The Tea Party

Saturday at dusk I sat perched upon a rooftop, straining to see past the silhouette of a pine, mesmerized by the streaking reds and blues, the pulsing greens, and the glimmering silvers that painted the evening sky.  Festivities gave way across America as people gathered by the barbecue, kicked back beers and huddled under the sky, celebrating the day two hundred and thirty-three years ago that our forefathers declared an independent nation.

So what does this have to do with tea?

Let’s back up a bit... a lot, actually.  By the early 1700’s, Great Britain had issued a monopoly on all tea imported and distributed within their country. The East India Trading Company was the sole legal importer of tea, and for these rights they paid a hefty 25% tax on all imported goods. Tea was bought in massive amounts at auction in Britain and then imported from there to the colonies, where it faced an additional tax. This, in turn, raised the price of tea significantly for the end user, and as a result boosted illegal importation of tea from countries such as Holland. In fact, so much tea was brought into the country illegally that by the 1760’s the East India Trading Company began to suffer despite their monopolized rights. In order to help the company, Britain allowed the East India Company to import directly to the Americas, cutting out the brokerage in Britain and increasing their profit margin dramatically. The high taxes on the tea for the colonists were left in place however, and for colonists in America, angry at the high levels of taxation they faced with no representation in the government, this was the last straw.

By the early 1770’s American colonists had issued a boycott of all tea products and had successfully turned away several ships of product from their ports. In 1773 when three large ships entered the port of Boston, several men guarded the area to be sure that the product could not be unloaded while over seven thousand colonists gathered in an adjacent meeting to discuss the tactics of their strike. For twenty days the colonists urged the ships’ captain to return to Britain with the product, and at the objection of the Massachusetts governor, for twenty days the ships sat stationery. On December 16, 1773, the eve of the twentieth day, over a hundred men lightly disguised as Indians boarded each of the three ships. Hacking with their tomahawks, they broke open each of 342 chests of tea and spilled the contents over the edge and into the open waters below. Over 90,000 pounds of loose tea was lost to sea on that night.

This event, dubbed the “Boston Tea Party”, was not received well in Britain. In response, British parliament enacted the Coercive Acts, which essentially closed down the port of Boston to all commerce and incoming ships and demanded payment for the lost product. This punishment dramatically hurt the settlers in Massachusetts, and sympathies began to pour out from other colonies. The intention of the Coercive Acts was to keep the colonies in line, yet it only served to unify them against British rule. The first Continental Congress was held as a result in September of 1774, and within a year the colonies were pitted against British armies in the Revolutionary War.

The Boston Tea Party is considered to be one of the first acts of protest in our nation, and as the colonies united to become states of America and our own constitution was written the right to free speech and protest was remembered and protected. In recent months, news has been flush with members of the Republican party gathering together in many cities across the nation to protest recent spending by the Obama administration. They have called these gatherings “Tea Parties”.

The 4th of July celebrates the day in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain was written. Two hundred and thirty-three years later, we remain a strong, independent nation, and Britain has remained a close ally, despite the rocky start to our relationship. In remembrance, I’d like to propose a toast to our country and also to the one that we parted ways from long ago, and what better to toast with than our English Breakfast tea?

Here’s to our country: Happy Birthday.



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