The Tea Controversy
Attempted relief of the East India Company.—During this period George III and his ministers took the fatal step of attempting to force tea upon the colonies. The colonists had refrained from using tea which paid a duty and had supplied themselves with smuggled tea from France, Sweden, and Holland. At this time the East India Company was on the verge of bankruptcy, a condition due in part to the loss of American customers. In the company's warehouses a vast amount of tea had accumulated. As a measure of relief the directors of the company advised the repeal of the tea duty, but "a course which went direct to the point was not of a nature to find favor with George the Third and his Ministers." Instead they allowed the company a drawback of the entire tea duty in England, but the tea was to be subject to the three penny tax payable in the colonies.
The tea arrives.—George III was soon to learn that he could not force tea down colonial throats. Late in 1773 several tea-laden ships arrived at American ports. In Charleston the agents of the company resigned, and when the duty was not paid, the collector seized the tea and stored it in a damp cellar. In Philadelphia a public meeting resolved that the duty on tea was illegal and persons who assisted in its being landed were declared public enemies. Under pressure of public opinion the consignees resigned and the captain of the tea vessel wisely decided not to unload his cargo. "When New York learned that the tea-ships allotted to it had been driven by a gale off the coast, men scanned the horizon, like the garrison of Londonderry watching for the English fleet in Lough Foyle, in their fear lest fate should rob them of their opportunity of proving themselves not inferior in mettle to the Bostonians."
The Boston Tea Party.—The Massachusetts people had recently been greatly irritated by certain private letters of Hutchinson, Oliver, and Paxton. The letters had been obtained in England by Franklin and had been sent under the seal of secrecy to some of the Massachusetts leaders who, however, published them. Before the excitement subsided three tea-laden vessels arrived at Boston. Hutchinson refused to allow the ships to leave until regularly cleared and this could not be done until the entire cargo had been unloaded. A mass meeting held in the Old South Church resolved that the tea should not be landed, and when the governor ordered the dispersal of the meeting, the bearer of the proclamation met with insult. Neighboring towns agreed to assist Boston, with force if necessary, and a guard watched the vessels to see that none of the tea was landed. On December 17 the cargo would be seized by the collector for non-payment of duty. On the evening of December 16, fifty or sixty men disguised as Indians boarded the tea ships, rifled the chests, and threw the contents into the bay.
The course of Massachusetts.—The British government was being sorely tried by Massachusetts. On January 29, 1774, a petition of the general court for the removal of Hutchinson and Oliver came before the Privy Council Committee for Foreign Plantations. The petition was pronounced a seditious document. Franklin was summoned before the committee, was charged with intercepting letters, and was dismissed from the deputy postmaster-generalship. Soon after the Boston Tea Party, the assembly voted to impeach Justice Oliver for accepting a salary from the crown. In retaliation Hutchinson dissolved the assembly and soon left the colony.
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