On May 10, 1773, Parliament approved the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company Tea a monopoly on tea sales throughout the American colonies.
This is what drove a group of Sons of Liberty members to disguise themselves as Mohawk Indians on the night of December 16, 1773, board three ships anchored in Boston Harbor, and burn almost 92,000 pounds of tea.
The Tea Act was the ultimate straw in a long line of controversial British regulations and tariffs imposed on American colonies. The program sparked a “powder keg” of criticism and discontent among American colonists, triggering the Boston Tea Party.
Prior to the Tea Act, the British East India Company Tea was obligated to sell its tea only at auction in London. This compelled the British East India Company to pay a tax each pound of tea sold, which added to the company’s financial obligations.
The Tea Act repealed this prohibition and provided the British East India Company permission to sell tea to the American colonies. This opened up the British East India Company’s markets to the profitable American colonies. Furthermore, under the Tea Act, charges imposed by Britain on tea sent to the American colonies would be cancelled or returned upon sale.
The British Empire was victorious in the Seven Years’ War in 1763. (1756-63). Although the empire’s imperial possessions were considerably increased as a result of the triumph, it also left it with a vast national debt, and the British government saw its North American colonies as an untapped source of cash.
The British Parliament established the Stamp Act in 1765, the first direct domestic tax imposed on colonists. The colonists objected to the new tax, claiming that only their own elected colonial assemblies could charge them and that “taxation without representation” was wrong and illegal.
After the British administration rejected their arguments, the colonists used physical intimidation and mob violence to prevent the stamp duty from being collected. Parliament abolished the Stamp Act in 1766, realizing it was a losing cause.
Parliament, on the other hand, did not relinquish its authority to tax or legislate over the colonies. In 1767, Charles Townshend (1725-67), Britain’s new chancellor of the Exchequer (charged with collecting the government’s income), presented the Townshend Revenue Act. This legislation imposed charges on a variety of imported products entering the colonies, including tea, glass, paper, and paint.
The cash generated by these levies would be used to pay royal colonial governors’ salaries. Townshend anticipated the colonies to accept the additional levies since Parliament had a long history of employing tariffs to restrict imperial commerce.
Unfortunately for Townshend, the Stamp Act had instilled colonial aversion to any additional taxes, whether placed on imports or directly on colonists. Furthermore, Townshend’s suggestion to utilize the income to pay the salaries of colonial governors sparked widespread skepticism among colonists.
Most colonies paid the governors’ salaries via elected assemblies, and eliminating that control of the purse would considerably increase the authority of the royally appointed governors at the price of representative governance. To show their anger, colonists organized widespread and successful boycotts of taxed products.
Colonial opposition had once again damaged the new revenue system, and once again, the British government surrendered to reality without relinquishing the concept that it had the constitutional power to tax the colonies.
Except for the duty on tea, which was preserved as a symbol of Parliament’s sovereignty over the colonies, all of the Townshend Act charges were abolished by Parliament in 1770.
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