South Carolina: A Short History, 1520-1948

By David Duncan Wallace | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XXVII
EMERGENCE OF THE EXTRA-LEGAL ORGANS OF REVOLUTION, 1773-1775

Resisting the Tea Tax. --When Parliament yielded to the demand for the repeal of Townshend duties, George III insisted on retaining the tax on tea; for he was determined "to try the matter with the Americans." An additional circumstance was the fact that the difficulties of the East India Company were highly alarming to the numerous stockholders of the corporation prominent in British social and political life. To save the company by increasing its trade with America would thus serve those influential private interests and at the same time afford a means of vindicating the right of the British government to tax the colonies. The Company was freed from certain burdens in England and was relieved of a duty there on tea sent thence to the colonies; and the duty on tea thus imported into the colonies, to be paid in America, was placed at only three pence a pound. Hence tea was offered cheaper in the colonies than in England, and even cheaper than the Dutch smuggled tea.

Two hundred and fifty-seven chests, consigned by the East India Company to prominent merchants to be sold on commission, arrived at Charles Town on December 1, 1773. Smaller quantities had already been imported undisturbed in general cargo, but this shipment specifically raised the issue. Handbills called for a mass meeting, on Friday the 3d, of all South Carolinians, especially landowners, in the great hall over the Exchange. This meeting is of great importance, for from it, in a sense, has lineally descended the government of South Carolina. The legislature of the State had its legal predecessor, the colonial Assembly, but it actually developed without a break from this mass meeting of December 3, 1773. The meeting resolved not to import or buy any tea taxed for raising a revenue in America. The consignees resigned amid applause. Christopher Gadsden was appointed chairman of a committee to secure signatures all over the province not to import or use tea, and an agreement was put into circulation threatening boycott of non-signers.

Conservatives contended that this hasty act did not represent the true sense of the meeting. Accordingly another was called for the 17th,

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