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“No Taxation Without Representation”

There were twelve years between the signing of the Treaty of Paris on February 1763 and the ride of Paul Revere on April 1775. Tension and anger between colonists and the empire increasingly rose to the point of no return. During the short period of 1762-1770 the British government had six ministries causing disruption in its colonial policy. Furthermore, it found itself fighting wars in Europe, West Indies and Asia which drastically increased the cost of servicing its national debt. At the top of its agenda was the lightening of the burden on British taxpayers.

Under British view, America was prosperous enough to bear part of the cost of its defense so Britain set to issue a series of  legislative acts to tax colonial residents. These acts are an excellent illustration of the socioeconomic forces that destroyed the British colonial empire and led to the American Revolution. The Stamp Act was the first serious American challenge to British power and the subsequent Stamp Act Congress the first attempt to organize the opposition. One of the resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress was that Britain did not have the right to impose an internal tax on the colonies without representation in British Parliament. The colonists did not agree with the concept of “virtual representation” because they thought they would not protect the interest of British subjects outside Britain. Even physical representation would not guarantee the protection of their rights as they were too far to make informed decisions. They feared that a small tax would be just the beginning of heavier taxation and would eventually destroy their prosperity and assets. However colonists did agree that Parliament had the power to enact measures to benefit trade but not to legislate and internal American tax.

External taxes, such as the Sugar Act,  Navigation Acts or Molasses Act had all been accepted as  tax affecting trade, a simple import duty.  External taxes were not regarded as a burden on colonial economic activity and colonists considered them as compensation for defense, access to European markets or just as cost of doing business with Britain. On the other hand an internal tax, such as the Stamp Act, was meant to raise revenue. This tax was not accepted by colonists unless it came from colonial assemblies.

 

Denunciation of the Stamp Act. Woodcut by Darley

 

From the time the British colonized the North American territory they tried to control and protect trade and all economic exchanges with its colonies using a mercantilistic policy, which was very much in vogue at the time. The American entrepreneurial spirit did not falter; instead they found ways around the laws which led into smuggling, corruption of the authorities and a lack of respect for British law. During this colonial period and for more than a decade before the outbreak of the American Revolution, new ideas of democracy emerged which were embraced by the opposition. At this time the identity of the colonist as Americans began to emerge as they joint forces to coordinate efforts in a common cause. The American view against British taxation was best represented by The Sons of Liberty headed by Samuel Adams who advocated for “No British taxation without representation”.

The series of legislative acts attempted by the British to raise revenue from the colonies in order to pay for its escalating military costs were received with heated protest. Among them are the Sugar act of 1764, Stamp act of 1765, Townshend Revenue act of 1767 and the Tea act of 1773.  Resentment for lack of representation in parliament and unmet demand for equal rights as British citizens led to the Boston Massacre in 1770 and in 1773 to the Boston Tea Party. The British government reaction to The Boston tea Party was the imposition of a package of five laws known as Coercive or Intolerable Acts with the purpose of restoring authority in its colonies.

Ultimately all the colonies, except Pennsylvania, were founded with tax exemptions and European immigrants were lured to colonize America based on cheap land and tax incentives. Now they were being considered as a source of tax revenue.

This website presents a comprehensive analysis of the actions against colonies that are thought to have brought the American Revolution as well as the British and the American views on taxation.

Related Information

 

Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act existed for almost two centuries to be fully repealed in 1849. The laws were designed to protect British economic interests in colonial trade and to protect its industry against the rapidly growing Dutch navigation trade.

Molasses Act 1733

Enacted to protect sugar plantations in the West Indies. This act was not designed to raise revenue but it was part of England’s mercantile policy of the time and a continuation of the Navigation Acts.

Sugar Act 1764

Known as Sugar and Molasses Act, it required all colonial merchants to pay a certain amount of tax per imported gallon of sugar and molasses.

Stamp Act 1765

The primary goal was to raise money needed for military defenses of the colonies. The revenue was created by making the American population purchase stamps that became a legal requirement for all official documents, licenses, contract, newspapers and a long list of other paper items.

Quartering Act 1765

The act required colonial assemblies to provide housing, food and drink to British troops stationed in their towns.

Townshend Act 1767

Designed as a smarter way to raise revenue as opposite to the heavy-handed Stamp Act passed a year earlier. The new law introduced a series of duties on common imports rather than taxing income.

Tea Act 1773

The Tea Act was intended to benefit the East India Company by giving them the exclusive right to sell tea in the colonies, creating a monopoly which the colonists perceived as another means of “taxation without representation”.

Intolerable Acts 1774

Also known as Coercive Acts, Intolerable Acts were a package of five laws implemented by the British government with the purpose of restoring authority in its colonies.

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