Thomas Jefferson

Political Tensions 1770-1775

Summary Political Tensions 1770-1775

While the House of Burgesses and Parliament were on remarkably good terms in the early stages of the 1770s, such equilibrium proved to be an aberration. The empire found itself in a dire financial straits yet again in 1773, this time not due to military costs but to the increasingly burdensome operation of the East India Company, which was dangerously close to bankruptcy. In an attempt to revive flagging operations in India, Parliament passed a Tea Act which provided a tax break to imperial merchants that chose to ship their tea from India via England to America.

By this measure, the British hoped to profit doubly, as sales from India would presumably increase while the standing import tax on tea would generate revenue from America. Economically, the plan was sound, as the British-made tea from India was cheaper to the American colonial than the competing Dutch brand even after taxes. Nevertheless, the Tea Act contained a politically objectionable aspect that Parliament failed to calculate.

Once again, the Commonwealths of Massachusetts and Virginia led the cries of protest, viewing the Tea Act as a manipulative move designed by Parliament to turn an imperial profit at the expense of the American colonies. Reaction against the Tea Act was especially strong in Massachusetts, where a group of rebels led by Samuel Adams initiated a massive protest on December 16, 1773, when they destroyed ninety thousand pounds of East Indian tea by dumping it into Boston Harbor. Similar damages occurred in a related protest in New York the following April.

The British reacted to this mass vandalism by passing a series of measures collectively known as the Intolerable Acts. Among these, one of the most objectionable was the Boston Port Act, which was to close down the port of Boston until further notice effective June 1, 1774. In the days leading up to the activation of the Boston Port Act, the House of Burgesses rallied once again to defend the rights of their fellow colonials in Massachusetts. A day of fasting and prayer was proclaimed, and a solidarity resolution, perhaps written by Jefferson, was passed. Due to what he found to be inflammatory language, the royal governor, the Earl of Dunmore, dissolved the House of Burgesses once more, a mere fourteen months after their previous dissolution.

What was formerly mere novelty had become tendentious habit, and the deposed Virginia legislators again met of their own accord at a local tavern. There they agreed to form another non-importation association, and further, proposed to help organize a meeting of leaders from the several American colonies at the First Continental Congress, to be held in Philadelphia in September.

With a view to sending delegates to the First Continental Congress, the First Virginia Convention was held in August. Jefferson was stricken with dysentery en route to the convention, and fell too ill to attend. However, he did manage to send a position paper in his stead, which eventually garnered the title A Summary View of the Rights of British America. At the time of its writing, A Summary View was considered too radical for convention approval, but did serve to boost Jeffersons reputation as an effective revolutionary thinker, especially when it was reprinted in pamphlet form and distributed to a small but influential readership.

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