33. Tea Time, or My American History, Part 17

One of the things I enjoy about the Founding Generation is how active and involved they were in everything going on in the world they lived in. They weren't perfect; they were flawed as we are. Some were ambitious. Many disagreed with one another. However, they didn't sit around waiting for something to happen. They didn't think it was someone else's responsibility to do something about the things they didn't like. Nor did they think it was someone else's responsibility to do something about the things they thought were unfair. They had families; they had jobs; the economy had good years and bad, so they had challenges, difficulties and hard times the same as we do.

The Founding Generation had a sense of belonging to where they lived, to their community, to their families and friends. Their world wasn't so large they felt powerless to make concrete changes. They didn't spend three-plus hours a day isolated in front of a TV; they weren't further isolated by the internet; they actually talked to one another face-to-face. Human contact--what a novelty! They thought for themselves; they met in public places; they had spirited debates (two-way debates, debates in which they were full participants, not passive audience members); they learned from one another; they gathered in groups; they knew their neighbors and their neighbors knew them; they cared about what happened in their corner of the world. A unified effort, such as the Boston Tea Party, could only happen because they were connected to one another and one another's lives; they were part of the whole; they were part of the commonwealth, as it was for the good for their common wealth.

The Boston Tea Party is one of my favorite moments in our history. Boston had a history of being rowdy and overly destructive in their protests, but not with the "destruction of the tea" as it was then called. It was a peaceful protest; no one was hurt. Aside from the tea, nothing was damaged, but a padlock from one of the boats and it was replaced. There were over a thousand people watching in silence on the wharf. The chests of tea were hauled up, the chests were broken open and the tea was dumped overboard; this too was done in relative silence; it took about three hours; no other cargo was touched; they cleaned and swept up after they finished. It was a neat and orderly protest.

The Boston Tea Party didn't have to happen. Two other ports, New York and Philadelphia, also received "the detested tea," but they received permission for their ships to return to London without unloading the tea. However that didn't happen in Boston. The people of Boston knew the ships in New York and Philadelphia had begun their return journeys--so why not in Boston? The final word on the matter came from Massachusetts Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, who wouldn't give the three ships in Boston harbor permission to leave without first unloading the tea and paying the taxes.

Once a ship came into Boston Harbor, it couldn't leave without unloading its cargo. By law a ship could remain in Boston harbor for 20 days, but after 20 days the cargo would be seized and unloaded and the taxes would have to be paid. Not absolutely everyone in the town was against the tea being landed, but there was a clear majority against it. A watch had been set up; the three ships were under careful eyes 24 hours a day to make sure the tea wasn't unloaded. The will of the people throughout the town and in the countryside was overwhelmingly against the tea being landed and yet the Governor didn't listen to them. How can this be? Why would he not listen to the will of the people? When all else fails, follow the money trail! Hutchinson's two sons were among the few consignees for the tea, which meant they would profit greatly from selling the tea, if the tea was landed.

Note: Why is the Boston Tea Party important?
It is important because it was a collective effort.
It is important because it was a peaceful protest.
It is important because it was the will of the people.
It is important because it was regular people standing up to an oppressive government.
It is important because it was a rejection of supporting a business, East India Company, that was mismanaged.
It is important because the East India Company was trying to cut out local wholesalers to profit a select few.
It is important because it was a rejection of a monopoly.
It is important because it was a rejection of corruption.
It is important because it was a rejection of political tyranny.
It is important because the burden of East India Company losses was to be put on the backs of regular people.
It is important because the burden of East India Company stockholder losses was to be put on the backs of regular people.
It is important because the personal investment of many members of Parliament was to be put on the backs of regular people.
It is important because it was a rejection of the people bailing out big business greed.
It is important because it was a rejection of supporting a foreign economy to the detriment of our own economy.

originally posted July 2014
reposted March 2018

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