Commentary: America’s Revolutionary Beginnings

Boston Tea Party
by Ned Ryun


Warren climbed the wide steps from Marlborough Street to the door of the Province House, the old mansion with its Tudor-style chimney stacks and ornate gables built a century ago by a wealthy Boston merchant. But for generations now it had been the residence of the royal governors of Massachusetts. For a moment he studied the large royal seal affixed over the door, a reminder of the awesome empire that the governor represented, then looked above it to the eight-sided cupola crowning the mansion, noting the weathervane at the very top shifting in the breeze. It had always fascinated him as a child, the beaten copper weathervane of an Indian with its glass eyes and feathered bonnet, the Indian’s bow drawn, the arrow pointed in whichever direction the wind pushed it.

He knocked, taking a deep breath as he looked over his shoulder at the passing foot and horse traffic on the street behind him, wondering why the Governor General had requested his presence. The door opened, and a servant inspected Warren up and down.

“Dr. Joseph Warren to see General Gage,” Warren said. The servant motioned him in as Warren removed his hat and stepped into the house.

“The general is waiting for you in the library, sir,” the servant said, taking Warren’s hat, motioning towards the room. Warren nodded, opening the library door to see Gage seated in front of the fire, seemingly deep in thought. He turned to see Warren, rising to greet the young doctor.

“Thank you for coming,” he said, gesturing towards an open seat. “While I realize our last conversation was a sharp one, I rather hoped we might have another honest one in private about the state of affairs here in town.”

Warren hesitated for a moment, taking the measure of the man, wanting to see in his face and bearing any indication of fairness or reasonableness, of an Englishman willing to walk at least a few steps in the shoes of the colonists he governed on behalf of His Majesty. But Gage’s countenance gave no indication of anything.

Taking the seat, he crossed his leg as he sat there, hands folded, looking at Gage as he settled back into his own chair. “Care for a drink?” Gage asked, studying the doctor in turn, seeing that Warren was much younger than he’d realized and quite fastidious in his appearance.

Warren declined, so Gage got right to it. “It appears we have a situation on our hands, one that I hope we might avoid,” he said. “While I will never acknowledge in public you as a legitimate representative of the town, I am not unaware of the influences you have over certain segments of the population, including the selectmen.”

Warren let out a soft snort with a shake of his head. “Legitimate or not, I only seek to be reasonable. We are loyal subjects of the King and any conversation must begin with the understanding that we have ancient and sacred rights just like every other Englishman.”

“Reasonable?” Gage asked, settling back in his seat. “There are many in Parliament, and even in the royal palace, who think you and the entire lot of Whigs are being quite unreasonable, that you are a backwards mob. You think yourselves so principled with all your talk of rights and covenants and ancient charters. But in London, you are viewed as an ugly swamp of prejudice and hatred, people who refuse to come out of the dark ages and into a more enlightened one. In fact, so much so that my original orders included the arrest and transportation to Nova Scotia for trial of Sam Adams, John Hancock and one Dr. Joseph Warren.” Gage paused to let the words sink in. “We have simply asked that you pay your share of the common defense. As for rights, with rights come responsibilities.”

“Those in London think themselves so enlightened, but with their dismissal of our natural rights and traditions, they are deeply regressive. Because we will not acknowledge their right to completely subvert the constitution on a whim to suit their desires, they respond with force,” Warren replied. “We are of the same people, but we are now treated as a conquered one, forced to pay tribute and not treated like Englishmen just as yourself.”

He paused, shaking his head. “I’m fully aware that we have responsibilities as loyal subjects to the Crown, but how can you expect us to honor those when Parliament has made a mockery of our rights to speech and property? Our rights to be involved in governing ourselves? Which I would remind you, sir, we were accomplishing quite well for nearly a century and a half. Only now one might suspect that there are other forces at work, including ones residing in a certain company which are impatient that they cannot have their way for monetary reasons, rights be damned.”

Gage raised his hand to pause Warren and get a word in. “You are British subjects. Subjects of the Crown, and the Crown and Parliament seek for the American colonies to pay for the debt accumulated during the recent war. Is that really so hard to understand?”

“You demand payment without representation as though you were the great Lord and we your serfs, without us having a voice in the matter as though the Magna Carta did not exist, as if there were no Petition of Right. The current acts of the British government are in defiance of all these things. The King and His Privy Council have empowered you with authority that the British constitution never entrusted to them, or to you, yet you demand our submission when all we seek is to have an honest conversation, pointing back to these rights guaranteed to us. But when we dissent we are told our questions and concerns are seditious and rebellious, that we have no right to even question when our lives and property are being subjected to absolute power.” Warren looked at Gage. “It is a willful blindness to not see this. And then insult to injury is added when His Majesty and his government force the East India Company’s monopoly upon us in an attempt to destroy any hopes we might have at good and fair trade relations with England.”

Shaking his head, Gage replied, seemingly puzzled, “You act as though this isn’t the way of the world,” he said, a bemused look on his face. “I didn’t take you for a romantic idealist who refuses to accept reality.”

“I have seen this reality and know it has nothing to do with what is intended,” Warren replied calmly.

“Intended? By whom? By what? God?” Gage snapped. “There is God and there is the here and now with its God-ordained King and Parliament and their laws: you speak of the rule of law, yet you make a mockery of it.”

“You apparently believe the rule of law is whatever Parliament says it is,” Warren retorted. “As though a free people cannot govern themselves by their own laws made in harmony with inherent and natural rights.”

“Do you know what your problem is?” Gage replied, feeling his temper rising. “Democracy is too prevalent here and sedition freely flows from the pulpits.” He shook his head. “Whatever you might think of rights or what is intended, this madness in Boston must cease. You must understand that the port will not reopen. I will enforce the Port Act to the very last letter. Trade will not commence again until you have paid every last pound for the tea destroyed in Boston Harbor. And then you will pay the taxes to retire the debt like good and loyal subjects of the Crown.”

“Who is the dreamer now? We will not pay and you know that.” Warren replied calmly, shaking his head. “None of this is just, and nothing you say or do, no matter how many soldiers and muskets and cannons you have, will ever make it right. As for being a dreamer, look to yourself: can’t you see that your acts are uniting the various colonies around Massachusetts? I see reality quite clearly. The King’s royal governor delivers nothing less than threats backed by thousands of well-armed British regulars. Perhaps such a large force gives you confidence in thinking that somehow you will ram the tea and taxes down our throats and eventually the town of Boston will pay and then thank Parliament for the pleasure of it all. It will never happen. It doesn’t matter how many soldiers or muskets you might have: all the armies of the earth wouldn’t make it right.”

Gage sniffed, working to keep his anger and frustration from boiling over—less from the insolence of Warren’s lecture and his tone, than a growing sense that the young doctor may not be a dreamer; that, in fact, this was the reality Gage must account for.

Staring at the fire for a moment, collecting himself, Gage said, “You cannot be immune to the fact that if no one will compromise in this, if each thinks himself right, there will eventually only be one way to settle the matter and it will be nothing less than civil war.”

“It pains me to even consider what might happen,” Warren replied. “But until Parliament acknowledges the wrongs it has done to us, and the abuses we have received at its hands, and reverses course on every last one of those intolerable acts, whatever comes next would appear almost inevitable.” He stood, looking down at Gage. “There can be no compromise on this issue; to submit to it is to make a mockery of any rights we have as Englishmen; you would force us to act as though they never existed in the first place.”

Gage nodded, remaining seated as Warren exited the room and then the house.

A few moments later the side door creaked open as Kemble walked in.

“You heard, I assume?” Gage asked.

Kemble nodded. “The man borders on being a religious zealot and there is no reasoning with a zealot. No amount of words will dissuade him, only muskets and cannon.”

Gage took a last look at the fire, wondering if it was the heat from the hearth he was feeling or the frustration he felt in his chest. Turning to Kemble he said, resignedly, “Then we had better hope we have more muskets and cannon than he does when words cease.”

The carriage clattered across the cobblestones as the massive north gates to St. James Palace, located in the City of Westminster, eased open to welcome it into the courtyard as William Legge, Second Earl of Dartmouth, looked out the window at the arrayed guards.

He was 43 years old now, having served as the First Lord of Trade before the position of Secretary of State for the Colonies was created for him in Prime Minister North’s government. Slender, youthful looking despite his balding head, born into great wealth and known as the “Psalm Singer” for his deeply held religious beliefs, he was directly in charge of the American operations, though it was a devil of a time now.

The carriage slowed to a stop, the door swung open and Dartmouth stepped out and walked the short distance across the courtyard, feeling the cool fall air before stepping into the warmer climes of the palace. A servant bowed, motioning for him to follow down the marble hallways, the men’s shoes clicking along as Dartmouth followed down one hallway, up a flight of stairs, then down another hallway before stopping at a large ornate door.

The door was opened as Dartmouth was announced. North was already there, as was the King. North, who also happened to be Dartmouth’s step-brother, rose and greeted him, but George III remained seated, nodding as Dartmouth bowed.

“Well, Dartmouth, what do you say?” North asked, gesturing towards a seat near the king.

“Not terribly good news, I’m afraid,” Dartmouth said, opening his satchel to pull out several sheaves of paper. “I’m afraid that for all intents and purposes the royal government in Massachusetts has collapsed. The colonists have formed a Provincial Congress while the other colonies have formed a continental congress with numerous colonies in attendance in Philadelphia.” He paused. “We’ve also gotten word that arms are being smuggled from Amsterdam into Rhode Island; a schooner out of New Haven took on a shipment of gunpowder, muskets, and small cannons. Word has also come from Hamburg that a ship intended for New York was loading gunpowder.”

“We’ve asked our man at The Hague to inform the Prince of Orange we consider such actions highly illegal regarding any arms or gunpowder smuggled out of Holland to the colonies,” North added.

“Though I believe it will be necessary for Your Majesty to also sign an order forbidding any shipments of powder or weapons to America.”

“The people of Rhode Island and Massachusetts are criminals led by fanatics,” George muttered. “Hardly the actions of colonies wish to come to some sort of understanding. But as I’ve been telling Lord North, based on this report and others, I’ve already decided that the die is cast. The colonies must either submit or triumph. I do not wish to come to severer measures, but we cannot retreat. I will not have these colonies undermining order in the empire.”

North nodded. “I understand, Your Majesty. But the matter does seem to be getting out of hand. We’re not really dealing with only the rabble in Boston but the entire countryside of New England as well as other colonies.”

“Then we had better unremittingly pursue the measures already in place,” George replied. “I would hope that they come to their senses sooner rather than later, but if they don’t, they will regret it.”

“I’m not convinced they’ll come to their senses, Your Majesty,” Dartmouth hesitated, looking at North before looking at the King and adding, “There is a hardening of their ways. General Gage asks me for 20,000 troops, a million pounds sterling, two if I can manage, and more warships, all of which are simply out of the question. However, in his last dispatch he said he is barely able to restrain the population of Boston, much less Massachusetts, nor is he able to effectively discourage the smuggling.” Dartmouth stopped, looking at North before looking back at the King. “Gage is even suggesting that perhaps the suspension of the Intolerable Acts could perhaps ease the tension.”

George shook his head. “Were they not his ideas to begin with?”

North nodded. “I’m afraid we’re discovering that Gage is a far more mild general than we’d hoped for who clearly lacks the fortitude to enforce the acts of Parliament.”

George waved his hand. “Suspending the acts is out of the question, a show of weakness. The very idea that we should suspend the acts because the colonists are throwing a fit is repellant and absurd! They are in a state of rebellion!” He punctuated his words by slapping his hand down on the table with every word. “We either defend the right of Parliament to govern or we will be living an unhappy fiction. If the colonies insist, blows must come that must be felt. To do otherwise, to indulge these subjects across the Atlantic will eventually lead to the dissolution of the entire empire.”

North nodded, looking at Dartmouth. “We understand, Your Majesty, and I agree that Parliament cannot concede anything to the American colonies. But you must understand that if they do not come to their senses, there will be fighting.”

Dartmouth nodded in agreement. “The Suffolk Resolves make it very clear that they are preparing to fight and I have ordered several more regiments to Boston, as well as three more warships.”

“That is all well and good, but it is now about the principle of the matter,” George replied. “The colonies are subjects of the Crown. They are governed by Parliament and if we say they are to pay taxes to fund the common defense, they will pay taxes, dammit. We incurred nearly 60 million pounds sterling in debt defending them and I can assure you they are the main benefactors of it all!”

“I am fully aware of that, Your Majesty,” North replied. His years as Chancellor of the Exchequer in charge of national finances and taxation had exposed him with intimate detail to how and where the debt had exploded over the Seven Years War; it now required half the national budget just to pay the interest on the debt. For him, as much as anything, the American dilemma was about solving the English debt crisis before it became an existential one, a detail apparently willfully ignored by the recalcitrant colonists.

“Even if the colonies can be brought to their senses, there must always be one tax, just to remind them that we have the right to do so,” George added. He sniffed, eyeing both North and Dartmouth.

“Which is understood,” Dartmouth replied calmly. “But General Gage tells me that despite his best attempts, he is uncertain if he will be able to keep the peace much longer. I would argue that we must seek reconciliation.”

“Gage is weak,” George replied. “And reconciliation only on our terms.”

“I do not disagree with those sentiments,” North said. “But Gage is the best we have at the moment. Lord Amherst has made it very clear he will not return to the colonies. As for reconciliation, we will continue to do our best, but I would remind His Majesty that if the colonists rebel and there is armed conflict, we will lose all hope of recouping any monies for the debt and in fact will incur more debt if the colonies, God forbid, gain independence.”

George shook his head in frustration at the entire situation, waving his hand at both men. “That will be enough for today, gentlemen. Do your best to solve this, but if they want war, I will be  more than happy to give it to them.”

Dartmouth and North bowed, retreating from the room together. Emerging from the door, North grabbed Dartmouth’s arm and said, “You do realize that if we go to war with the colonies, the current national debt will be dwarfed.”

“My dear Lord North, trust me. I’m well aware,” Dartmouth replied grimly.

“Do your best to tamp the matter down, Dartmouth, though for the life of me, I cannot see anything short of war solving the matter.”

The other children were fast asleep as Warren threw his heavy coat on, wrapping a scarf about his neck as he put his hat on firmly.

“I’ll be back soon,” he said, stooping over to kiss Elizabeth on the cheek. “If you need me for anything, I’ll be at the Green Dragon. Bolt the front door after I leave. I have a key to let myself back in.”

The tavern was only several blocks from the house; down Hannover, on the left-hand side where Union intersected with it. Hanging over the door of the tavern just below a second story window swung the dragon, made of sheet copper, painted green, two of its feet resting on the iron bar protruding from the brick wall, its tongue darting out, its wings somewhat extended, tail coiled as it slowly creaked in the late November breeze. The St. Andrew’s Lodge had purchased the building in 1764, giving it the name of “Freemasons’ Arms” and it was here in 1769 that Warren had organized the Massachusetts Grand Lodge with himself as the grandmaster.

But with the placement of the green dragon emblem it became known as the Green Dragon Tavern, a convenient meeting place on the lower edge of the North End. It had seen its share of memorable events over the years, including the feast celebrating the Masons in 1772 in the large gardens of the Dragon that stretched from the tavern almost to the Mill Pond.

It was also where Warren, Adams, and Revere, with Hancock later included, met with the North End Caucus, the political club formed of mechanics that blended the wealth and society connections of Hancock and Warren with the working class organizing of Adams and Revere, eventually wielding considerable influence over the local elections, including the selectmen of Boston.

But he was not here on Mason or North End Caucus business tonight. Stepping into the tavern’s warmth and sounds of voices, Warren nodded at the barkeep as he walked toward the back room and down the flight of stairs into the cellar.

The room was dimly lit, the air a bit heavy with the scent of burning candles intermingled with the smell of spilled ale. The others were already assembled; Sam Adams, John Hancock, Paul Revere and Dr. Benjamin Church, the inner circle of the Whigs and the leaders of the resistance to the parliamentary acts. These meetings began loosely, but over the last year, became more formalized in the Green Dragon cellar to discuss plans and strategies.

“We were almost about to start without you,” Adams said as Warren slipped into the chair beside him.

“A late visit to a patient, and then dinner with the children before putting them to bed,” Warren said, shrugging as he slipped out of his coat and scarf. “What do we need to discuss tonight?”

“The King’s ministers are sending more ships and troops,” Revere started. “Apparently three warships and 600 marines. That’s the word in the stables and on the streets.”

Earlier that year Revere had gathered thirty of the most trusted tradesmen, known as mechanics, on the North End, dividing them into teams of two. There wasn’t an hour of the day or night that several of those teams weren’t patrolling the streets, slipping into taverns frequented by British officers and soldiers, eavesdropping on conversations loosened by flip and rum. The mechanics had of course many friends in many places and many customers, from the public houses and stables where the British officers drank and ate and kept their horses, to servants in houses where officers were quartered. All the information flowed back to Revere, which then flowed to the meetings around the table in the Dragon’s basement.

“That’s hardly a significant force,” Adams commented, sipping his ale.

“Certainly not the tens of thousands Gage was hoping for,” Church added.

“As some of you know, I spoke with Gage the week before last,” Warren said. “It’s clear the man is deeply concerned, not only with the state of things here in Boston, but across the colony.”

“How much do you think he knows?” Church asked.

“About?” Warren asked.

“About the organizing, about the militia across the colony outside of Boston, the stores of weapons we’re gathering.”

“I suspect very little; he speaks in generalities about muskets and cannon and smuggling, but perhaps he fears revealing sources,” Warren replied. “I know Kemble is doing his best to figure it all out.”

“And what will Gage do when he finds out?” Church asked.

“I’m not sure what he can do,” Hancock spoke for the first time. Though some called him the Prince of Boston, Hancock relished the local organizing. Even for a cellar meeting, however, he stood out in his fine silk suits. “He lacks the forces and resources to do much of anything and he knows it. That may be why he continues to talk about peaceful compromise; without enough men and enough firm intelligence, military action on a large scale isn’t an option.”

“Then we keep the pressure on,” Adams said. “We continue to acquire more supplies, push the militia to drill more and build out their numbers and we make life for the British in Boston as miserable as possible.”


It was late November as night fell over London as the joint session of the House of Lords and Commons was called to order for the opening of the new Parliament. A respectful quiet fell over the chamber, though muffled discussions could still be heard as George III took the rostrum and looked up to acknowledge Prime Minister North.

“My Lords and Gentlemen, it gives me much concern, that I am obliged, at the opening of this Parliament, to inform you that a most daring spirit of resistance and disobedience to the law prevails in the Province of the Massachusetts Bay and has in various parts broken forth in violences of a very criminal nature,” George III started, his voice carrying its usual confidence.

He felt a great deal of personal satisfaction that the recent parliamentary elections had secured Lord North an even larger majority of 320 seats, rendering the opposition largely impotent. With his new cabinet of “hawks,” North was firmly entrenched and could deal forcefully with the American colonies.

“These proceedings have been countenanced and encouraged in other of my colonies and unwarrantable attempts have been made to obstruct the commerce of this kingdom by unlawful combinations.” George shook his head. “This will not do. I have taken such measures, and given such orders, as I judged most proper and effectual for carrying into execution the laws which were passed in the last session of the late Parliaments the protection and security of the commerce of Subjects, and for the restoring and preserving order and good government, in the Province of Massachusetts Bay.”

Lord North and his members stood and applauded, while the Marquis of Rockingham and the Earl of Chatham, leaders of the opposition, remained seated, exchanging glances and whispering comments amongst themselves. “You may depend upon my firm and steadfast resolution to withstand every attempt to weaken or impair the supreme authority of this Legislature over all the dominions of my Crown, the maintenance of which I consider as essential to the dignity, the safety, and the welfare of the British empire!”

As he left Westminster, Lord North joined George III, walking the short distance to the King’s carriage. Before climbing in, George turned to North, as if an afterthought had just occurred to him. “I hope that tomorrow you and your cabinet might be able to secure a declaration that the American colonies are in a state of rebellion.”

With a slight bow, Lord North smiled. “Of course. We are of the same mind, your Majesty.”

– – –

Ned Ryun is a former presidential writer for George W. Bush and the founder and CEO of American Majority. You can find him on Twitter @nedryun.







Content created by the Center for American Greatness, Inc. is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a significant audience. For licensing opportunities for our original content, please contact [email protected].

Related posts