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John Adams Describes the Situation in Boston Five Days Prior to the Boston Tea Party
Digital History ID 133

Author:   John Adams


The Townshend duties were a dismal failure. Only 21,000 pound sterling in new duties were collected, while sales of British goods to the colonies fell by more than 700,000 pounds. In 1770, Parliament repealed all the Townshend duties except one, a duty on tea, to symbolize Parliament's right to tax the colonies. To avoid paying the duty, colonial merchants smuggled in tea illegally from the Netherlands.

The East India Tea Company, a huge British trading company with 18 million pounds of unsold tea cramming its warehouses, was tottering on the edge of bankruptcy. In order to sell its tea for less than smuggled Dutch tea, the company asked for the right to ship tea directly from India to America, instead of stopping first in England. The East India Company also wanted to name its own local tea distributors.

Lord Frederick North (1732-1792), who had become the King's chief minister in 1770, thought that the colonists would buy the cheaper British tea and thereby recognize Parliament's right to tax them. Many colonists, however, viewed the Tea Act as an insidious plot to get them to abandon their argument against taxation without representation.

In November 1773, three ships carrying tea for the East India Company docked at Boston Harbor. Opponents of the Tea Act, led by Samuel Adams, insisted that the ships return to their home port. Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson, knowing that after a 20-day waiting period the tea would be impounded for nonpayment of duties and sold at auction, refused to issue the permits required for the ships to leave the harbor. On December 16, patriots, disguised as Indians, threw 342 chests of tea, valued at 10,000 pounds sterling, into the harbor.

Writing just five days before Bostonians dumped the cargoes of tea overboard, John Adams still assumed that the British ships would return to England.


The last ministerial Maneuver has created a more open and determined Resistance than ever has been made before. The Tea Ships are all to return, whatever may be the Consequence. I suppose your wise Minister will put the Nation to some expense of a few Millions to quell this Spirit by another Fleet and Army. The Nation is so independent, so clear of Debt and so rich in Funds and Resources, as yet untried, that there is no doubt to be made, she can well afford it.

But let me tell those wise Ministers, I would not advise them to try many more such Experiments. A few more such Experiments will throw the most of the trade of the Colonies, into the Hands of the Dutch, or will erect an independent Empire in America--perhaps both.

Nothing but equal Liberty and kind Treatment can secure the attachment of the Colonies to Britain.

Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute

Additional information: John Adams to Catharine Macaulay

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