Show Notes: December 16th 1773

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The month of December played an important role in the American Revolution.  Yesterday was the 250th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party.

Reactions to the Boston Tea Party Are Suprising.

This is what John Adams had to say on December 17th, 1773, the day after. John Adams, normally a staid and conservative individual, thought that it was the perfect expression by a people who had lost their rights and needed to demonstrate how dire things were.

The Last Straw

The Boston Tea Party was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  For years Ben Franklin attempted to convince George III and Parliament of how unjust the taxes levied on the Colonies were.  George III needed to pay for the war against France, and considered what Britain has done in Canada an act of defense for the colonists, and therefore the colonists needed to pay.

Samuel Adams

Samuel Adams was well educated, having received a Masters Degree from Harvard.  Wanting to study law instead of becoming a minister, Sam joined his father in his business.  It was a disaster.  After his father died, Sam lost every cent his father had left him. 

Sam’s passion was politics, and he pursued a career as a clerk, and then as a tax collector.  Adams was know as the “failed” tax collector because in many cases he did not collect taxes from his fellow colonists.

The Tea Tax

Although violence broke out over the repressive Stamp Act, Parliament passed the Tea Tax.  This was in support of the British East India Company, and Sam Adams lead the populist opinion that the tax should not be paid, and that the tea should not be imported.  We take the time from this Legends of America:

The East India Company arranged to ship cargoes of tea to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. When the tea arrived, the people in New York and Philadelphia refused to let it land, and in Charleston, they stored it in damp cellars, where it spoiled. But there was a most exciting time in Boston when the Tory Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, was determined to fight a hard battle for the King. The result was the famous “Boston Tea Party.”

It was a quiet Sunday morning on November 28, 1773, when the Dartmouth, one of the three tea ships on the way to Boston, sailed into the harbor. The people were attending service in the various churches when the shout, “The Dartmouth is in!” spread like wildfire, and soon the streets were astir with people.

Boston Tea Party by D. Berger

Boston Tea Party by D. Berger

Fearing that the tea might be landed, several people quickly got together and secured a promise from Benjamin Rotch, the owner of the Dartmouth, that the tea should not be landed before Tuesday. On Monday morning, an immense town meeting was held in Faneuil Hall, the “Cradle of Liberty.” Five thousand men were present. But, Faneuil Hall proving too small, the crowd had to make its way to the Old South Church. In addressing the meeting, Samuel Adams asked, “Is it the firm resolution of this body that the tea shall not only be sent back but that no duty shall be paid thereon?” With a great shout, the men answered, “Yes.” The other two ships arrived a few days later.

Samuel Adams, the people of Boston, and the surrounding towns determined that the tea should not be landed. Governor Hutchinson was equally determined that it should be. The advantage was with the governor, for according to law, the vessels could not return to England with the tea unless they got a clearance from the Collector of Customs or a pass from the governor.

Neither the Collector of Customs nor Governor Hutchinson would yield an inch. For 19 days, the struggle continued, growing more bitter daily. With a stubborn purpose to prevent the tea landing even if they had to fight, the Boston people appointed men armed with muskets and bayonets, some to watch the tea ships by day and some by night. Six couriers were ready to mount their horses, which they kept saddled and bridled, and speed into the country to alarm the people. Sentinels were stationed in the church belfries to ring the bells, and beacon fires were ready to be lit on the surrounding hilltops.

The morning of December 16 had come. If the tea remained in the harbor until the next day – the twentieth day – the revenue officer would be empowered by law to land it by force. Men, talking angrily and shaking their fists with excitement, thronged into the streets of Boston from surrounding towns. Over 7,000 had assembled in the Old South Church and the streets outside by ten o’clock.

They were waiting for the coming of Benjamin Rotch, who had gone to see if the collector would give him clearance. Rotch told the angry crowd that the collector refused to give the clearance. The people told him that he must get a pass from the Governor. Fearing for his safety, the poor man started to find Governor Hutchinson, who had purposely retired to his country home at Milton. Then the meeting adjourned for the morning.

At three o’clock, a great multitude of eager men again crowded into the Old South Church and the streets outside to wait for the return of Rotch. It was a critical moment. “If the Governor refuses to give the pass, shall the revenue officer be allowed to seize the tea and land it tomorrow morning ?” Many anxious faces showed that men were asking themselves this momentous question.

But while, in deep suspense, the meeting waited and deliberated, a merchant named John Rowe said, “Who knows how tea will mingle with salt water? “A whirlwind of applause swept the assembly and the masses outside the church. As daylight deepened into darkness, candles were lighted. Shortly after 6:00, Benjamin Rotch entered the church and, with a pale face, said, “The Governor refuses to give a pass.” An angry murmur arose, but the crowd soon became silent when Samuel Adams arose and said, “This meeting can do nothing more to save the country.”

This was a concerted signal. In an instant, a war-whoop sounded, and forty or fifty “Mohawks,” or men dressed as Indians waiting outside, dashed past the door and down Milk Street toward Griffin’s Wharf, where the tea ships were lying at anchor. It was a bright moonlit night, and everything could be seen. Many men stood on the shore and watched the “Mohawks” as they broke open 342 chests and poured the tea into the harbor. There was no confusion. All was done in perfect order.

The “Boston Tea Party,” of which Samuel Adams was the prime mover, was a long step toward the American Revolution. Samuel Adams was, at this time, almost or entirely alone in his desire for Independence, and he has well been called the “Father of the Revolution.” But, his influence for the good of America continued far beyond the time of the “Boston Tea Party.” Up to the last, his patriotism was earnest and sincere.

He remained in politics, serving as Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor and Governor. He retired from politics at the end of his term as governor in 1797. He died at the age of 81 on October 2, 1803, and was interred at the Granary Burying Ground in Boston.

A Long Build Up To A Revolution

The colonists were forced to fight for their rights, and many like John Adams hoped to remain with England.  John Adams defended the British soldiers who were involved with the Boston Massacre, as he believed that the colonies needed to demonstrate that they could function as British citizens.

And in the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, many who advocated for separation from England argued that the Boston Tea Party was a reckless act.  In fact, Sam Adams had expressed the belief that damage to property was in order to protest as going too far.  Property, Natural Law and other rights were that important to Adams and the Founders that they felt torn between the expression of outrage, which was needed according to John Adams, and adherence to standards that they felt they were denied.

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