Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party was the result of many laws imposed on the Colonies by the British without their consent. When Great Britain enacted the Townshend Act of 1767, government leaders were trying to resolve two problems facing the British empire. First, the British East India Company was facing heavy financial difficulties. Second, Parliament was trying to re-establish its authority over the Colonies. The Boston Tea Party signalled the beginning of the end of the relationship between Great Britain and the Colonies - how did this influence the beginnings of the American Revolutionary War? 

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Table of contents

    The East India Company and the Townshend Act

    Britain had been importing tea from China since the 17th century. In 1698, Parliament allowed the British East India Company to have an exclusive monopoly on the importation of tea in England. Naturally, when tea became popular in the Colonies, Great Britain passed an act that required colonists to solely import tea from Great Britain.

    Moreover, there were also taxes when consumers purchased this tea. In contrast, the Dutch government was not taxing the tea that was imported into the Dutch Republic. As a result, British tea producers were undercut by Dutch smugglers who could sell their untaxed tea at a lower price.

    With the British East India Company losing so much money, Parliament tried to raise revenue by levying a tax through the Townshend Revenue Act on its American Colonies. The tax applied to most goods imported from Britain, including tea and paper.

    Boston Tea Party East India Company coat of arms from 1698 StudySmarterFig. 1 - East India Company coat of arms from 1698

    Colonial Reactions

    There was a general consensus that in order to be able to levy taxes on a group of people, they had to be represented in Parliament. As American colonists could not send members to Parliament, Parliament should therefore not be allowed to tax the colonies. Colonists thought that they should only be taxed by their own colonial governments.

    The phrase 'no taxation without representation' dates to the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 and was used by angry colonists in response to further taxation by the British Parliament, such as the Townshend Act.

    Consequences of the Townshend Act

    The consequences of the Townshend act include the following:

    The East India Company

    The Townshend Act placed a tax on goods such as tea and, naturally, prices on British tea rose. However, this price increase caused British tea sales to decrease even more. Meanwhile, the company was still importing tea into Great Britain. Simply put, even though demand was not very high, the supply of tea was still being replenished. This only contributed to the worsening financial situation of the East India Company.

    Since the East India Company was one of Great Britain’s most important commercial institutions, Parliament tried to pass a bill that would help the company. Eliminating the Townshend Act would have resolved this situation, but Parliament was unwilling to back down. If they had backed down, it would have been the equivalent of telling the Colonists that Parliament did not have the right to tax the colonies.

    Could Parliament have handled the situation better and saved the relationship with the Colonies? Or was it a foregone conclusion that they would separate, either because Parliament backed down on the Townshend Act and lost their supremacy over the Colonies or because at this point it was a lost cause and they had alienated the Colonies too far?

    Additionally, Parliament was unwilling to repeal the Townshend Act because this tax paid the salaries of colonial governors and judges. It was thought that paying these officials would ensure that the officials were loyal and dependent on the British government, rather than to the Colonists.

    The Tea Act and Colonial Tea Boycott

    In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act to help the East India Company’s financial difficulties.

    Colonists viewed these taxes as unfair because they were being taxed by a body of government in which Colonists had representatives. Consequently, Colonists boycotted drinking tea. In addition, Colonists were afraid that a government-created monopoly would extend to other areas of trade later.

    The Tea Act extended the East India Company's monopoly over the importation of tea to the Colonies. Colonists were afraid that the British government would allow other British companies to have a monopoly over other goods, which would have stifled the growth of the American economy.

    Although the Tea Act actually lowered the cost of tea, it was the last straw for Colonists in Massachusetts, who, unlike other Colonies, could not persuade importers to resign or to return the tea to Britain. Colonial importers were also undercut by the East India Company due to the Tea Act and so lost money to the British company.

    Boston Tea Party destruction of tea at the Boston Tea Party StudySmarterFig. 2 - lithograph depicting the 1773 destruction of tea at the Boston Tea Party

    Boston Tea Party Summary

    Let us take a look at the summary of the Boston tea party

    The Sons of Liberty and the Boston Tea Party

    The Sons of Liberty were a group of Colonists who often harassed British tax collectors. After Parliament passed the Townshend Act, the Sons of Liberty chose to protest by dumping the British tea that was being imported.

    The Sons of Liberty often donned elaborate Mohawk costumes that hid their faces. Choosing to wear Native American costumes symbolised that they identified with America over Great Britain.

    The Sons of Liberty sneaked onto the three ships that were carrying tea, and over the course of several hours, the group dumped over 340 chests of tea weighing around 46 tons into the harbour.

    There had been another trading ship that was supposed to head to Boston but ended up at Cape Cod. The tea that the ship carried ended up being taxed and sold to private consumers. Once the Sons of Liberty received the information that the tea was being stored in a warehouse in Boston, they broke into the warehouse and destroyed as much tea as they could.

    However, some of the tea had already been sold to stores and was being held in their shop. The Sons of Liberty once again wore Mohawk costumes, broke into the shop, and dumped the remaining tea into the harbour.

    Boston Tea Party Tarring and feathering of Commissioner of Customs John Malcolm StudySmarterFig. 3- Tarring and feathering of Commissioner of Customs John Malcolm and pouring tea down his throat on 5 January 1774 under the Liberty Tree.

    How did Parliament Respond?

    Parliament was absolutely furious when they heard the news about the damage done to the East India Company's merchandise They felt that these actions directly challenged their power and thus, could not go unpunished. They responded by passing the laws known as the Intolerable Acts. One of these laws actually closed the port of Boston because Boston was seen as the leader of colonial resistance.

    Significance of the Boston Tea Party

    Did the Boston Tea Party signal the concrete end of a harmonious relationship between Great Britain and her American Colonies? The British government could have relented on the Townshend Act, or even simply allowed the Colonies to have MPs in Parliament, but instead chose to double down on holding onto the Colonies by force of punitive law. It was clear that the Colonists had had enough, but was there still a chance to save the relationship? Many consider that the passing of the Intolerable Acts was the true point of no return rather than the Boston Tea Party.

    After the Intolerable Acts were passed, the Colonies unified in protesting these unfair laws and convened the First Continental Congress. It was here that the Colonists coordinated their resistance to the British monarchy. After the crisis escalated, the American Revolutionary War broke out near Boston in 1775. The Boston Tea Party can be considered the immediate cause of the escalation in tension and conflict which led to the Continental Congresses and, ultimately, the Revolutionary War.

    Boston Tea Party - Key Takeaways

    • The Boston Tea Party took place on 16 December 1773 as a reaction to the recent Townshend Act and Tea Act.

    • Colonists were protesting Parliament’s tax on tea because they felt like they were being unfairly taxed.

    • They were also worried that monopolies like the one given to the East India Company could be introduced in other areas of trade, stifling American companies.

    • Colonists snuck onto British ships that were carrying tea and threw the tea crates into the harbour.

    • Parliament responded by passing the Intolerable Acts.


    1. Fig. 1 - East India Company coat of arms 1698 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Coat_of_arms_of_the_East_India_Company.svg) by TRAJAN 117 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:TRAJAN_117) Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)
    Frequently Asked Questions about Tea Party

    What was the Boston Tea Party?

    Men from the Patriot group, the Sons of Liberty, snuck onto British ships in Boston Harbour and dumped their cargos of tea into the water in response to taxes imposed by the British government on the Thirteen Colonies.

    When did the Boston Tea Party happen?

    16 December 1773

    Why did the Boston Tea Party happen?

    American colonists resented the imposition of British taxation in the Thirteen Colonies, particularly the Tea Act of 1773. This proved to be the last straw, and, unable to compel British tea importers like the East India Company to leave Boston, the Sons of Liberty acted directly against the tea importers.

    How did the British respond to the Boston Tea Party?

    The British government imposed the Intolerable Acts, a series of punitive measures against the Thirteen Colonies, in response to the Boston Tea Party.

    How much tea was dumped in the Boston Tea Party?

    340 chests of tea, weighing around 46 tons, were dumped into Boston harbour during the Boston Tea Party.

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