Taxation Without Representation

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The end of the Seven Years War (1763) came at a steep price for Britain; ??75 million to be exact. This enormous amount of borrowed money doubled Britain’s national debt (Land, Jeremy, 73). George Grenville, the prime minister in 1763, found that the American colonies produced ? 2,000 a year, while their Caribbean colonies produced ? 200,000 a year (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.1). To deal with this pecuniary problem, Britain created a series of fair, new policies and taxes for their colonies which lead to the American Revolution.

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Some of the earliest acts enforced by the British, even before the end of the Seven Years War, were the Navigation Acts of the 1660’s. The Navigation acts were a prime example of mercantilist policies. Mercantilist policies are policies that utilize strict regulation of trade between the mother country and its colonies to benefit the former, usually by having the mother country trade with other nations by maintaining more exports than imports to enrich themselves (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 2.6.1). In 1651, the first Navigation Act was passed. The act limited the Dutch trading with the American colonies by requiring all goods being imported or exported to be transported on English ships (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 2.6.1). In the years 1660, 1663, 1673, and 1696, more Navigation Acts were passed; these acts forced all goods to be carried on American or British ships, consequently making all goods be transshipped through Britain (“Navigation”).

The White Pines Act of 1711 was another mercantilist policy passed. This act prohibited Americans from cutting down white pine trees because they were to be used as masts on Royal Navy ships. This act mainly impacted shipbuilders, sawmill operators, and lumberjacks (Brands, Breen, Williams, and Gross, 57 – 62). Next the Molasses Act in 1733 increased taxes on molasses importation. Unfortunately, this act increased smuggling in the colonies, and promoted corruption with customs officials because the colonists knew they could smuggle the goods in for cheaper prices than buying legal products (Hutagalung). In 1764, the Revenue Act, or Sugar Act, was put into action by Prime Minister Grenville. The act put a tax on sugar and raised the penalties for smuggling (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.2).

A stricter act was passed in 1765, the Stamp Act; the act forced the colonists to buy special stamps to place on all legal paper documents. Two years later, in 1767, The Townshend Acts were created. This act taxed all tea, paint, glass and paper being imported into the colonies (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.3). The Tea Act (1773), was created to increase the sales of the East India Company. The act itself created a monopoly on tea trade with the Americans, who were not happy with this act (“The”). The Tea Act provoked a group of Bostonians to dress as Indians, board a ship, and toss over 340 chests of tea into the harbor; this iconically became known as the Boston Tea Party (“The”). As a response to the Boston Tea Party, The Coercive Acts (1774) were created; the act “closed the Port of Boston, annulled the Massachusetts colonial charter, dissolved or severely restricted that colony’s political institutions, and allowed the British to quarter (house) troops in private homes” (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.5) All of the aforementioned acts were examples of mercantilist policies because Britain viewed the colonies pursuit of a foreign market as an economic threat, and therefore passed these acts to restrict the colonists trade.

While these acts were passed, many colonists became increasingly irate. The colonists believed Parliament had no right to tax them. It was considered a violation of their rights. Under British Constitution, citizens could not be taxed without a parliament representatives consent. Since the American colonies had no representation in Parliament, they therefore believed they could not be taxed without representation (Erb). The colonists also disliked the taxation, because they had grown used to governing themselves with the House of Burgesses (Dockswell).

Protest against the Stamp Act produced a string of pamphlets and newspapers, all justifying colonists rights. Most colonists called for a non-importation movement of British goods. Extremists, however, did not limit themselves to paper; people took to the streets and attacked tax collectors, British officials, and even the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.3). To form a response, the Stamp Act Congress was convened. The House of Representatives required the colonies to send delegates to New York to compose a response to parliament; this response was called the “Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonies” (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.3). This declaration stated that the colonists would not be taxed without representation. On March 18th, 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed; but misunderstanding why the colonist were upset, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act (1766), which reasserted the power of Parliament to govern and tax the colonies (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.2).

Later, in response to the Townshend Acts, a nonimportation movement occurred. This movement boycotted British goods in an attempt to force recognition of the colonists political and economic rights (Chauhan). After the Tea Act (1773) and the Coercive Acts were passed (1774), a livid group of colonists formed the Tar and Feathering Committee. This committee would take a ship captain hostage, strip him down, pour hot tar on him, cover his body in feathers, and drag the captain through town. Seen as public humiliation to the colonists, the vulgar act also served as a form of torture and resulted in a painful and scaring mess (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.5).

All the acts and protest that occurred made the colonists realize it was time to become independent from Britain. This was done when the Second Continental Congress convened from May 1775 to March 1781. This established the Continental Army on June 1775, and appointed diplomats. Then on July second, 1776, they voted for independence. Officially on July fourth, 1776 The Declaration of Independence was adopted (Dockswell).

The acts and taxes the British government implemented were fair for many reasons. Firstly, the reason the British needed to tax its colonies was because they went to war to protect the American colonists. The Seven Years War originally started because the French kept expanding into the Ohio River valley, which led to armed conflict with the colonists (“The Seven”). Also, the American colonies were the lowest taxed British colony. “[A comparison of the tax rates] in Britain and the Colonies in 1765 shows that compared to the inhabitants of Britain and Ireland, the tax burden on the American colonists in the 1760s was low” (Keene, Cornell, O’Donnell, 4.1.1).

Additionally, the British government actually did have the power to tax the colonists. After the Declaratory Act (1766) was passed, parliament had the power to tax the colonies. Moreover, some of the taxes benefitted the colonists. For example, the Tea Act actually made tea cheaper for colonist to purchase, because the tea was shipped tax-free (Kramer). It has also been found that the Navigation Acts of the 1600s posed no financial threat to the colonist. “[It is] estimated that the burden was approximately $1.24 per person or two percent of colonial per capita income. But when this was set against the benefits and especially military and naval protection ($1.775 million overall, and a little less than $1 per person) the net costs were less than one million dollars, or about 41 cents per person in 1770” (“Navigation?? Economic”).

After the Seven Years War, Britain acquired a large debt and began to fairly tax its colonies. Though the American colonists enjoyed many privileges such as being protected by a strong mother country and were taxed less than the citizens of Britain, they were outraged that taxes could be raised again and again. The American colonists grew unhappy with the taxes imposed on them and rebelled. On July fourth, 1776, the American colonists declared independence from Britain. Although declaring independence made America the country it is today, was it necessary for the colonists to do? Despite being a moot point, the past actions of the colonists shaped the country, and world forever.

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Taxation Without Representation. (2019, Dec 23). Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from

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