A Tax Revolt or Revolting Taxes?
by Joseph Thorndike
Last Friday marked the 232nd anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, a fixture in the folklore of American nationalism. Every schoolchild learns the story of the tea, Boston Harbor, and a band of ersatz Indians. But what did the tea party mean? And more to the point, what is its legacy for contemporary American politics?
The Brewing Revolt
Taxation figures prominently in the narrative of American independence. The French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years' War) ended in 1763, leaving Great Britain in firm control of most of North America. But victory came at a steep price: Between 1754 and 1763, the British national debt rose from £75 million to £133 million. In London, leaders of the empire looked to the American colonies for help in paying the tab.
A series of revenue measures followed, including the notorious Stamp Act of 1765. Colonial leaders complained that stamp taxes were unconstitutional, insisting that direct levies designed to raise revenue -- rather than regulate trade -- were the preserve of colonial legislatures. To drive the point home, political and commercial leaders organized a series of protests, including a remarkably effective boycott of British goods. Parliament eventually gave in, rescinding the stamp tax in 1766.