Why Did the Tea Act Happen?
The Tea Act was a monumental moment in American history. Then a British colony, its passing would serve as one of the sparks leading to the American Revolution (1775-1783). The ultimate result was the establishment of the United States of America, so, suffice to say, its importance cannot be overstated. But what was the Tea Act of 1773, and how and why did it become a catalyst of change?
This is what we’ll be exploring in the following article - please keep reading to learn more. Perhaps best of all, once you’ve discovered the Tea Act facts, you can brew a cuppa via The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Since our founding in 1982, we’ve taken enormous pride in packing our products fresh to order. The only thing we’d ask is that you don’t throw them into the Boston Harbor!
Table of Contents
Before the Tea Act of 1773 Summary
The Tea Act’s significance is but part of the story of several measures imposed on American colonists in the decade leading to the revolution. Before then, in 1765, the British Parliament had passed the so-called Stamp Act, which was an internal tax levied on the people of the thirteen American colonies. This new law involved taxation on all paper documents in what is today the United States.
A follow-up law came into play in 1767, whereby Charles Townshend (1725-67), Britain’s chancellor of the Exchequer, created the Townshend Revenue Act. Somewhat similar to the Stamp Act, it placed duties on numerous goods imported into the colonies, including paper, paint, glass and Tea, to pay the wages of royal colonial governors. It would not, of course, be the last time Tea was used for such a purpose.
When was the Tea Act Enacted?
After the Stamp Act, colonists reacted with anger, inciting mobs and resorting to other forms of physical intimidation. The British government recognised it to be a lost cause and, in 1766, repealed the law. When the Townshend Revenue Act came into force, the colonists organised boycotts of the taxed goods. It was an effective protest that led to another repeal - with the exception of Tea.
A few years later, in 1773, the British government passed the Tea Act. Its implementation meant that the East India Company, a staple of the British economy, could transport Loose Leaf Tea directly to America without first landing in England. Doing so cut out colonial merchants, who reacted with anger. So, too, did most other colonists, who believed that “taxation without representation” was unjust.
Why Did the Tea Act Happen?
The Tea Act of 1773 was passed in order to save the struggling East India Company and, by extension, the British economy that relied so heavily on it. The previous decade had seen British forces emerge victorious from the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), including the North American theatre of the conflict called the French and Indian War. But it came at the cost of a colossal national debt.
The thirteen American colonies became the answer to Britain's financial woes, first through the Stamp Act and Townshend Revenue Act, and then the Tea Act. Considered an untapped source of economic stability, the government seized the chance to take advantage of American subjugation. Yet the colonists had never accepted the constitutionality of the duty on Tea, and would not take it lightly.
How Did Colonists Respond to the Tea Act?
Resistance to the Tea Act came in many forms. Smuggling Loose Leaf Tea into the colonies via the Dutch, for instance, became a viable alternative to supporting the Crown. Another option was to brew Herbal Tea made from ingredients found readily across America. These clear displays of disobedience infuriated the British parliament while leaving the East India Company facing bankruptcy.
Widespread protests culminated in the infamous Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. Spearheaded by disgruntled merchants and tradesmen known as the Sons of Liberty, colonists disguised as Native Americans boarded three ships and dumped 342 Tea chests into the harbour. The shipment, consisting mainly of Gunpowder Green Tea, weighed 45 tonnes and would be worth £800,000 today.
How Did the British Respond to Reprisals?
The Tea Act and Boston Tea Party became intertwined thereafter, both events of which had a considerable role in the History of Tea in the UK. Parliament, infuriated by the property damage, inflicted a series of tyrannical measures upon the colonies called the Coercive Acts of 1774. Nicknamed the “Intolerable Acts” in America, the law only served to increase transatlantic tensions.
It demanded the closure of Boston Harbor, brought an end to free elections of Boston officials, and effectively imposed martial law in Massachusetts. In 1775, skirmishes between local militia and British soldiers in Lexington and Concord became the first shots of the Revolutionary War. Three years after the Tea Act, the colonies declared their independence as the United States of America.
When Was the Tea Act Repealed?
Though the 1776 declaration of independence didn’t start the war, which was already underway by then, it did become a rallying cry for Americans. The proceeding years were hard-fought and bloody, concluding with the British surrender in 1781. Two years later, on September 3, 1783, Britain signed the Treaty of Paris, a document that not only ended the war but recognised the sovereignty of the United States.
The Tea Act of 1773, meanwhile, remained in place as a mere technicality. It was dubbed a “dead letter” by the British and Americans alike, meaning that while not repealed, it was defunct in practice. In fact, the law wasn’t removed from the books until the passage of the Statute Law Revision Act of 1861. Coincidentally, 1861 would mark the beginning of the American Civil War (1861-1865).
Passed by the British parliament to bolster the East India Company, the Tea Act of 1773 angered colonists because it undercut American business. It would not stand, and, that same year, caused the Boston Tea Party. This protest, in turn, helped to bring about the American War for Independence. And we all know how that ended - with the establishment of the United States of America.
Nowadays, of course, people worry less about throwing Tea into harbours and more about drinking it. Look no further than The Kent and Sussex Tea and Coffee Company. Alternatively, if you’re more of a Fresh Coffee fan, you could instead buy a quintessentially American Cup of Joe. From Hawaiian Kona Coffee to English Breakfast Tea - and everything in-between - the possibilities are almost limitless.