New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, through peaceful protests, had sent ships fulled with tea back to England in 1773. The tea was subject to a reduced tax, but the colonists insisted on “No taxes without Representation.” Peaceful and united Boston opposition to the tea should have had the same effect as New York, Philadelphia and Charleston. Unfortunately, Thomas Hutchinson, the Boston born, British appointed Governor of Massachusetts, ordered warships to prevent the three Tea ships in the Boston Harbor from returning to England.
On December 16, 1773, 20 or so men dressed as Native Americans threw 90,000 lbs. of tea into the Boston River over a 3 hour period. It did not have the intended effect of eliminating the British tax on Tea. In fact, it had the opposite effect. The British Parliament had been on the verge of changing the tea tax. In response and outrage to the destruction of the Tea, the British parliament responded with “the Intolerable Acts” which sparked the American Revolutionary War. Over 25,000 people died in battles in the war.
For more information, see Debunking Boston Tea Party Myths on Historynet.com
The destruction of the Tea was not universally applauded in the colonies. Both George Washington and Benjamin Franklin spoke out against it. It is likely that without the brash/rash act on the part of the men, the Tea Tax would have been repealed, as the Stamp Act had been six years before. It is probable the American Revolutionary War would have occurred anyway, but, it is also possible that self government would have come to the United States as it came to Canada, over an extended period, without any loss of life.