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The Tea Act of 1773 angered American political leaders for several reasons. First, it was seen as a sort of stalking horse for future regulations on American trade, which, while not necessarily as objectionable as direct taxes, were still to be feared. It also angered colonial merchants, who had profited by smuggling tea contrary to previous acts. In this capacity, the Act was intended to benefit the East India Tea Company, which could not compete with these smugglers. The Act actually lowered the price of tea for the consumer by allowing the East India Company to import it duty free. Many of these merchants were very powerful in American port cities, and so they were politically positioned to organize protests. Finally, many leaders also thought that the British were attempting to win popular acceptance of the Townshend duties on other imported goods, passed earlier. So the Tea Act, while not imposing new taxes on the colonists, was in many ways more provocative than previous legislation, and the Boston Tea Party famously held in response proved to be a major flashpoint in the imperial crisis.
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