Townshend Duties, the Tea Tax and the "Boston Tea Party"

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Primary Sources

'The Bostonians Pay the Excise Man'
tarring and feathering

George Hewes Eyewitness Account

John Dickenson's Letters From a Pennsylvania Farmer

Boston Tea Party
W.D. Cooper. "Boston Tea Party.", The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789.in book: The History of North America. London: E. Newberry, 1789. Engraving. Plate opposite p. 58. from the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress

Colonists dressed as Indians throw tea  into the water to protest the tax on tea during what came to be known as "the Boston tea party"

More Information

The Shoemaker and the Tea Party : Memory and the American Revolution by Alfred F. Young


Britain tried to raise additional revenue by the Townshend Duties passed by Parliament in 1767. Charles Townshedn, the British Chancellor of the exchequer responded to the arguments of Benjamin Franklin and others about the colonists' objections to the Stamp Act. They used the distinction that the colonies had made during the Stamp Act debate about internal and external taxes. Duties were placed on colonial imports of lead, glass, paper, and tea. The money collected on these imports was used to pay the salaries of British officials in America. They hoped to make these officials more loyal to Britain and more independent of colonial legislatures, wo traditionally had paid governors and judges.

Colonists objected to the tax without representation and to the new bureaucracy that was to be put in place to collect the taxes, and the use of the taxes to pay officials. They saw this as an attack on their legislative authority. Colonists waged a campaign of nonimportation and tarring and feathering. Boston merchants adopted a nonimportation agreement in 1768, agreeing not to import certain items rather than pay the duties. This civil disobedience spread to other cities. By 1769 imports of British goods had fallen by 40%. Finally in 1770, Parliament gave up and repealed all the duties except for the tax on tea. At first colonists accepted this compromise and often evaded the tax by smuggling. 

But when Parliament allowed the near bankrupt East India Company, the English monopoly on the trade of Indian goods, to sell its tea directly to the colonies without paying the usual import duties in England, colonists were outraged. This meant that the East India Company could sell tea more cheaply than the local merchants, who had to pay high duties on the tea they imported. All the old opposition to the tax returned. In New York and Boston the company's ships were not allowed to land.  

In Boston a group of colonists dressed as Indians showed their opposition by dumping company tea into the harbor. Colonial resistance had resulted in damage to private property and Britain felt that it could not let this episode (later known as the Boston Tea Party) go unpunished. The result was the Five Intolerable Acts.

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The American Revolution

American Revolution Primary Sources

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