Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy: 1740- 1776

By Theodore Thayer | Go to book overview

XII
OUTBREAK OF THE REVOLUTION. 1774-1775

W HEN Great Britain repealed the Townshend duties on everything but tea, the colonies, after remonstrating against the tax, turned and ordered their tea from Holland, and smuggled it into the country. The loss of the American tea market was an important factor contributing to a serious financial crisis for the British East India Company. That Company had misjudged American resourcefulness when, after the repeal of Non-Importation by the colonies, it stocked quantities of tea in anticipation of large orders from America. By 1772 not only was the plight of the East India Company acute, but repercussions throughout the British economy were threatening a general business paralysis.1

In the hope of relieving the British East India Company by reopening a market in America for its tea, Parliament in 1773 removed the duty collectable in England on tea, leaving only the tax levied at the American port. This move made it possible for the Company to undersell all other tea in the colonies. The Company was to place its business in the hands of friendly agents in the principal American cities, thus excluding the other merchants from the tea business.2

The reaction in America against this clever stratagem of Lord North and the British Parliament was as immediate as it was portentous. This time, however, the first demonstrations were held in New York and Philadelphia, and not in Boston. In Philadelphia the leaders who had fought the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts called a meeting at the State House, where it was resolved that the consignees for the tea should resign at once.3 Resentment against the new measures was directed as much against the monopolistic character of the act as against the tax. Yet they saw clearly enough that the principle of taxation was at stake even if they had not heard Lord North's witticism that he would try a "case" in America.4

____________________
1
Smyth, V, 459-460, VI, 12-13, 22.
2
Ibid, VI, 124-125; Miller, 337-340. New York and Philadelphia were the centers for tea smuggling. Many of the Boston merchants went back to their London dealers for tea. However, Van Tyne estimates that nine-tenths of the tea used during this period was smuggled. Van Tyne, 370.
3
Pa. Journal, Oct. 20, 1773.
4
Ibid., Dec. 27, 1773. Franklin wrote that the ministry had no idea that people would act from other motives than self-interest and thought that the reduction in price would "overcome all the Patriotism of an American." Smyth, VI, 57.

-153-

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