Thursday, December 16, 2010

December 16, 1773 – Subversives Arrested while Attacking Ships in Boston Harbor

Discontent had been broiling in the British American Colonies for several years over various taxes that had been levied on the colonists to pay for their military protection as well as a share of the debt from what they called the French and Indian War (Seven Years' War). The Sugar Act had been passed in 1764, and the Stamp Act, requiring a small fee for any official publication, in 1765. The colonists objected to the right of Parliament to lay taxes on unrepresented subjects and some, such as the fraternity Sons of Liberty, began to rebel violently. Both were repealed, and the rebellion settled until new, though low, taxes attempted to establish the right of Parliament to tax colonies. Boston, a powerful shipping town, was a center of trouble, and troops were quartered there, leading to the misunderstanding of the Boston Massacre in 1770. Disgusted at the violence, both sides quieted for a time.

In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act to aid the struggling East India Company, a government bailout of the day. When news of the act spread, the rebels kicked up again. Not only was this an infringement upon their perceived rights as humans for representative government, but it also seemed to set a precedent for government-backed monopolies. Among the rebels was Samuel Adams, an elected official of the Massachusetts House who also served as the ring-leader of the Sons of Liberty. Tea ships arrived in Boston Harbor, and Adams and others voted a resolution to urge the captain of the Dartmouth to leave Boston and return to England by December 16. As more ships arrived, the rebels refused to allow them to be unloaded and Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow them to leave without paying the duty on the tea. One the night of the deadline, dozens of the Sons of Liberty (some dressed needlessly in the disguise of Mohawk Indians) rallied and attempted to storm the ships. However, tipped by an anonymous source, the Boston guard was there, and the soldiers apprehended the majority of the men, including Samuel Adams, though he was not in the mob itself.

The political climate cooled as the men sat in prison, some petitioning for their release, others calling them traitors. At Benjamin Franklin's suggestion, a new order arose: repay what had been destroyed (several fellow merchants chipping in), but keep up boycotts of the East India Company. Governor Hutchinson was caught up in a release of embarrassing letters about the Bostonian people, and 1774 would see him removed from office. Seeing that their tie to the Americans weakening, Parliament would experiment with allowing marginal popular control over the appointment of the next governor. Lord North appointed a series of potential governors, including the military General Gage, and finally settled on William Pitt the Elder for the position, who was confirmed by the Massachusetts House. Pitt attempted to decline, but the King insisted, and soon the former prime minister arrived in Boston. While he held the title, much of the business of the colony was performed by his son, Pitt the Younger. The Pitts would resolve the financial issues and allow Parliament to repeal the Tea Act with the passage of the Taxation of Colonies Act 1778, which would grant the colonists a right to avoid taxation.

Pitt the Younger seemed to take up the life mission of establishing a system of representative government for the Colonies. Along with James Madison, he fell in among the followers of philosopher Thomas Jefferson. The push was gradual over the 1790s, and war with Spain in 1801 would give Parliament the surge to grant representation in guarantee of colonial support of the Crown. Over the course of the nineteenth century, individual rights would continue to grow, such as the end of slavery and the suffrage of women. The precedent of government-sponsored businesses would also grow, establishing huge corporations to foster the Industrial Revolution. While humanity reached unimagined levels of technology and material fulfillment, philosophers Karl Marx and, later, Ayn Rand would predict an age where workers threw off their chains and owned the wealth themselves, working for the betterment of their community as well as their own interests. So far, the revolutions that have occurred have been steps forward with a few great leaps backward into despotic tyrannies ruled by fear and force. For the most part, people are comfortable, though not totally happy, with their fluoxetine–laced lives.

In reality, the Tea Party was not stopped. Thousands had attended the meeting at the Old South Meeting House, and a few dozen proceeded to board the ships and destroy some 342 chests of tea. Parliament responded with a crackdown on Boston and the colonies known as the Coercive Acts, and the escalation continued to the American Revolution and the Declaration of Independence.

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