What Was the Tea Act?

A coin from the British East India company.
A coin from the British East India company.

The Parliament of Great Britain passed the Tea Act on May 10, 1773. The objective of the Act was to grant the British East India Company a monopoly in selling tea to the American colonies. Before the passing of the Act, the company had been financially troubled which resulted in 17 million pounds of tea held in stock. The Act would allow the British East India Company to sell its tea to the vast American colonies’ markets and not just the London markets. However, the Act was rejected by the colonies.

Provisions of the Tea Act

Before the introduction of the Tea Act, the British exclusively sold their tea through auctions in London. After that, they were obligated to pay a tax per one pound of tea sold which was burdensome to the British East India Company. Hence, the Tea Act was a great relief to the company. The Act allowed the company to directly export its tea to the American colonies which would lead to an expansion of its markets. Additionally, the British East India Company would enjoy duty-free export of tea from Britain. The taxes imposed by the Townshend Acts and those taxes remitted by the colonies remained in force.

The provisions of the Tea Act did not go over well with the colonists in the American colonies. Consequently, merchants, artisans, and smugglers joined forces to oppose the delivery and distribution of the British East India Company’s tea. Most of the tea that the company shipped from Britain could not be offloaded due to the opposition. Additionally, the authorized agents of the company were also harassed. The climax of the resistance of the Tea Act came on December 16, 1773, in an event known as the Boston Tea Party. Rebels in Boston disguised themselves as North Americans, boarded the tea ships, and dumped the tea cargo overboard in protest. Instead of seeking dialogue, the British Parliament aggravated the situation by passing the punitive Coercive Acts and appointing Thomas Cage as the royal governor of Massachusetts. Consequently, the colonies organized the American Revolutionary War that took place in April 1775.

Implications of the Tea Act

A salient objective of the Tea Act was to undercut the prices of illegal tea which was smuggled into the North American British colonies. Consequently, the colonists would resort to buying company tea that incorporated the Townshend duties. Agreeing to purchase the tea meant that the colonists supported the Parliament of Britain’s right of taxation. The bone of contention in this matter was that about 85% of tea consumed in America at the time was smuggled Dutch tea.

Repeal of the Tea Act in 1861

In a bid to end the American Revolutionary War, the Parliament of Great Britain repealed the oppressive Taxation of Colonies Act 1778. Nevertheless, the war was unstoppable. The colonies called the Tea Act a “dead letter” leading to its removal from the books in 1861.


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