December 13, 2017
Your kids have finally finished eating their Halloween candy, which means that the real holidays are right around the corner. But before you sit down to open presents, December 16th marks the 244th anniversary of an important holiday in tax history — a pop-up costume ball in Boston Harbor called the Boston Tea Party.
From 1698 through 1767, Britain's Parliament passed a series of laws giving the East India Company a monopoly on the British tea trade, forcing the colonies to buy their tea from British wholesalers, and slapping hefty taxes on it all. But Dutch traders, who paid no tax, could sell their tea for less, costing the East India Company a fortune. (If you remember Miami Vice in the 1980s, try picturing a colonial-era Crockett and Tubbs, dressed in fly white buckskins, chasing Dutch bootleggers in a sleek Italian brigantine.)
In 1767, Parliament passed the Indemnity Act to lower the tax on tea to compete with the Dutch. (Earl Gray was just three years old, so he didn't vote.) But they needed a "payfor" to make up the lost revenue, so they brewed up the Townshend Acts taxing colonial imports, including tea. (Hmmmm . . . sounds like the sort of horse-trading today's Congress is up to right now with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.) Five years later, the Indemnity Act expired, and everyone was back where they started. (Sort of like what happened in 2013 when the Bush tax cuts expired . . . . )
The Tea Act of 1773 brought things to a head. The new law actually lowered the price of tea to undercut the smugglers. But the colonists still hated Parliament taxing them without their consent. They hated how England used those taxes to pay colonial governors and judges, thus insulating them from local influence. And that's where things stood in November, 1773, as the tea ship Dartmouth sailed into a Boston Harbor steeped in resentment and controversy.
British law required the shipper to unload and pay the tax within 20 days. But colonists, who gathered by the thousands, were determined to prevent that. On the night of December 16, the final deadline, a group of 30 to 130 of them boarded the Dartmouth and two more ships. A few of them sported elaborate Mohawk warrior costumes to hide their faces and show their loyalty to American identity. They spent three hours dumping 342 chests of tea into the water. The next day, future President John Adams wrote in his diary:
"There is a Dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity, in this last Effort of the Patriots, that I greatly admire . . . . This Destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting, that I cant but consider it as an Epocha in History."
The Tea Party set all sorts of consequences in motion besides the obvious "American Revolution" thing. (Does that remind you of Taylor Swift's song, "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together"?) If you're a coffee drinker, for example, you should know that coffee first became popular here as an alternative to "unpatriotic" tea. (Sort of like renaming french fries "freedom fries" during the Second Iraq War . . . . )
244 years later, we still resent paying taxes we don't have to pay. The good news is, you don't have to don a Mohawk headdress and row out into the middle of the harbor for three hours of creative vandalism to pay less. You just need a plan. So call us when you're ready to save, and let us give you something to celebrate!