The Boston Tea Party

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Was the Boston Tea Party justified?

Answering a question as to whether the Boston Tea Party was justified or unjustified requires that the ideals of the Boston Tea Party be weighed against the fact that the Boston Tea Party represented a criminal act, aimed at the destruction of private property. At the same time, beneath the ideals of the Revolution, there were purely self-serving motivations as well. Colonial merchants, undercut by the Tea Act, were acting to secure their own self-interest.

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To answer this question, you would need to weigh the described ideals of the American Revolution against the reality that, at its core, the Boston Tea Party was a criminal act aimed at destroying the property of the East India Company. In the process, it would inspire sharp reprisals from the British Government by way of the Intolerable Acts (a moment which, itself, represents one of the critical turning points in the history of American independence). At the same time, however, you should also be aware that there is a more cynical reading of the Boston Tea Party, which would argue that the classic patriotic reading of these events may be in need of some revising.

Regardless of the high ideals of the Revolution, there were also more purely economic motivations in play. Ultimately, remember that the Boston Tea Party was in response to the Tea Act, which allowed the British East India Company to sell its tea directly to the colonists. In practice, this actually decreased the price of tea within the colonies, but in doing so, it undercut the colonial merchants, thus hurting their own economic interests. Therefore, they responded by aligning themselves closer with the independence cause. Thus, when discussing the colonial reaction against the Tea Act (and even the Boston Tea Party itself), you should be aware of how these more self-serving motivations might have shaped the events in question.

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One possible way of answering this question is to say that, though the Boston Tea Party protestors were justified in defying the British, the methods they chose were unacceptable. In other words, their actions didn't match up with their fundamentally righteous cause. The willful destruction of property was simply pointless and didn't really address the burning issue: taxation without representation. Also, the tea that the protestors dumped into Boston Harbor had already been bought and paid for; in short, it was someone else's property. By destroying that property, the protestors were setting a dangerous precedent.

The defense of private property against the impositions of the British was one of the key themes of the American Revolution, yet here, a group of self-proclaimed patriots showed their contempt for private property belonging to their fellow Americans. As well as being a pointless act of political theater, the Boston Tea Party also displayed breathtaking hypocrisy.

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To state whether the Boston Tea Party was justified or not is a subjective question. It is important to note, however, that the common theme surrounding this critical point in American history is that it indeed was justified because it was a step in the direction of independence. The colonies were being underrepresented in Parliament and the taxes being levied were not producing immediate benefits to the colonists.

On the other hand, American history tends to leave out some key points that could help you argue that it was not justified in some respects. Several of the taxes placed on the colonies were repealed already, such as the Stamp Act in 1766. The taxes...

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on tea were more of a point to the colonies that England still had the right of taxation. Once again, England faced stiff opposition to this tax and most ships never unloaded the tea to begin with. Boston, with loyalist Governor Thomas Hutchinson, decided to unload the tea and follow the law. This lead to the destruction of nearly 1 million dollars of tea in today's money.

A final point to argue that it was not justified is that the Tea Act of 1773 was essentially a win for the colonies already. Prior to this, the colonies were boycotting tea and causing the very powerful East India Company to face destruction. The Tea Act was a move to allow the ships to sell directly to the colonies and would result in cheaper tea. So, in a sense, the colonists destroyed nearly a million dollars in tea that would have been cheaper than they had before.

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There are several points to consider when answering this question.  I will explain some of the main ideas so you can draw your own conclusion.

The first point to consider is whether destruction of property is acceptable. The dumping of the tea into Boston Harbor was a very expensive act. This action cost the company a lot of money. Was there another way for the colonists to get their point across without destroying property? Is there ever a time or circumstance when it is acceptable to destroy property?

A second point to consider is were the actions of the colonists appropriate for what was making them angry. The colonists were upset because of tax on tea as well as the monopoly that the British East India Company had on the tea trade. Were these concerns significant enough to respond in the way the colonists responded?

Finally, were the colonists willing to accept the consequences for their actions? Whenever a group of people protests by breaking the law, the group must be prepared for the consequences that will follow. The colonists seemed very surprised by the British response to their actions, which was the passage of the Intolerable Acts.

In considering these points, you should be able to decide if the colonists were justified in their actions at the Boston Tea Party.

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