Sunday, July 11, 2010

Another Look At The Boston Tea Party

Let's talk Tea Party today. Specifically, let's talk the rationale behind calling it the Tea Party.

No, not the fact that calling themselves 'teabaggers' at first backfired spectacularly and provided easy rationale for their opposition to keep calling them that even after they realized their mistake and changed the name.

Something more basic. As popular history tells, the Boston Tea Party- that which served as the underlying story behind both names- was conducted in 1773 as a protest against British taxation under the Tea Act. Protesters dressed up as Indians, boarded a ship loaded with tea from the British East India Company, and flung the tea into Boston Harbor.

The Boston Tea Party happened, to be sure. But the reason behind it wasn't simply to protest British taxation.

You see, the American colonists had a tea trade going. A black-market tea trade. 90% of colonial tea was smuggled in, with the mast majority of that smuggled in by one John Hancock.

Hancock wasn't anything special; a lot of colonists dabbled in smuggling. The American taxes were worse than the ones the British imposed; in fact, were one to play by the rules, import duties, which could reach 100%, would quickly drive them out of business. Hancock just happened to be better at it than anyone else.

He was the one that stood to lose the most to the British East India Company, because even with the three-pence tax to be imposed, the Tea Act served to lower prices on British tea: along with the tax, the British East India Company was to be refunded a 25% duty they were paying importing the tea into Britain on the way to America. With that subsidization, Bohea tea bound for the colonies- the most common type- would see its price come down from three shillings per pound to two.

According to Benajmin Woods Labaree's book The Boston Tea Party, Hancock's price was two shillings, one pence.

Bohea tea made up 91.6% of the tea sent into Boston Harbor.

That was what kicked off the Boston Tea Party. The aim wasn't to protest taxes. It was more to protest competition than anything else.

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