Today In History – The Tea Act Of 1773

The Tea Act, passed by the British Parliament on April 27, 1773, would launch the final spark to the revolutionary movement in America.

The Tea Act of 1773 provided for the following:

  • Tea was allowed to be shipped in East India Company ships directly from India to the America, thus avoiding a tax if the commodity were first sent to England as was previously required
  • A duty of three pence per pound was to be collected on tea delivered to America; this tax was considerably less than the previous one
  • The tea was to be marketed in America by special consignees selected by the East India Company.

The act was not intended to raise revenue in the American colonies, and in fact imposed no new taxes. It was designed to prop up the East India Company which was floundering financially and burdened with eighteen million pounds of unsold tea. This tea was to be shipped directly to the colonies, and sold at a bargain price. Many in America found reason to believe that this act was a maneuver to buy popular support for the taxes already in force. The direct sale of tea, via British agents, would also have undercut the business of local merchants.

Conservative shippers and shopkeepers were directly impacted by the new law and were vocal in their opposition. Previously, American ships brought much of the tea from England, but that trade was now reserved for the East India Company. The shop owners objected to the new practice of using only selected merchants to sell the tea; many would be excluded from this trade in favor of a new monopoly.

Opposition developed to the arriving tea shipments in Boston and other colonial ports. The Tea Act actually revived the flagging careers of agitators like Samuel Adams, who had been frustrated in recent years by the relative calm in the relationship with the mother country. The radicals found allies in the formerly conservative business community.

Public anger was sufficient to induce many of the appointed tea agents to resign their positions before the tea arrived. In New York City and Philadelphia, the ships’ masters quickly assessed the situation on arrival and headed back to England. In Annapolis, a ship owner was forced by angry demonstrators to set fire to his ship and its cargo of tea.  In Charleston, the cargo was left to rot on the docks. In Boston, the Royal Governor was stubborn & held the ships in port, where the colonists would not allow them to unload. Cargoes of tea filled the harbor, and the British ship’s crews were stalled in Boston looking for work and often finding trouble. This situation led to the Boston Tea Party.

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Tom Tillison

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