Boston’s Brawling Tea Party Followed Massacre: Lewis Lapham

The cover jacket of the "Revolutionaries: A New History of America." The book is the latest by author and historian Jack Rakove. Source: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt via Bloomberg

Aug. 21 (Bloomberg) -- In trying to rule and raise revenue from the American colonies, the British found Boston especially irksome. The 1765 Stamp Act led to a boycott, and shops that continued to sell British goods there were coated with a heady mixture of mud and feces.

Colonists and redcoats routinely brawled in the narrow streets. An angry mob attacked officials trying to seize one of John Hancock’s ships for smuggling Madeira wine. More soldiers were sent to subdue the unruly town, resulting in the Boston Massacre that killed five civilians and wounded six.

Then came Dec. 16, 1773. A number of colonies had refused to pay the new British tax on tea and sent the ships back. But when Boston Governor Thomas Hutchinson decided not to let three cargo ships leave, whooping protesters, some dressed as Mohawk Indians, stormed onboard, took axes to 340 chests and dumped tea worth 9,000 pounds into Boston Harbor.

The British imposed tough sanctions on Beantown. Instead of isolating the unruly rebels, the draconian measures backfired, uniting colonists against their overseas masters. War broke out near Boston in 1775.

I spoke with Jack Rakove, author of “Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), on the following topics:

1. Founders in Action

2. Resisting Independence

3. Making Up the American Idea

4. Creative Political Thinking

5. Vying for Power

To listen to the podcast, click here. To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.