The Boston Tea Party triggered
the Revolution. In 1767 England had imposed new customs duties on her
English colonies. The wrath of the colonists culminated in a boycott of
English wares, which soon led to the abolition of most duties. England,
insisting on a demonstration of authority, maintained the duty on tea.
Ensuring the East India Company monopoly on tea and other staples, this
policy left American tea merchants burdened with high duties on the goods
they imported from England.
The American colonists, who had for some time considered
declaring independence from England, took the duty on tea as a welcome
excuse to do so. On 16 December 1773 open hostilities broke out. A group
of Revolutionaries threw an entire ship's cargo of tea into the murky
waters of Boston Harbor: 342 crates of tea worth 10,000 pounds sterling.
Over 2,000 bystanders applauded the patriots' deed: "This is the most
magnificent Movement of all. There is a dignity, a Majesty, a Sublimity,
in this last Effort of the Patriots that I greatly admire. This
destruction of the Tea is so bold, so daring, so firm, intrepid and
inflexible, and it must have so important Consequences, and so lasting,
that I cannot but consider it as an Epoch in History" was John Adams's
enthusiastic response to this remarkable demonstration of colonial
assertiveness. The English government retaliated swiftly, exacting harsh
penalties. The thirteen American colonies reacted with open revolt. Weary
of oppression and long accustomed to self-government on parliamentary
lines, the American settlers refused to surrender their economic and
political freedom to the English crown, which was thousands of nautical
miles away. Knit together by the events in Boston, the Americans took
their first united action as a free people by convening the First
Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774. England remained
intransigent; a war was inevitable.
While George Washington, the Commander-in-Chief of the
American Continental Army, was marching his troops from one battle to the
next, the Declaration of Independence was being drawn up. It was signed on
4 July 1776 in the Philadelphia State House. Among the signers were Thomas
Jefferson, its author, and Benjamin Franklin. Jefferson is quoted as
saying: "I am not a friend to a very energetic government", although he
wholeheartedly espoused the cause of American liberty. Another fervent
patriot was the painter John Trumbull, who later founded the American
Academy of Fine Arts in New York and became its first president. The son
of an English governor of Connecticut who supported the colonists'
struggle for independence, John Trumbull served as an
aide-de-camp to George Washington during the American Revolution.