by Diane Rufino, December 20, 2018
Four days ago, a date came and went without much mention. Yet it was so significant.
On December 16, 1773, some 30 to 130 protesters, mostly members of the Sons of Liberty, dressed up as Mohawk Indians, boarded three British ships (the Beaver, Dartmouth, and Eleanor), and dumped all its cargo of tea. In all, they dumped 342 chests of British East India Company tea, weighing over 92,000 pounds (roughly 46 tons) into Boston Harbor. The cargo was worth more than $1,700,000 dollars in today’s money. Merchant John Andrews wrote in his December 18, 1773 letter, “ten thousand pounds sterling of the East India Company’s tea was destroyed the evening before last…” The British East India Company reported £9,659 worth of damage caused by the Boston Tea Party.
The chests were smashed using an assortment of axes but aside from the tea and one broken padlock, historical accounts of the event record no damage was done to any of the three ships, the crew or any other items onboard the ships. The padlock was the personal property of one of the ships’ captains, and was promptly replaced the next day by the Patriots. Nothing was stolen or looted from the ships, not even the tea. One participant tried to steal some tea but was reprimanded and stopped. The Sons of Liberty were very careful about how the action was carried out and made sure nothing besides the tea was damaged and they took great care to avoid any destruction of personal property. After the destruction of the tea, the participants swept the decks of the ships clean and anything that was moved was put back in its proper place.
The point of this seemingly useless emphasis on detail is that the Sons of Liberty used the event as a protest, carefully and glaringly obvious as one aimed at the importation of the East India Company tea pursuant to the Tea Act. It wasn’t a protest against Britain in general and it wasn’t a protest against the East India Company. It was a protest designed to show the colonists’ resistance to a law that was passed in abuse of government power. They were interposing to exert their liberty rights.
The Boston Tea Party wasn’t about the AMOUNT of tax on the tea, because in reality, the tax would have lowered the amount colonists would pay for tea. (In fact, King George thought the Tea Act would be welcome in the colonies because finally, it was going to save them money). No, the Boston Tea Party was about two things: (1) The Tea Act was passed by a legislature that did not allow any representatives from the colonies (in violation of the English Bill of Rights of 1689, with its precursor being the Magna Carta; the Magna Carta introduced the concept of “Taxation with Representation”), and (2) The Tea Act established a monopoly on the sale of tea, destroying the free market on the item and putting colonial traders out of business (or making criminals out of them should they dare to continue selling tea), thus highlighting the lack of procedures in government to protect and respect the rights of the colonies.
I bring this last point up because, as you would have noticed by reading the list of grievances against King George III in the Declaration of Independence, gradually, the King and Parliament came to exert complete control and governance over the colonies and the colonists; the last straw came when, at Lexington & Concord, the Redcoats attempted to destroy the colonial arsenal of ammunition, and then the King sent a decree to all Royal governors and the Royal Navy to block all importation of guns and ammunition to the colonies, and then in Virginia (1775), when Royal Governor Dunmore disbanded the colonial legislature, seized ammunition stores, and sought to confiscate colonial stockpiles of ammunition (prompting Patrick Henry to introduce resolutions to raise colonial militias and to deliver his famous “Give me Liberty or Give me Death!” speech). The last and most valuable of the rights of the colonists (recognized in the English Bill of Rights) were their rights of self-defense and self-determination. They would be worth fighting for.
Effective and responsive government in a free land is government that is closest to the people. A government that attempts to control people from a distant land (or a distant part of the country) is not responsible government. It is not what our Founders intended. That is why our Founders gave us a limited federal government; a federation of sovereign states. That is why we have the Tenth Amendment.
In a speech Ronald Reagan delivered on October 27, 1964 in support of Barry Goldwater (the conservative candidate), this idea was put clearly to the American people. Reagan said:
“And this idea that government is beholden to the people, that it has no other source of power except the sovereign people, is still the newest and the most unique idea in all the long history of man’s relation to man.
This is the issue of this election: whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”
The Sons of Liberty, along with our great founding fathers, resisted, with every means possible, all attempts of the King and Parliament to concentrate power and control over the colonies and colonists from the far-off land of Great Britain. That control came at a huge cost – the loss of natural rights and rights specifically enumerated in the various charters of England and in its Bill of Rights.
We as Americans are allowing that very same thing to happen to us – allowing almost all government control to be concentrated in DC, to be carried out by a group of corrupt human beings more beholden to a political party than to the people themselves. How can we justify this when our history is one defined by the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution?
We should be ashamed of ourselves.
Anyway, I hope you will take the time to read my good friend Dave Benner’s article on the Boston Tea Party. “Today in History: The Boston Tea Party” [https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2018/12/16/today-in-history-the-boston-tea-party/ ]. In that article, Mr. Benner writes:
Contrary to popular belief, this was not specifically a tax protest – the patriots did object to taxes levied without representation, but 1773 Tea Act had actually lowered the taxes on tea. Instead, the colonists disavowed mercantile practices of the British government, specifically the tea monopoly that was granted to the East India Tea Company through the law. Additionally, they renounced the idea that Parliamentary law was supreme over all of the British Empire and could override the will of the colonial assemblies.
Upon learning of the event, John Adams wrote: “This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, so intrepid, and so inflexible, and it must have so important Consequence sand so lasting, that I cannot but consider it as an Ecpocha in History.”
Although it was the most famous event called a “Tea Party,” other states resisted the implementation of the act as well. In South Carolina, patriots dumped tea into the Cooper River. In Annapolis, a ship carrying loads of tea was put to the torch. In New York and Philadelphia, the ships bringing the tea were rejected and turned back to England.
In Edenton, North Carolina, Penelope Barker organized a group of patriot women and signed a document of rebuke against the act and pledged to boycott British goods. They agreed to obstruct the policy “until such time that all acts which tend to enslave our Native country shall be repealed.” Effectively, all states meddled with the enforcement of the law in the same ways they had resisted the Stamp Act, effectively nullifying it.
As I hope most of us remember from our study of early American History, the British responded harshly to the Boston Tea Party. Parliament responded by passing a series of four acts collectively known as the Coercive Acts of 1774. The Acts were meant to punitive, to punish the Massachusetts colonists for their Tea Party protest. Parliament hoped these punitive measures would, by making an example of Massachusetts, reverse the trend of colonial resistance to parliamentary authority that had begun with the 1765 Stamp Act.
The first of the four Acts was The Boston Port Act which closed the port of Boston until the colonists paid for the destroyed tea and the king was satisfied that order had been restored. This, of course, crippled the colony’s maritime economy. The second of the Acts was The Massachusetts Government Act, which essentially abolished the colonial government. It unilaterally took away Massachusetts’ charter and brought it under control of the British government, and for that reason, it provoked even more outrage than the Port Act. Under the terms of the Government Act, almost all positions in the colonial government were to be appointed by the governor, Parliament, or king. The act also severely limited town meetings in Massachusetts to one per year. The third act, The Administration of Justice Act, allowed the Royal governor to order trials of accused royal officials to take place in Great Britain or elsewhere within the Empire if he decided that the defendant could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. And the fourth, the Quartering Act, allowed a governor to house soldiers in certain buildings if suitable quarters were not provided. Unlike the other acts, the Quartering Act applied to all the colonies.
The Intolerable Acts were so harsh that the colonists referred to them as the Intolerable Acts.
Quickly, the Intolerable Acts would set the colonies on a course that would lead to war and ultimately to our independence. Months after the Intolerable Acts were imposed on Massachusetts, the First Continental Congress was called in order to address the conduct by Great Britain towards her colonies. The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia from September 5 – October 26, 1774. Three achievements came of that historic meeting: (1) The twelve colonies who sent representatives to the Congress agreed to boycott the import of British goods beginning on December 1, 1774: (2) The representatives called for a second Continental Congress to meet in May of the following year; and (3) The Congress approved a Petition to the King of England (King George III) which it sent before adjourning. That Petition explained to his majesty that if it had not been for the acts of oppression forced upon the colonies by the British Parliament, the American people would be standing behind British rule. It further appealed to the King to interceded on their behalf (in regard to their opposition to and subjugation under the Coercive Acts) and to call for their repeal.
The colonists appealed to the King with these words: “To a Sovereign, who glories in the name of Briton, the bare recital of these Acts must, we presume, justify the loyal subjects, who fly to the foot of his Throne, and implore his clemency for protection against them…..” [The Petition can be read at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petition_to_the_King ] King George never gave the Colonies a formal reply to their petition. In fact, it is said he compared the colonists to petulant children who were rebelling rather than protesting. Although the Petition was not meant for Parliament, the King sent it there where it also received little attention and no response.
On April 19, 1775, the first shots of the revolution were fired at Lexington and Concord after a contingent of British redcoats marched from Boston to arrest the tea party planners Samuel Adams and John Hancock and to destroy the munitions stockpiled at Concord. The following month, on May 11, the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia, no longer to tasked with smoothing relations with Britain but now to plan and manage the war that was certainly coming.
On June 14, the Second Continental Congress adopted a resolution to establish the Continental Army, to coordinate the military efforts of the colonies in their revolt against the rule of Great Britain, and five days later, on June 19, George Washington was appointed General of that Army. Still hoping to prevent war, the Second Continental Congress, on July 5, agreed to send a petition to King George asking him to reach an agreement with the Americans. This petition was termed “The Olive Branch Petition.” The following day, the Congress adopted the “Declaration on the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms” to follow the Olive Branch Petition and explain why the American colonies were fighting.
The “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms,” which was written by John Dickinson but relying on language from Thomas Jefferson, would be the final attempt on the part of the colonies to avoid war with Great Britain. Just as the Petition asserted the year before, The Declaration of Causes affirmed American loyalty to Great Britain and beseeched King George III to prevent further conflict. Like the petitions presented to the earlier Kings of England, the one sent by the colonies listed their grievances (again reminding the King of their right to have representation when being taxed and their concerns over the growing tyranny over the colonies), gave their reasons for fighting the British, and stated that the American colonies are “resolved to die free men rather than live as slaves.” When the Petition and Declaration arrived in August and were handed to the King, he refused to read them. Yet, on August 23, he proceeded to formally declare the colonies to be in a state of active rebellion against the Crown (Proclamation of Rebellion) and declared the colonists to be traitors.
It is said that up until this Petition, Benjamin Franklin held great regard and affection for Great Britain and valued his status as a British subject. But when the King chose not to respond to the Petition, nor to even acknowledge the colonists’ legitimate grievances, and when Parliament did the same, he realized that his affections and loyalty to Great Britain were ill-placed and that the relationship between the colonies and the Crown was in a fatal state of disunity, and from that moment on, he was in favor of independence from Great Britain. After he voted in favor of sending the Petition, Franklin penned a letter to a friend there, William Straham. Straham was a British Member of Parliament who had, until that point, been a good friend of his for at least thirty years. In that letter, Franklin vented his anger and frustrations:
“You are a Member of Parliament, and one of that Majority which has doomed my country to destruction. You have begun to burn our towns, and murder our people. Look upon your hands! They are stained with the blood of your relations! You and I were long friends: You are now my enemy, and I am Yours. — B. Franklin.”
The Second Continental Congress continued to meet in 1776, with the war in full swing. On July 2, the Congress adopted the Lee Resolution, formally declaring independence from Great Britain (“Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”), and finally, on July 4, the longer Declaration of Independence (listing the many grievances against the King and Parliament) was adopted.
To reject the principles that drove the Sons of Liberty and other colonial protesters to destroy the tea in Boston that cold December evening in 1773, to diminish its impact on our founding. or to fail to understand its influence on our Founders’ intent for government is to help send our country on its way to government supremacy over our lives. It is to accept that government tyranny is acceptable. It is to submit to the easier course of action which is that we can tolerate government violating and limiting our liberty rights.
Ronald Reagan, in that famous speech mentioned above, had this to say: “You and I are told increasingly we have to choose between a left or right. Well I’d like to suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There’s only an up or down: [up] man’s old — old-aged dream, the ultimate in individual freedom consistent with law and order, or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism. And regardless of their sincerity, their humanitarian motives, those who would trade our freedom for security have embarked on this downward course.”
“The Boston Tea Party Destruction of the Tea” – https://www.bostonteapartyship.com/the-destruction-of-the-tea
Dave Benner, “Today in History: The Boston Tea Party,” Tenth Amendment Center, December 16, 2018. Referenced at: https://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2018/12/16/today-in-history-the-boston-tea-party/
Ronald Reagan, speech of October 27, 1964 (“A Time for Choosing”) – https://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/ronaldreaganatimeforchoosing.htm
David B. Kopel, “How the British Gun Control Program Precipitated the American Revolution,” Charleston Law Review, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Winter 2012). Referenced at: http://www.academia.edu/10621580/How_the_British_Gun_Control_Program_Precipitated_the_American_Revolution
David B. Kopel, “The American Revolution Against British Gun Control” Administrative and Regulatory Law News (American Bar Association), Vol. 37, no. 4 (Summer 2012). Referenced at: http://www.davekopel.org/2A/LawRev/american-revolution-against-british-gun-control.html
“Benjamin Franklin Joins the Revolution,” The Smithsonian. Referenced at: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/benjamin-franklin-joins-the-revolution-87199988/