In 1773, however, Britain furnished Adams and his allies with an incen- diary issue . The powerful East India Company, finding itself in critical fi- nancial straits, appealed to the Brit- ish government, which granted it a monopoly on all tea exported to the colonies . The government also per- mitted the East India Company to supply retailers directly, bypassing colonial wholesalers . By then, most of the tea consumed in America was imported illegally, duty-free . By sell- ing its tea through its own agents at a price well under the customary one, the East India Company made smuggling unprofitable and threat- ened to eliminate the independent colonial merchants . Aroused not only by the loss of the tea trade but also by the monopolistic practice in- volved, colonial traders joined the radicals agitating for independence .

In ports up and down the At- lantic coast, agents of the East In- dia Company were forced to resign . New shipments of tea were either re- turned to England or warehoused .

In Boston, however, the agents de- fied the colonists; with the support of the royal governor, they made preparations to land incoming car- goes regardless of opposition . On the night of December 16, 1773, a band of men disguised as Mohawk Indians and led by Samuel Adams boarded three British ships lying at anchor and dumped their tea cargo into Boston harbor . Doubting their countrymen’s commitment to prin- ciple, they feared that if the tea were landed, colonists would actually purchase the tea and pay the tax .

A crisis now confronted Britain . The East India Company had car- ried out a parliamentary statute . If the destruction of the tea went un- punished, Parliament would admit to the world that it had no control over the colonies . Official opinion in Britain almost unanimously con- demned the Boston Tea Party as an act of vandalism and advocated le- gal measures to bring the insurgent colonists into line .

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