Today in History: The Boston Tea Party took place in 1773

December 16th, 2013

On the night of December 16th, 1773, the Boston Tea Party seized 342 crates of tea and threw them into the harbor. The action was taken in protest of the Tea Act passed on May 10, 1773, which allowed the British East India Company to undersell tea in the colonies, to the detriment of colonial merchants. 

That December night, a small group of The Sons of Liberty, along with leader Samuel Adams, dressed as Mohawk Indians and headed toward the dock. Watched by a crowd of onlookers, they boarded the boats and threw chests of tea into the harbor.As punishment for the destruction of 90,000 pounds of tea, the English government passed the Trade Act of 1774, which closed the port of Boston. The other colonies banded together to help supply goods to Massachusetts, putting them further on the road toward revolution.  

The Boston Tea Party is one of the most well-known political protests in the history of the United States. It also inspired Nathaniel Hawthorne’s powerful short story “My Kinsman, Major Molineux.” Set in the 1730s, it shows civil unrest already developing between the colonies and their mother country. The story describes the disturbing adventures of a young man, Robin, who has come from the country to the city (probably Boston) in search of his kinsman, Major Molineux, an officer of the British colonial government, who had offered to help him make his mark in life. It offers a sobering picture of social and political life amidst a people, Hawthorne tells us at the start, who “looked with jealous scrutiny to the exercise of power, which did not emanate from themselves.”

Read the story and consider what Robin learns from his nighttime adventures. What do they tell us about the various tensions—personal, social, and political—that they explicitly and tacitly reveal, for example, between town and country, past and future, church and society, authority and individualism, the rule of law and mob rule, or between youth and age? Do you think that Hawthorne shares the crowd’s attitude toward Major Molineux? Does he share the advice of the kindly gentleman, both for Robin and for the republic? What, finally, is Hawthorne saying about the promise and pitfalls of our new republic?

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