What Was the Boston Tea Party?

(Last Updated On: February 18, 2020)

What Was the Boston Tea Party?

Way back in grade school, you probably learned about the Boston Tea Party that took place on December 16, 1773. It may have come up a few other times during your schooling, and then you likely never thought about it again. But hey, a discussion of what led to the American Revolution is pretty important. And regardless, protesting normally makes for a healthy civil society. So what was the Boston Tea Party exactly? And who actually celebrated?

What Was the Boston Tea Party?

Most people know that the Boston Tea Party was a conflict between the Thirteen American Colonies and Great Britain. But more specifically, it was people from the city of Boston against the British East India Company.

Fun fact: At some point, the East India Company was just referred to as “The Company”, giving you a sense for just how important it was.

More on the East India Company

The East India Company is our first foray into dystopian megacorporations. Before they collapsed in the 1870s, they had the full support of the British Monarchy. We’re talking about the military, finances, the works. Even outside of that the EIC (they sound more dystopian this way) had their own private army. 

Formed in 1600, the company was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I because she wanted England to get more involved in some sweet trade with Asia. This was mostly because East India Companies were operating for France, Spain, Portugal, and the Netherlands. So needless to say, England was feeling pretty left out. 

Early on, the EIC wasn’t very profitable, so England kept them afloat until they became a global juggernaut with control over a lot of economies. Heck, both India and America had revolutions as a direct result of the EIC.

Heading into the Boston Tea Party the EIC had exerted a lot of control over various territories. For starters, America. 

With a handful of those territories in active rebellion with the EIC, they were losing finances. After they had caused a famine in India and created a lot of social unrest, the EIC was also causing Britain to bleed money. There was also the fact that the EIC was stagnating in trade and were in a terrible downward spiral. 

Basically, the EIC had controlled and ruined so many countries they had started breaking Britain’s economy. 

The Tea Act

Of course, the EIC was the darling child corporation of Britain. With so much influence in British Parliament, the EIC somehow managed to convince Parliament into passing the 1773 Tea Act. 

Thanks to everyone hating Britain and the EIC in America, a large amount of tea started getting smuggled from the Dutch. Like 85%+ of American tea was being smuggled in instead of being bought from the Brits. Which is a lot of money not going back to the Crown.

So to funnel money back to the EIC, the EIC was permitted to export their tea directly to America (via the Tea Act), as well as forcing American colonists to pay for it. 

At the same time, the Townshend Acts were still in effect, meaning all imports were taxed. So with exclusive tea import rights granted to the EIC, the colonists had to essentially pay taxes to rescue a company they already hated.

Taxation Without Representation

You’re probably wondering how we made it this far into the post without mentioning “taxation without representation.” So let’s talk about it now.

Yes, the colonists were upset about the taxes themselves and their implementation, but they actually had an even bigger issue. These taxes levied by the British were done completely independent of the American colonists. The colonists simply wanted elected representatives to head over to Parliament. Basically, the colonists wanted a foot in the door.

Of course, we know America won the revolution and separated from British rule. Turns out, taxation and representation were prime issues in the creation of the US Constitution, and even a large part of the 1819 case McCulloch v. Maryland, which ultimately ruled that “the power to tax is the power to destroy.”

You might also like: What Was the Stamp Act?

Tea Party Time

So yes, there were a lot of shenanigans regarding the tea. There were also a lot more not-explosively-tea-party protests too. Ultimately, 12 of the 13 colonies managed to get the EIC to bring their tea back to England. Boston had a different turn of events, however. 

It turns out the governor managed to convince the tea consignees to hold fast and keep pushing on Boston. If something smells fishy, that’s because two of the consignees were the governor’s children. We like our tea brewed with a dash of “conflict of interest” too.

Then the British tea ship Dartmouth made port and some people didn’t like it. A couple other tea ships docked as well, and even less people liked that.

So on the night of December 16, 1773, a handful of people boarded the British tea ships and threw over 340 crates of tea overboard. The whole deal took about 3 hours, and some of the attendees dressed as Mohawk warriors–probably to do some burden-shifting away from the colonists. 

In retaliation, the Crown passed the Coercive Acts–later dubbed the Intolerable Acts. They were basically a huge legal crackdown, limiting the powers and basically instituting martial law in Massachusetts.

Britain thought the legal flex on the colonies would shut down protests. With America blaming everything on Massachusetts, the colonies would never be able to unite. 

Turns out, the exact opposite happened. 

More Parties

Just for the record the Boston Tea Party wasn’t the only time American colonists destroyed tea by throwing it into ports. In fact, there was another in Boston in 1774. In similar protests, Maryland, New York, and South Carolina would toss themselves into the fray. As well as tossing tea into the water.

Think you know everything colonial? Well let’s see if you even know what they were in the first place here.

About the Author:

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Kyler is a content writer at Sporcle living in Seattle, and is currently studying at the University of Washington School of Law. He's been writing for Sporcle since 2019; sometimes the blog is an excellent platform to answer random personal questions he has about the world. Most of his free time is spent drinking black coffee like water.