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Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party was a momentous event in American history. On this day, some citizens of Boston rebelled against Great Britain. To symbolize this, they threw countless boxes filled with tea into the dock of Boston Harbor.

At first glance, this may sound a bit unusual: dumping out tea to fight oppression? But there is much more to it all. Here, you will find out everything there is to know about this historic event!

The History

“No taxation without representation” – This was the motto of the Boston Tea Party. We will explain to you in a moment what it was all about, but it’s important to understand the situations leading up to the incident first. This takes us back to the 18th century – 1763, to be precise.

In 1763, the Seven Years’ War in Europe came to an end, resulting in Great Britain’s control of what is now the United States territory east of the Mississippi River. Despite the victory, the war caused heavy losses. Not only socially, but also economically – and Great Britain had to figure out a strategy to manage this.

Due to the war expenditures and the costs of the resulting colonies, British debts grew into the triple-digit millions. To counteract this, taxes were increased not only in Great Britain, but also in Great Britain’s colonies in America.

While the Sugar Act of 1764 was meant to amend an older molasses tax and was a duty only on foreign goods, the Stamp Act of 1765 was the first time items within the colonies were taxed. This was significant because prior to the Stamp Act, internal taxes in the colonies were handled by colonial assemblies – not by the faraway Great Britain. The new Stamp Act levied a tax on all paper items in the colonies. In principle, this was an outrage, since the colonies were far in distance from England and had no political say or representation in the British system of government; therefore, many people living in the colonies did not find it fair to pay these new taxes to England. Hence, the above-mentioned motto of the rebellion: “no taxation without representation.”

This resulted in a serious conflict that seemed impossible to resolve. The situation only got worse: Due to the resulting riots in the colonies, the Stamp Act was eventually abolished, but a series of new acts called the Townshend Acts were passed a year later in England. These included new taxes on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea; new governing restrictions on New York; a tax cut for the sale of tea from the British East India Company; and an increase in customs enforcement and smuggling penalties.

Of course, the colonies did not appreciate this at all, and they voiced their displeasure. Boycotts of British goods were encouraged. Violent clashes also followed. The East India Company, which was the main supplier of tea, suffered a drastic loss as a result of the boycotts.

In order to avoid the financial ruin of the important British company, another momentous measure was taken: Great Britain passed the Tea Act, which allowed for the duty-free export of tea from Great Britain, lowered the price of tea in the colonies to help undercut the market of cheap smuggled tea, and maintained the tea tax from the Townshend Acts.

Although this act lowered the price of tea for the colonies, it also severely challenged the local market already established of smuggled Dutch tea. Many of the colonists perceived this new act as an attempt to unfairly control the colonies and to force their dependence on Great Britain. In order to prevent the sale of this cheap tea from the East India Company, and to protest the controlling measures taken by Great Britain, the citizens of the colonies started to resist.

What Exactly Happened?

So, what exactly happened at this party? The Boston Tea Party took place very precisely on December 16, 1773. A dispute between opponents of the Crown among the colonists and supporters of the Crown eventually escalated. Opponents demanded that East India Company ships leave Boston Harbor without delivering their tea cargo.

Naturally, this demand was firmly rejected by the supporters of Great Britain. After making their refusal known, about 50 people attacked the East India Company’s ships and began throwing tons of tea overboard.

This act of rebellion luckily passed without violence, but the East India Company lost about 45 tons of tea in the process. In addition to that, the whole spectacle was accompanied by several thousand spectators. One unusual fact is that the rioters wore Mohawk Indian clothing during the event. While some believe that donning this attire was done in an effort to use Native Americans as a scapegoat for the illegal activity, many historians today explain the dress as having been a symbol of freedom and independence from Great Britain ─ goals that the American people were striving for.

John Adams, an important character in the uprising against the colonial superpower and on the road to independence, wrote in his diary regarding the events: “The destruction of the tea is such a bold, determined, fearless and uncompromising act, and it will inevitably have such important and lasting consequences that I must regard it as an epochal event.”

The Impact of the Boston Tea Party

After the Boston Tea Party, there was further backlash against the British regime and their attempts at controlling the colonies. The British government did not take this backlash lightly ─ they even considered the total destruction of Boston. Eventually, however, they agreed on a less drastic measure, which took shape in the form of the Intolerable Acts. This set of new laws took all previously allowed self-governance away from Massachusetts as punishment for the Boston Tea Party.

Seeing this as a threat to the system of self-governance the colonies had grown accustomed to, several American colonies joined forces against the British superpower. Their demand for independence was mostly rejected, which led to an escalation of the conflict and to the American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783. With the help of France and Spain, the colonists won their independence from Great Britain, which was formally acknowledged in the Treaty of Paris.

After the Boston Tea Party, and especially during and after the American Revolution, the popularity of drinking tea in America declined. Coffee often replaced tea as the beverage of choice in a quiet, continued boycott and in an enduring acknowledgement of the events leading up to the independence of the United States from Great Britain.


The Boston Tea Party was an influential event in the history of America and is still considered one of the most important milestones in American history today, as it led to the independence of the people. Even today, history lives on in Boston: Many places in the city recall the event of that time – first and foremost, of course, the harbor.

Discover Boston’s special history yourself and plan your trip to the city where America’s independence was born. On the floating Boston Tea Party Ships and Museum, you can even throw tea overboard.

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