|Posted by Gilbert Stack on December 16, 2016 at 6:40 AM|
On this day (December 16) in 1773, American colonists calling themselves the Sons of Liberty, disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and forcibly boarded ships in Boston harbor carrying British East India Company tea and dumped the cargo into the harbor. The disguises were the equivalent of 18th century ski masks—everyone knew they were not Mohawks but it was hoped that the pretense would keep individuals from being identified.
The tea was a game piece in Britain’s dual effort to raise more tax revenue from the colonies and help the British East India Company recover from severe financial setbacks it had encountered due to poor management both in London and in India. The tea tax was actually lower than the previous tea taxes—low enough to let the legal tea undercut the price of smuggled tea. The Sons of Liberty feared that this strategy would not only succeed in getting Americans to end their boycott of British tea but would also severely damage the businesses of American import merchants (most of whom were involved to some degree in smuggling). By destroying the tea, they prevented both “legal” competition with the smuggled tea and a tax that they believed had been unjustly imposed upon them from being collected.
The British responded with the Intolerable Acts, violating British legal traditions by collectively punishing all of Boston for the actions of the Sons of Liberty.