riots are just revolutions not yet validated by history

This meme is being shared around on social media.


I find it amusing, personally. Rather on point.

I’m interested in the reactions to it on my various friends pages–some people respond very negatively, or with interesting interpretations of history!

For example, in one thread on the page of one of my meme-sharing friends, someone claimed it was different for two reasons:

  1. The patriots didn’t destroy anything but the tea, and they cleaned up afterward
  2. They never looted or set fire to anything

So obviously–just knowing mob mentality and how excited people in large groups work–that’s ridiculous on the face of it, and I kind of guffawed at that ridiculous statement. Then, me being me, I went to refresh my memory on the whole Boston Tea Party situation because wtf did happen with that, amiright?

Basically, Parliament passed the Tea Act on May 10, 1773, which pissed off politicians, patriots, merchants, and smugglers alike. After that, riots and demonstrations kinda broke out throughout the colonies in protest. People were all like, “No tea!” and England was like, “Yeah, tea!”

So when 600,000 lbs of tea showed up that October, shipped from the English-owned East India Company, the reception (to put it mildly) was not friendly. In New York and Philadelphia, angry mobs forced local officials to turn the ships away from the harbor without unloading their cargo..

In Annapolis, Maryland, rioting colonists boarded and burned one of the ships carrying East India Tea in their cargo–remember, mind you, that the ships themselves were not owned by the East India company, and they were likely carrying more than just tea in their cargo holds.

In New Jersey, the tea was unloaded and stored in a warehouse … which demonstrators torched.

I guess we can cross off the “didn’t destroy anything but tea,” and “never set fire to anything” claims, haha.

So that brings us so the actual event referenced in the meme, the Boston Tea Party. Basically, Governor Hutchinson was all like, These lawless rioters cannot intimidate me! I’m the governor of this town!, and he publicly made statements to that effect.

So when the tea ships arrived, Sam Adams went ahead and led a group of armed men down to the docks and basically told them–under threat of armed violence– Yeahhhhhh, you’re not gonna want to unload that tea. At which point Gov. H responds by calling in a freaking blockade of the harbor by the Royal Navy to prevent the ships from leaving with their cargo (presumably, it also prevented new ships from arriving with trade goods, thereby putting a temporary moratorium on trade?)

Basically, British law required ships to unload their cargo after 20 days in port. So if 20 days went by and the cargo remained unloaded, Gov. H would have an excuse to march his soldiers down and unload it under armed guard.

December 16 was the last day of the waiting period, and the colonists tried one last time to get their governor to let the ships leave harbor, but he was all, nah bitches. So all the fine British citizens of Boston went on home and covered their faces with ash and shoe-black, and dressed in buckskin and leathers.Around 9 pm, under cover of dark, 70 or so men marched to the wharf with tomahawks and clubs in order to board the ships, where they destroyed 342 chests of tea, which were worth an estimated £10,000 — £18,000 at the time.

Interestingly, this specific incident may be where people are getting the idea the patriots didn’t loot, and that they cleaned up after themselves–several accounts of the Boston Tea Party note that the organizers of the riot specifically ordered the participants not to take any of the precious tea, because it would undermine their cause, and at least one (from a children’s textbook, which also put the riot in the afternoon) claimed the patriots even swept and tidied the deck after they were done destroying the tea.

The eyewitness account of George Hewes, a participant in the evenings events, recollects seeing one man fill his pockets with tea. When the patriots attempted to apprehend the fellow, he jumped to the dock and escaped–which means there’s at least one documented incident of looting in relation to the Boston Tea Party riots … guess we can cross “never looted” off the list, too.

Which pretty much means that if the sanitized elementary-school version of patriot protesters neatly sweeping the deck post-riot is in any way accurate, (maybe just to make sure not a whit of tea could be saved?), it’s only one sad sliver of accuracy for one riot, because there doesn’t seem to have been any such clean up after the warehouse and ship arson tea riots which preceded the Boston Tea Party.

As punishment to this escalating series of event, culminating in the Boston Tea Party, Parliament passed the Coercive (aka Intolerable) Acts, which—among other things:

  • closed the port of Boston until all the destroyed tea was paid for
  • expanded the Governor’s powers as the King’s representative
  • made it more difficult to convict royal officials of crimes.

Less than a year and a half later, the Revolutionary War began.

What’s interesting to me is that it seems current historians estimate about 40 percent population support for the patriot cause in the colonies. Apparently, colonist-patriots were just successful at getting their message out via the use of protest tactics, vigilante justice, property destruction, and riots, which they used to harass, intimidate, and undermine the institutions of authority and those neutral or opposed to their cause.

I think the most interesting thing about reading history isn’t the differences, but the similarities.



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