The Boston Tea Party - 1773
Being new to the role of king and totally inexperienced, we can forgive George III for certain mistakes he made because when he came to the throne, he had a lot on his plate from the very beginning. He was still trying to play catch-up after assuming the role of king while his family had been fighting and squabbling amongst themselves and because of this, the government had grown incredibly strong, being controlled by rich men who ran by bribery and nepotism. As such, he can be forgiven for not having a closer look at whom he was dealing with when he took an interest in the Americas. His first priority was to finish the war with France since England was close to bankruptcy and this meant trying to pacify the French-Canadians population in the new colonies. Britain was in so much debt, they were struggling to pay the costs of their new empire and the only way he knew to fix that problem and to make ends meet was to enforce taxes on the colonies in America for revenue, virtually making them Britain's cash cow.
Before the colonies knew it, they were being told there were new taxes to be imposed on molasses and sugar, as well as paper used for playing cards, legal documents and newspapers. As new colonists in America, they were already struggling and strapped for cash so when it finally dawned on them that Britain was intending to drain money from America indefinitely, they looked at each other in shock.
A hundred years before, America had been an unknown land where people in Europe and Asia had escaped from religious and social control as well as the dominance of the established monastic rulers. And when you look at the British colonists, we know they were basically rejects from Britain who’d either been sent to the Americas as punishment or arrived in the Americas to start of new life, leaving their life full of hardship and poverty behind them. But all of these people had something in common. They all wanted a fresh start in a land of their own with rules of their own and with a government of their own. So when George began enforcing more and more restrictions and taxes on them, the seed of discontent was sown.
These people had been resisting the control of rulers for many years by then and their indignation was quickly aroused. What they saw was Britain’s traditional rules and infrastructure being imposed on their country and their country was nothing like Britain. As well as that, they were in an economic crisis of their own after supporting British troops with food and housing during the seven years of war with France. It had a snowball effect on them and the conflict soon escalated out of control.
Imposing taxes had seemed like a good idea to George at the time but problems began to pop up almost from the very beginning. America was arguing that there were constitutional issues involved, the main one being that they weren’t even represented in British Parliament. The question being asked was ‘why should we be forced to pay British taxes at all?’
It wasn’t just an unfair government or even English rule that the colonies objected to. George’s determination to place himself at the heart of American politics had created a new republican movement meant to attack the rule of kings everywhere. The process of destroying the monarchy was well under way and all of a sudden, Britain knew they had a serious problem on their hands. At this stage, Britain hadn’t heard of George Washington.
While everyone was pointing fingers at each other, Britain soon found they had another unforseen problem on their hands. Even if they wanted to collect the taxes, there was no one to collect them anyway. By the time the taxes were fully established, most tax collectors had resigned after having seen too many men tarred and feathered by the locals. Since no one wanted to suffer the same fate, there wasn’t anyone who wanted the job.
Anger was bubbling close to the surface in both Britain and the Americas and before anyone knew it, British troops in Boston open fired on an angry mob that had attacked a sentry outside a government office. One year later, the situation worsened when the Americas were told there would be a tax on tea. It was to be the final straw.
In October 1773, the colonies learnt there were seven ships bound for Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Charleston carrying 2,000 chests overflowing with 600,000 pounds of tea. The potential for a serious protest was too good to miss out on.
It was a cool dark night in December that year when a group of 30 to 130 men left a meeting at Old South Meeting House where Samuel Adams stood addressing 7,000 people. History says he tried desperately to reassert control as people poured out of the meeting prepared to take action of their own but there was little chance that anyone was going to listen to him. They had a plan in mind and nothing was going to stop them. They donned Native Americans clothing and stealthily crept on board three of the ships as they lay quietly moored in Boston Harbour. Over the course of three hours, they had dumped all 342 chests of tea overboard into the water near the foot of Hutchison Street.
Instead of taking a good hard look at the situation, George’s reaction was purely Hanoverian. The colonies had to be punished and he had every intention of fighting them and crushing them into remorse.
George Washington had been appointed Commander-in-chief in June the previous year because of his military expertise in New England. It wasn’t that he was necessarily qualified to wage war on Britain because his training and experience was primarily in frontier warfare involving small numbers of soldiers. And it wasn't that he was trained in the open-field style of battle as were the commanding British generals. Unlike them, he had no practical experience manoeuvring large formations of infantry, commanding cavalry and artillery, or maintaining the flow of supplies for thousands of men in the field. But what George Washington did have was charisma. Add courage and determination to the recipe and you have a man who was smart enough to keep one step ahead of the enemy. After the first taste of victory in Boston, his jubilant troops moved on to New York City and set up camp, pulling down a statue of George III in the process.
War was about to begin.