After the Patriot movement waned in the early 1770s, why did the Tea Act reignite colonial resistance?

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The term "Patriot movement" of the eighteenth century is an umbrella designation used to characterize all the people of various backgrounds in the American colonies who wanted independence from Great Britain. The patriots wanted to break away from Britain and form their own republic. After the Stamp Act was repealed,...

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The term "Patriot movement" of the eighteenth century is an umbrella designation used to characterize all the people of various backgrounds in the American colonies who wanted independence from Great Britain. The patriots wanted to break away from Britain and form their own republic. After the Stamp Act was repealed, patriot sentiments died down, but the Tea Act, another tax the colonists colonists found intrusive, reignited passions.

In some ways, this was ironic. The tax was not large, it helped pay for expenses the British incurred running the American colonies, and Boston, the center of agitation against the act, was one of the richest areas per capita in the world. Americans could easily afford the tax.

However, by this time, the Americans had become accustomed to the British policy of "salutary neglect," in which the British turned a blind to the many American violations of British tax and tariff laws, letting the Americans run their own affairs. The Americans continued to want to manage themselves and resisted, in principle, any precedent that would allow the British more control over them, especially the right to impose more taxes.

The bigger picture underlying all of this was the British victory in the French and Indian War. Once the British expelled the French from colonial borders, the American colonists were no longer under threat of being taken over by a foreign power. They no longer needed British protection, and the British began to seem more like an overbearing problem than any help to them.

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As the previous educator has noted, the Tea Act severely damaged the business interests of colonial tea merchants, who were undercut by the new legislation. These merchants formed the backbone of civic life in Boston. They were prominent citizens, actively engaged in the city's thriving political scene, and were regular contributors to the often fierce debates that raged among the American colonists.

One can see, then, that the British made a big mistake in making such a powerful enemy in the tea merchants of Boston. They had the wealth, the political power, and the social standing to kick back hard against the Tea Act, to mount a sustained, vigorous challenge against the new law that culminated in the Boston Tea Party. The defiance of Boston's social elite to British colonial rule galvanized patriots across the thirteen colonies into action, providing a focal point for all the various grievances that so many had harbored against the mother country for so long.

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There were two main reasons why the Tea Act reignited colonial resistance.

First, there was the issue of the tax on the tea.  True, the tax was a very small one and tea would have remained cheap.  However, it was another example of Parliament imposing a tax on colonists and they resented that.

Second, the Tea Act was a threat to American businesses.  The East India Company was allowed to simply sell directly to retailers.  This cut out the colonial wholesalers who had made money off the tea trade in the past.  These merchants were very unhappy and worked to convince others that the British government might later do this sort of thing to merchants who traded in something other than tea.

In these ways, the Tea Act reignited colonial resistance.  It annoyed colonists because it was a tax and it frightened colonial merchants because it made them feel that the British government might take away their livelihoods by giving monopolies to British firms.

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