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Was “The Boston Tea Party” truthfully all about taxation?
It started with a famine-
Eight years after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when British Major-General Robert Clive defeated the Nawab of Bengal (India), Clive granted British governmental powers of civil administration to the British East India Company in Bengal (BBC History Magazine, 2010).
As the functioning government over Bengal, the East India Company imposed taxes on goods, land taxes, and trade tariffs. A monopoly over tea and grains was achieved (Cambridge Forecast, 2006).
Laws were also passed prohibiting the Bengalese from “hoarding” goods, such as rice. “This prevented traders and dealers from laying in reserves that in other times would have tided the population over lean periods,” (Cambridge Forecast, 2006).
When a semi-regular dry spell, causing a decline in crop production, came upon the region in 1769, the peasantry’s surplus of staple crops proved inadequate for sustaining the population (Strasser, 2010).
Famine struck in 1770, “killing at least 1.9 million people – this was equivalent to half the population of the 13 American colonies at the time” (BBC History Magazine, 2010).
A plethora of bad press soon haunted the British East India Company.
The horrified public of Great Britain rightfully cast blame upon the East India Company for the man-made disaster.
Horace Walpole, the 4th Earl of Orford, wrote:
“The oppressions of India…. under the rapine and cruelties of the servants of the company, had now reached England, and created general clamour here,” (BBC History Magazine, 2010).
The American Colonies were slated to be next-
In 1773, the Crown devised a plan to aid the now economically flailing British East India Company in ridding itself of 17.5 million pounds of excess tea (BBC History Magazine, 2010).
The Tea Act was passed by Parliament in May of 1773.
The act imposed no new taxes.
Rather than imposing a new tax on tea, the Tea Act merely reinforced the taxes already in existence, put in place years before with the passage of the 1767 Townsend Revenue Act. Instead of imposing a new tax, the Tea Act of 1773 granted a full monopoly on the import and subsequent sale of tea in all American colonies.
This monopoly was granted to the British East India Company.
Americans feared that they too would suffer the fate of the Bengalese under the ruthless, corporate despotism of the East India Company.
“As Americans were well aware, the East India Company had turned itself into the actual government of east India, and there, the Company‘s irresponsible, ruthless, and inhumane greed had been directly responsible for millions of deaths in the Bengal famine of 1770” (Charleston Law Review, 2012).
In an impassioned objection against the East India Company, John Dickenson, a Pennsylvania lawyer, wrote:
“Their Conduct in Asia, for some Years past, has given ample Proof, how little
they regard the Laws of Nations, the Rights, Liberties, or
Lives of Men… cast their Eyes on America, as a new Theatre, whereon to exercise their Talents of Rapine, Oppression and Cruelty. The Monopoly of Tea, is, I dare say, but a small Part of the Plan they have formed to strip us of our Property. But thank GOD, we are not Sea Poys, or Marattas, but British Subjects, who are born to Liberty, who know its Worth, and who prize it high,” (BBC History Magazine, 2010).
For Americans, the issues at hand were quite simple:
“Would they allow England to press down upon America the corrupt class of royal toadies who would rule America by force, as they did east India? Would they allow England to siphon off the productive wealth of Americans and gladly watch Americans die in order to enhance their own corrupt profits?” (Dave Kopel, Charleston Law Review, 2012).
Their answer? No!
And so, on the evening of December 16, 1773, approximately 100 Bostonians –“supported by a crowd of thousands who safeguarded them”- boarded three ships filled with East India Company cargo and dumped 46 tons of tea into the waters of the harbor (Charleston Law Review, 2012).
- “Bengal Famine of 1770,” Richard Melson, Cambridge Forecast, October 2006, Retrieved at http://www.cambridgeforecast.org/MIDDLEEAST/BENGAL.html
- “British East India Company and the Great Bengal Famine”, Strasser, 2010, retrieved at https://strassers.wordpress.com/2010/02/01/british-east-india-company-and-the-great-bengal-famine/
- “Defiance of The Patriots: The Boston Tea Party & The Making of America”, Benjamin L. Carp, (2010).
- “How the British Gun Control Program Precipitated the American Revolution”, 6 Charleston L. Rev. 283, 2012, Retrieved at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1967702
- “The global origins of the Boston Tea Party”, BBC History Magazine, 2010 (Christmas Issue), Retrieved at https://www.historyextra.com/period/the-global-origins-of-the-boston-tea-party/
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