A Broadside on the Boston Tea Party
Credit: Courtesy of American Memory
Bostonian's SONS keep up your Courage good, And sink all Tyrants in their GUILTY BLOOD.
—From the broadside Tea destroyed by Indians (1773)
Ironically, the Tea Act had nothing to do with the American colonies but everything to do with rescuing the East India Company from bankruptcy: the result of the legislation was the loss of the American colonies."
—From Marjie Bloy
The Boston Tea Party was the inspiration for a number of similar events that occurred throughout the American colonies. Some colonists were very angry. One broadside poem describing the original tea party ended with the charge that all good sons of Boston should "sink all Tyrants in their GUILTY BLOOD!" Why all this rebellious fervor about tea? Did Britain's Tea Act and the resulting controversy in the colonies lead to the American Revolution?
Note: For activities specifically related to events surrounding the Boston Tea Party, see the complementary EDSITEment lesson, The Boston Tea Party: Costume Optional?
Why did some colonists react so intensely to the Tea Act? Did the Tea Act lead to the American Revolution?
Lord North's conciliatory proposal was the linchpin of the government's attempt to resolve the conflict during the final peacetime months. This proposal was presented to the House of Commons on February 20, shortly after the Commons had agreed to an address to the crown describing Massachusetts as in a state of rebellion. North's bill provided that any colony that would make a contribution to the common defense of the empire and support its own government (subject to the approval of king and Parliament) would not be taxed for as long as it continued its contribution. The amount contributed by the colony for defense would be subject to the disposal of Parliament. In presenting his proposal, North made very clear that the government would not deal directly with the congress; responses would have to come from the colonial assemblies. By the end of March, the conciliatory bill had passed, together with the New England Restraining Act.
The timing of North's proposal, offered as it was in the midst of further punitive measures and at a juncture when government had withdrawn from any idea of an initiative toward provincial leaders in congress, has led many commentators, then and now, to question its sincerity. North's motives in making his offer have been variously interpreted. At best, his proposal has been seen as an effort to mollify British public opinion or as an inadequate, last-ditch effort to detach moderate elements in the colonies from the widening rebellion. At worst, it has been seen as a cynical attempt to divide the colonies in order to augment a general strategy of coercion.
—Flavell, Julie M. "Government Interception of Letters from America and the Quest for Colonial Opinion in 1775." The William and Mary Quarterly. 58.2 (2001): 57 pars. May 31, 2002.
If your class did not complete The Boston Tea Party: Costume Optional?, and students are unfamiliar with the Boston Tea Party, conduct a brief review of the events surrounding the historical incident. If students are familiar with the events, make a list of what they already know. If desired, consult An Outline of American History (1994), Chapter Three: Boston "Tea Party", on From Revolution to Reconstruction, a link from the EDSITEment-reviewed website History Matters. (NOTE: The section on the Tea Party begins on page 6 and continues through Page 8. Click on "Next Page" or "Previous Page" to navigate as desired.)
Tell students that a number of colonial cities, including New York, Charlestown, Md., and Greenwich, N.J., staged "tea parties" as protests in the months preceding the American Revolution. In what ways were these protests similar to the Boston Tea Party? In what ways were they different? Students will try to answer these questions in this lesson. Break the class into six groups and assign each group one of the three locations (two groups for each location). Download, copy, and distribute to each group a Venn Diagram.
Using the documents listed below, available through EDSITEment resources, students should attempt to discover (1) what events preceded the protest, (2) how the protest was conducted, and (3) what reasons for the protest, if any, were given.
If desired, use the Venn Diagram as a model for constructing on the blackboard a large, composite diagram with attributes every protest had in common in the intersection. Use the diagram to compare the protests.
As a class, discuss why the Boston Tea Party inspired so many similar protests. Why were the colonists so incensed about something as simple as tea, or was there more to the matter?
Share with the class the information related to the Tea Act from A Survey of American History (Alan Brinkley, et al. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.), available at Boston Tea Party on From Revolution to Reconstruction, a link from the EDSITEment resource History Matters. Share also the information (including the cartoon) related to the Boston Tea Party available at The Boston Tea Party on Liberty!, another link from History Matters.
Download, copy, and distribute the handout Revolutionary Tea Parties: Why Was Everyone So Angry?, available here as a PDF. Based on students' knowledge of the Boston Tea Party and their findings about the other tea parties, students should complete the ratings and then share their beliefs about the foremost reasons that many colonists became so passionate about the tax on tea.
The tax on tea was the last remaining tax, and as such, became symbolic of all attempts at taxing the colonists and, eventually, of all of their grievances.
Assign one of the following documents related to the Boston Tea Party and taxation to each student group (two groups can have the same document). Each group should scan the sections of the document specified below, looking for any expression of reasons for objections to British taxes. Download, copy, and distribute to the groups the chart Taxation and Related Issues, available here as a PDF. Students should use this to note and document the issues in the specified selections; no document is likely to address all the issues. Some documents will stress one or two issues, while others will present a long list.
After reviewing these documents, would students now change their opinion of the most significant reasons behind the protests?
Review the events on the timeline America During the Age of Revolution, 1764-1775, on the EDSITEment-reviewed website American Memory, from 1773 to the battles of Lexington and Concord, with special focus on the Coercive Acts. Do students agree that "the result of the legislation [the Tea Act] was the loss of the American colonies?" (Marjie Bloy, on the EDSITEment resource Victorian Web)?
Based on their knowledge of events, students should now be able to create a cause-and-effect ladder, starting from the initial passage of taxes on tea and other goods and ending with the American Revolution. You can download a Sample Cause-and-Effect Ladder. Also available is a version of the cause-and-effect ladder as a Fill-in-the-Blanks Exercise.
3 class periods