A solidly researched account of the 1773 Boston Tea Party.
Prolific historian Unger (Lion of Liberty: Patrick Henry and the Call to a New Nation, 2010, etc.) stresses that “taxation without representation” was an afterthought; Britain’s American colonies hated all taxes. A century of benign neglect had left them essentially self-governing and untaxed, and all reacted indignantly when London tried to assert control. Smuggling negated the first taxes, but matters deteriorated after 1760 when Parliament passed measures—the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Townsend Act, Tea Act—that produced little revenue but protests, violence and a pugnacious independence movement. Unger concentrates on Massachusetts, the first to erupt. Most readers will agree with his description of British arrogance, naiveté and disastrous tactics, but will squirm as the author turns to the opposition and its leaders, Samuel Adams and James Otis. Few historians deny it, but Unger emphasizes their unrelenting anger, which sprang as much from personal failures (and, in Otis’s case, mental illness) as love of liberty. A relentless agitator, Adams cultivated Boston’s underclass, provoking rampages of looting, arson and tarring-and-feathering which, in an era without police, went unpunished and convinced wealthy establishment figures such as John Hancock that opposing Adams would be ruinously expensive. Although revered today, the original Tea Party upset many patriots; Washington and Franklin denounced the destruction of private property. As usual, it was Britain’s harsh overreaction that united the opposition.
Well-delineated, contrarian history—though it may disappoint readers looking for an inspiring tale of freedom lovers thumbing their noses at despotism.