The Boston Tea Party was dramatic. Everybody knows the basics. A bunch of citizens of Boston, fed up with the tax on tea, went into Boston Harbor, climbed aboard three vessels and tossed all the tea overboard. Those are the basics, but there’s so much more.
The problems between America and England began fifteen years earlier, in 1760, when King George III became king of England. The problems didn’t start because he became king of England it just, happily for him, was a time of upheaval and crisis. The French and Indian War was nearing its end. The Seven Years War was over. (The French and Indian War and the Seven Years War were the same war, just one was fought in America and one was fought in Europe.) And the English needed money. Simultaneously they realized that the American colonies were becoming quite populated and quite wealthy. The obvious answer was to tax.
The sugar tax went into effect. The Americans were not pleased. They protested, boycotted, and smuggled until the English caved. Now King George, who wanted to regain the power and prestige of the throne that his father and grandfather had lost, was not pleased. He was determined that the colonists would obey. For George, it had nothing to do with money and everything to do with fealty to the crown at any cost. For the colonists it had nothing to do with money either. They believed that as Englishmen they had rights granted by the government, and as humans they had inherent rights given by God, both of which England was attempting to trample on. For parliament it really was about money.
So over the next several years England and America had a tug of war. England taxed. America protested, sent nasty letters, threatened and assaulted the king’s representatives, and boycotted taxed products. Back and forth, back and forth. Violence broke out occasionally, as in the Boston Massacre and the murder of an eleven year old boy by a British supporter. Violence occurred on both sides, but almost all of it was instigated by the patriots. Boston was the worst, so parliament sent troops to keep the peace in Boston. That backfired.
Meanwhile the men and women of the colonies were reading, writing letters, and having secret societies to discuss the problems, the solutions, and their beliefs about government. They were the most well-read and thoughtful people upon the subject ever in the history of the world. So when the time came to take a stand once again in Boston Harbor they were ready. Tossing the tea in the harbor hurt the already financially struggling British East India Company immeasurably. It hurt the members of parliament, who almost all had stake in the British East India Company as well. Plus it sent the firm message once again that this battle was not about the money, it was about whether the Americans were vassals and slaves of Britain or citizens with full rights of representation. The question would not be decided for some time after the Boston Tea Party and the deciding would require the fortunes and blood of thousands of patriots.
What the Boston Tea Party Represents
The Boston Tea Party represents the People’s refusal to be slaves to the government. It asserts that the people will be the masters and not the other way around. It is a testament to the power of a people to resist against great odds. Even the armies of great Britain, the mighty country that had just defeated the nations of Europe and mastered the seas, that had colonized around the entire globe could not beat that handful of patriots fighting for liberty.
Teach your kids about America’s great history and why it is great.
Boston Tea Party Exploration
After you have read more about the Boston Tea Party in books from the library, make a diorama of the Boston Tea Party in a shoebox. Kids can draw and color figures, a ship, the wharf, and the water.
Then have the kids write a report on the Boston Tea Party. Young kids can do a paragraph, older kids can do a one page report, and teens can do a five paragraph essay about the causes and/or effects of the Boston Tea Party.
Kids can present their reports with their dioramas in front of a group, which could include just your immediate family, a homeschool group, or neighbors and friends.
- English people from this time period to read about: William Pitt, King George III, Lord North, Edmund Burke, Isaac Barre.
- Americans from this time period to read about: Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, John Hancock, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Abigail Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Mercy Otis Warren.
- Especially good books about this time period: Countdown to Independence, Johnny Tremain, The Real Benjamin Franklin, George Washington’s World, Calico Captive, Common Sense, Indian Captive, The Matchlock Gun
- Here’s a web site dedicated to the Boston Tea Party, including a time line, illustrations, and eyewitness accounts.
- Smuggling was big business at this time, in America and also in England. Nobody really likes to pay taxes and shopkeepers do like to undercut the competition. Smuggling was so universally participated in by both wealthy, middle class, and poor that customs payments were virtually unenforceable. This is a fascinating topic to read more about.
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