepare for an assault on the “tea ships.” To strengthen their resolve, Edes placed an enormous punch bowl filled with rum on a table. His son, Peter, was instructed to keep the bowl well filled.

By early evening, Samuel Adams gathered another large crowd at the docks. Nervous British officials and East India men were also there. The men from Edes’s “rum punch party” arrived just after dark. Many were dressed as Mohawk Indians to hide their identity. They were visibly staggering as they boarded the ships. The crowd cheered them on. Three hours later the disguised men had dumped 342 cases of tea into the harbor. It could have been done more quickly but a considerable number of the men became violently ill (e.g. drunk) and had to take their leave.

Additional simultaneous tea protests were held in New York City, Greenwich (Connecticut), Philadelphia, Charleston, and Annapolis. In England, the government was outraged. Parliament passed an act to close Boston Harbor to all trade until the colonists paid for the now ruined tea. They also reduced the self-rule decisions that Massachusetts people had enjoyed. To enforce these acts, additional troops were sent to Boston. Rather than suppress the colonists insurrection, the British actions intensified it.

Today, the Tea Party Movement proudly identifies with the Boston Tea Party, but the underlying origin of the historical event may have been based on a slightly different principle than independence.

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