Why did the Boston Tea Party become an iconic event in the American Revolution
The Boston Tea Party remains one of the most important events in American political history as it was basically the spark which set everything off. The people in Boston were rebelling against the astronomically high duties payable on British tea which had to be borne by themselves and this was seen as a grossly unfair tax on the American nation. The maxim ‘No taxation without representation’ is the main element here and it was basically a revolt by the common people against the arbitrary and totalitarian British state who imposed its will without taking note of the consequences.
The Boston Tea Party and Alfred Young
In his skillfully written book, Young amnages to waeve two stories into one. First we have a dramatic account of the Tea party itself and its implications on the revolution and second we take a look at one of the heroes of the same event, a rather ordinary figure who went by the name of George Robert Twelve Hughes. Hughes was a nobody up to this point but his participation in the event and several others in Boston, including the Boston massacre ensured that he received cult status. In fact he was revered as late as 1835 when he was still alive at the venerable age of 90 and one of the last survivors of the Tea Party.
The event in itself was quite a simple one but very symbolic. In dumping the cargo of tea off the ship, the rebels were ensuring that the British despots understood that they were not going to be taken for a ride any longer. And in Boston which was supposedly a Loyalist stronghold, the air of revolution was something which perhaps came as a surprise to many. This was not the South where resistance to the British crown was part and parcel of living but the North where loyalist tendencies tended to be slightly stronger.
Intriguingly, Young also looks at certain aspects of the event which are perhaps not so well known by scholars. Principally, he discovers that the Boston Tea Party was not actually called that until over half a century later, undoubtedly the event was grossly romanticized by writers and patriots alike. He also argues that it was not really an event as such but simply a collection of men who decided to strike what initially seemed to be quite a puny blow to the British establishment.
However the event turned out to be the powder keg which exploded the whole American revolution into our political conscioussness. The fact that a ragtag collection of nobodies led by a shoemaker could arrive at such impunity was something which fired the American spirit in more ways than one. It eventually led to politicians and patriots taking up the mantle of revolution and also inspiring the first Continental Congress which led the way to the Declaration of Independence.
Of course the event in itself was a pretty ineffectual one but it has been romanticised to such an effect that it is embedded in the collective conscioussness of any American. And the fact that it was carried out by ordinary persons seems to add to its allure as Young continually argues. There are other events which have perhaps receded from memory such as the tarring and feathering of George Malcolm but these are also given importance by Young who dwells on them and tries to find out their true meaning too.
George Hughes – the unsung legend
George Hughes remains a focal point in the book and Young is at pains to point out his humble and simple origins. In a sense, Hughes is the focal point of all the events leading up to the Revolution and actual independence as he symbolizes the quest for freedom emabrked upon by Americans. As a humble shoemaker with very little education he personifies the whole American dream which wanted liberty and the pursuit of happiness as its main endeavours. Naturally there were other persons involved in the sequence of events and hughes obviously could not have doen it all on his own, that was virtually impossible. But he personifies the goal of every single person and through his participation in the Boston Tea Party, he assured himself immortality.
Conclusion – the party goes on
The Boston Tea Party remains one of the most important events in the collective American conscioussness. Although it has admittedly been over dramatized and perhaps slightly embellished too, it is of crucial importance to the American revolutionary psyche. Young’s book manages to grasp the intrinsic nature of the event and tied up with the other pesrpectives on ordinary human beings who became nothing short of legends, he strikes a chord which is very appealing. The party goes on today as if that tea had never been dumped in the sea, we might perhaps never had a revolution. It remains an essentially important event in American history.
Young A; The Shoemaker and the Tea Party: Memory and the American Revolution; Beacon