4/7/10 - the boston tea party

In today's excerpt - the tax on tea that led to the infamous Boston Tea Party was not an onerous burden on American colonists, but did have profound symbolic significance:

"Land taxes and poll taxes assessed by their own colonial assemblies, as well as long-standing import duties on sugar, molasses and wine, were a much greater burden [to colonists than the tea tax]. The tea tax was a relic of the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which also placed import duties on paint, paper, lead and glass. Parliament responded to widespread colonial protests and boycotts of the taxed items by repealing the Townshend taxes in 1770, except for the tea duty, which North kept to assert 'the right of taxing Americans.' At three pence per pound, the tax on tea was barely felt by American consumers, who also had access to the smuggled competition.

"Still, the tea tax maintained symbolic significance, and the boycott of tea involved complex overlays. Common folk might enjoy a sip or two of tea, but participating in the elaborate British ritual of teatime—with an array of fancy crockery and silver utensils—was prohibitively expensive for the vast majority of Americans. Calls for a continued boycott of tea dovetailed nicely with lower-class resentments. Tea was an easy target, a symbol both of Parliament's arrogance and a crumbling social hierarchy.

"Moreover, tea consumption was deemed suspect, even sinful, by a large segment of the American public.'That bainfull weed,' as Abigail Adams called it, was an artificial stimulant, what we would call today a recreational drug. Promoters of virtue, who had long been expounding the evils of tea, suddenly became patriots. One concerned writer, in a Virginia newspaper, claimed that ever since tea had been introduced into Western society, 'our race is dwindled and become puny, weak, and disordered to such a degree, that were it to prevail a century more we should be reduced to mere pigmies.'

"Pointing to his medical expertise, Boston's Dr. Thomas Young declared authoritatively that tea was not just a 'pernicious drug,' as some assumed, but a 'slow poison, and has the corrosive effect upon those who handle it. I have left it off since it became political poison, and have since gained in firmness of constitution. My substitute is camomile flowers.'

"Resistance leaders also launched a new wave of negative propaganda that played to anti-foreign sentiments: Tea from the East India Company was packed tightly in chests by the stomping of barefoot Chinese and was infested with Chinese fleas. In turn, a vast number of colonists vowed to protect American business from foreign competition, even if that business was smuggling. Beware of products from China, buy America, wage war on drugs, down with corporations—all these messages, as well as their better-known cousin, no taxation without representation—amplified the response to Parliament's Tea Act of 1773."


Ray Raphael


Debunking Tea Party Myths


American History


June 2010


barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment