The American Revolution Was a Culture War

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Mises Institute

Two hundred and forty-seven years ago this month, a group of American opponents of the Crown’s tax policy donned disguises and set about methodically destroying a shipment of tea imported into Boston by the East India Company. The vandals trespassed on privately owned ships in Boston Harbor and threw the tea into the ocean. These protesters were thorough. Not content with having destroyed most of the company’s imported tea that night, the activists later discovered another tea shipment which had been unloaded at a warehouse in Boston. The activists then broke into the warehouse and destroyed that tea, too. Total damages amounted to more than $1.5 million in today’s dollars. 

This was the work of the Sons of Liberty, a group led in part by Samuel Adams and which would become known for acts of resistance, arson, and violence committed against tax collectors and other agents of the Crown. Notably, however, as time went on, acts of resistance in America escalated, at first into widespread mob violence, and then into military action and guerrilla warfare. 

Why did many Americans either engage in this behavior or support it? The simplistic answer has long been that the colonists were angry that they were subjected to “taxation without representation.” This is the simplistic version of history often taught in grade school. The reality, of course, is that the conflict between the “patriots” and their former countrymen eventually became a deeply seated (and violent) culture war.

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