The Original Tea Partiers Were Protesting A Corporate Bailout, Not Taxes


Quiz question: The original “Boston Tea Party” was mainly about which of the following?

a) A protest about British taxing authority over the colonies

b) Anger over a corporate bailout by parliament

c) Colonists protesting high tea prices

It may come as a surprise to many Americans that the answer to that question is “b.”

The past few years have seen the rise of a new “Tea Party” movement in the United States. While some members of this movement may have anti-corporate sentiments, one of the main Tea Party organizations, Tea Party Patriots, states the core beliefs of their group as follows:

  • fiscal responsibility
  • Constitutionally limited government
  • free markets

None of those “core values” has anything to do with the motives of the original tea partiers, making the modern Tea Party perhaps the most misnamed political group in American history.

Many Americans have a tendency to conflate some of the circumstances and events surrounding 1773’s Boston Tea Party with those surrounding the Stamp Act of 1765, which is where the familiar rallying cry “no taxation without representation!” originated. The tea party was not about a tax hike or oppressive taxation at all, but rather was in response to a tax cut.

The Tea Act, approved by parliament on May 10, 1773, permitted the British East India Company, which had found itself in financial difficulty and was stuck with some 18 million pounds of unsold tea, to import tea to the American colonies at a lower price than even smugglers were charging for inferior tea at the time. It did this by adjusting import duties on tea so that the East India Company was given favorable treatment, and created a virtual monopoly in America for East India Company tea. Colonial merchants were upset that this tea would be sold directly by East India Company agents, which would undercut colonial businesses.

The Tea Act was a colossal blunder by parliament and the Prime Minister, Lord North, who believed that the colonists would not object to cheap tea. But the combination of the removal of import duties on East India Company tea coupled with the continuation of the tea tax from the Townshend Act pushed the colonists over the edge.

The East India Company selected consignees in Boston, New York, Charleston, and Philadelphia to handle their merchandise, and in September 1773 ships set sail with 500,000 pounds of tea. Patriot groups in Charleston, New York, and Philadelphia put pressure on the consignees, who refused to accept the shipments of tea. But in Boston the consignees included two sons and a nephew of Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson, and they refused to concede. After an abortive attempt by Sam Adams and others to persuade Hutchinson to send the tea back to England, on December 16 Adams and other colonists from a group known as “Sons Of Liberty,” disguised as Mohawk Indians, and watched by a large crowd, boarded the tea ships in Boston harbor and threw over 45 tons of tea overboard.

So the original Boston Tea Party had little if anything to do with the stated beliefs of the modern tea party. Rather it had much more in common with the various Occupy groups: a protest over government policies that were favorable to one business entity with which the government was intimately connected to the detriment of other businesses and citizens.