On May 10, 1773 British Parliament passed the “Tea Act,” which forced American colonists to buy tea from the East India Trading Company. This, along with other “Intolerable Acts,” would lead directly to the American Revolution and the separation between Great Britain and its American colonies.
Although the protectionist Tea Act was not a tax, it did dramatically increase the cost of tea for Americans because they were forced to pay the higher rates charged by the East India Trading company.
Ideas of revolution and revolt had bubbled up from time to time in the colonies, starting with the Boston Revolt in Massachusetts and Leisler Rebellion in New York, which both occurred in 1689 during the Glorious Revolution in England. This unrest stemmed from the fact that colonists were given no representation in parliament, which they felt was their right as “Englishmen.”
British parliament began to place increasingly oppressive laws, taxes and restrictions on the American colonies as British debt accrued, in large part due to the costly French and Indian War (known as the Seven Years War in Europe).
Many members of British parliament saw the colonies as an easy source of tax revenue to exploit. However, a few enlightened statesmen foresaw the looming catastrophe if Britain did not recognize legitimate colonial grievances. One of these men was Edmund Burke, who is often referred to as the “father of conservatism”
In 1774, when there was a motion in British parliament to repeal the Tea Act, Burke gave a passionate speech advocating on behalf of the American colonists and of those who wanted to maintain the unity of the British Empire.
“Whether you were right or wrong in establishing the Colonies on the principles of commercial monopoly, rather than on that of revenue, is at this day a problem of mere speculation. You cannot have both by the same authority. To join together the restraints of a universal internal and external monopoly, with a universal internal and external taxation, is an unnatural union; perfect uncompensated slavery,” Burke said.
Burke was advocating for the idea that taxation and regulation should mostly be left up to local authorities, a principle that would become a cornerstone of the federalism advocated by America’s Founding Fathers.
Burke also said that the British Empire had not benefitted from the additional taxation and government measures as the cost of enforcement had been so high.
“I charge therefore to this new and unfortunate system the loss not only of peace, of union, and of commerce, but even of revenue, which its friends are contending for. It is morally certain, that we have lost at least a million of free grants since the peace. I think we have lost a great deal more; and that those, who look for a revenue from the provinces, never could have pursued, even in that light, a course more directly repugnant to their purposes,” Burke said.
This speech was made shortly after the American Sons of Liberty donned the garb of Mohawk warriors, boarded several British vessels in the Port of Boston, and threw the tea overboard.
Recalcitrance, callousness and folly led the British government to ruin as they would lose their colonies and accrue even more expenses and debt in the process.
Today, Americans tolerate far more government intrusion, regulations, taxes and restricted liberties than the founding generation. However, the modern day Tea Party patriot activists perhaps signify a return to those revolutionary principles, as the modern day United States Congress follows all of the foibles that undid British Parliament.