In response to protests in Boston over Parliament's attempts to assert authority, the British sent combat troops, dissolved local governments, and imposed direct rule by Royal officials.
The Intolerable (Coercive) Acts was the Patriot name for a series of punitive laws passed by the British Parliament in 1774 relating to Massachusetts after the Boston Tea party. The acts stripped Massachusetts of self-government and historic rights, triggering outrage and resistance in the Thirteen Colonies. They were key developments in the outbreak of the American Revolution in 1775.
Four of the acts were issued in direct response to the Boston Tea Party of December 1773; the British Parliament hoped these punitive measures would, by making an example of Massachusetts, reverse the trend of colonial resistance to parliamentary authority that had begun with the 1765 Stamp Act. A fifth act, the Quebec Act, enlarged the boundaries of what was then the Province of Quebec and instituted reforms generally favorable to the French Catholic inhabitants of the region; although unrelated to the other four Acts, it was passed in the same legislative session and seen by the colonists as one of the Intolerable Acts.
The Patriots viewed the acts as an arbitrary violation of the rights of Massachusetts, and in September of 1774 they organized the First Continental Congress to coordinate a protest. As tensions escalated, the American Revolutionary War broke out in April 1775, leading in July 1776 to the creation of an independent United States of America.
Relations between the Thirteen Colonies and the Kingdom of Great Britain slowly but steadily worsened after the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763. The war had plunged the British government deep into debt, and so the British Parliament enacted a series of measures to increase tax revenue from the colonies, including the closing of the Boston harbor, and the placement of 4,000 British troops into Boston. Parliament believed that these acts, such as the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Townshend Acts of 1767, were legitimate means of having the colonies pay their fair share of the costs of maintaining the British Empire. Although protests led to the repeal of the Stamp and Townshend Acts, Parliament adhered to the position that it had the right to legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever " in the Declaratory Act of 1766.
Many colonists, however, had developed a different conception of the British Empire. Under the British Constitution, they argued, a British subject's property (in the form of taxes) could not be taken from him without his consent (in the form of representation in government). Therefore, because the colonies were not directly represented in Parliament, some colonists insisted that Parliament had no right to levy taxes upon them, a view expressed by the slogan "No taxation without representation". After the Townshend Acts, some colonial essayists took this line of thinking even further, and began to question whether Parliament had any legitimate jurisdiction in the colonies at all. This question of the extent of Parliament's sovereignty in the colonies was the issue underlying what became the American Revolution.
On December 16, 1773, a group of colonists destroyed several tons of tea in Boston, Massachusetts, an act that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. The colonists partook in this action because Parliament had passed the Tea Act which allowed the British East India Company to sell tea directly to the colonies thereby saving the company from bankruptcy. This made British tea less expensive, which Parliament thought would be a welcome change in the colonies. In addition, there was added a small tax on which the colonists were not allowed to give their consent. Again, Parliament taxed the colonists without their representation. This angered the colonists. News of the Boston Tea Party reached England in January 1774. Parliament responded with a series of acts that were intended to punish Boston for this destruction of private property, restore British authority in Massachusetts, and otherwise reform colonial government in America.
On April 22, 1774, Prime Minister Lord North defended the program in the House of Commons, saying:
The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.
The Boston Port Act, the first of the acts passed in response to the Boston Tea Party, closed the port of Boston until the East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea and until the king was satisfied that order had been restored. Colonists objected that the Port Act punished all of Boston rather than just the individuals who had destroyed the tea, and that they were being punished without having been given an opportunity to testify in their own defense.
The Massachusetts Government Act provoked even more outrage than the Port Act because it unilaterally altered the government of Massachusetts to bring it under control of the British government. Under the terms of the Government Act, almost all positions in the colonial government were to be appointed by the governor or the king. The act also severely limited the activities of town meetings in Massachusetts to one meeting a year, unless the Governor calls for one. Colonists outside Massachusetts feared that their governments could now also be changed by the legislative fiat of Parliament.
The Administration of Justice Act allowed the governor to move trials of accused royal officials to another colony or even to Great Britain if he believed the official could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts. Although the act stipulated that witnesses would be paid for their travel expenses, in practice few colonists could afford to leave their work and cross the ocean to testify in a trial. George Washington called this the "Murder Act" because he believed that it allowed British officials to harass Americans and then escape justice. Many colonists believed the act was unnecessary because British soldiers had been given a fair trial following the Boston Massacre in 1770.][
The Quartering Act applied to all of the colonies, and sought to create a more effective method of housing British troops in America. In a previous act, the colonies had been required to provide housing for soldiers, but colonial legislatures had been uncooperative in doing so. The new Quartering Act allowed a governor to house soldiers in other buildings if suitable quarters were not provided. While many sources claim that the Quartering Act allowed troops to be billeted in occupied private homes, historian David Ammerman's 1974 study claimed that this is a myth, and that the act only permitted troops to be quartered in unoccupied buildings. Although many colonists found the Quartering Act objectionable, it generated the least protest of the Coercive Acts.
The Quebec Act was a piece of legislation which although not explicitly related to the events in Boston came to be regarded as one of the Intolerable Acts. The timing of its passage in the same parliament session led colonists to believe that it was part of the program to punish them. The act extended the boundaries of what was then the British Province of Quebec south to the Ohio River and west to the Mississippi, and instituted reforms generally favorable to the French Catholic inhabitants of the region, although denying them an elected legislative assembly. The act removed references to the Protestant faith in the oath of allegiance, and guaranteed free practice of the Roman Catholic faith. The Quebec Act offended a variety of interest groups in the British colonies. Land speculators and settlers objected to the transfer of western lands previously claimed by the colonies to a non-representative government. Many feared the establishment of Catholicism in Quebec, and that the French Canadians were being courted to help oppress British Americans. Some][ say that the Quebec Act was aimed directly at Benjamin Franklin, who was working to build an Ohio colony at the time.
Many colonists saw the Coercive Acts as a violation of their constitutional rights, their natural rights, and their colonial charters. They therefore viewed the acts as a threat to the liberties of all of British America, not just Massachusetts. Richard Henry Lee of Virginia, for example, described the acts as "a most wicked System for destroying the liberty of America".
The citizens of Boston not only viewed this as an act of unnecessary and cruel punishment, but the Coercive Acts drew the revolting hate against Britain even further. As a result of the Coercive Acts, even more colonists wanted to go against Britain.
Great Britain hoped that the Coercive Acts would isolate radicals in Massachusetts and cause American colonists to concede the authority of Parliament over their elected assemblies. It was a calculated risk that backfired, however, because the harshness of some of the acts made it difficult for moderates in the colonies to speak in favor of Parliament. The acts promoted sympathy for Massachusetts and encouraged colonists from the otherwise diverse colonies to form the First Continental Congress. The Continental Congress created the Continental Association, an agreement to boycott British goods and, if that did not get the Coercive Acts reversed after a year, to stop exporting goods to Great Britain as well. The Congress also pledged to support Massachusetts in case of attack, which meant that all of the colonies would become involved when the American Revolutionary War began at Lexington and Concord.
Parliament of Great Britain
The Townshend Acts were a series of acts passed beginning in 1767 by the Parliament of Great Britain relating to the British colonies in North America. The acts are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed the program. Historians vary slightly in which acts they include under the heading "Townshend Acts", but five laws are often mentioned: the Revenue Act of 1767, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, the Vice Admiralty Court Act, and the New York Restraining Act. The purpose of the Townshend Acts was to raise revenue in the colonies to pay the salaries of governors and judges so that they would be independent of colonial rule, to create a more effective means of enforcing compliance with trade regulations, to punish the province of New York for failing to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act, and to establish the precedent that the British Parliament had the right to tax the colonies. The Townshend Acts were met with resistance in the colonies, prompting the occupation of Boston by British troops in 1768, which eventually resulted in the Boston Massacre of 1770.
As a result of the massacre in Boston, Parliament began to consider a motion to partially repeal the Townshend duties. Most of the new taxes were repealed, but the tax on tea was retained. The British government continued in its attempt to tax the colonists without their consent and the Boston Tea Party and the American Revolution followed.
Following the Seven Years War 1756–1763, the British Empire was deep in debt. To help pay some of the costs of the newly expanded empire, the Parliament of Great Britain/British Parliament decided to levy new taxes on the colonies of British America. Previously, through the Trade and Navigation Acts, Parliament had used taxation to regulate the trade of the empire. However, with the Sugar Act of 1764, Parliament sought for the first time to tax the colonies for the specific purpose of raising revenue. American colonists initially objected to the Sugar Act for economic reasons, but before long they recognized that there were constitutional issues involved.
It was argued that the Bill of Rights 1688 protected British subjects from being taxed without the consent of a truly representative Parliament. Because the colonies elected no members of the British Parliament, many colonists viewed Parliament's attempt to tax them as a violation of the constitutional doctrine of taxation only by consent. Some British politicians countered this argument with the theory of "virtual representation", which maintained that the colonists were in fact represented in Parliament even though they elected no members. This issue, only briefly debated following the Sugar Act, became a major point of contention following Parliament's passage of the 1765 Stamp Act. The Stamp Act proved to be wildly unpopular in the colonies, contributing to its repeal the following year, along with the lack of substantial revenue being raised.
Implicit in the Stamp Act dispute was an issue more fundamental than taxation and representation: the question of the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies. Parliament provided its answer to this question when it repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 by simultaneously passing the Declaratory Act, which proclaimed that Parliament could legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever".
The first of the Townshend Acts, sometimes simply known as the Townshend Act, was the Revenue Act of 1767. This act represented the Chatham ministry's new approach for generating tax revenue in the American colonies after the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. The British government had gotten the impression that because the colonists had objected to the Stamp Act on the grounds that it was a direct (or "internal") tax, colonists would therefore accept indirect (or "external") taxes, such as taxes on imports. With this in mind, Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, devised a plan that placed new duties on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea that were imported into the colonies. These were items that were not produced in North America and that the colonists were only allowed to buy from Great Britain.
The British government's belief that the colonists would accept "external" taxes resulted from a misunderstanding of the colonial objection to the Stamp Act. The colonists' objection to "internal" taxes did not mean that they would accept "external" taxes; the colonial position was that any tax laid by Parliament for the purpose of raising revenue was unconstitutional. "Townshend's mistaken belief that Americans regarded internal taxes as unconstitutional and external taxes constitutional", wrote historian John Phillip Reid, "was of vital importance in the history of events leading to the Revolution." The Townshend Revenue Act received the royal assent on 29 June 1767. There was little opposition expressed in Parliament at the time. "Never could a fateful measure have had a more quiet passage", wrote historian Peter Thomas.
The Revenue Act was passed in conjunction with the Indemnity Act of 1767, which was intended to make the tea of the British East India Company more competitive with smuggled Dutch tea. The Indemnity Act repealed taxes on tea imported to England, allowing it to be re-exported more cheaply to the colonies. This tax cut in England would be partially offset by the new Revenue Act taxes on tea in the colonies. The Revenue Act also reaffirmed the legality of writs of assistance, or general search warrants, which gave customs officials broad powers to search houses and businesses for smuggled goods.
The original stated purpose of the Townshend duties was to raise a revenue to help pay the cost of maintaining an army in North America. Townshend changed the purpose of the tax plan, however, and instead decided to use the revenue to pay the salaries of some colonial governors and judges. Previously, the colonial assemblies had paid these salaries, but Parliament hoped to take the "power of the purse" away from the colonies. According to historian John C. Miller, "Townshend ingeniously sought to take money from Americans by means of parliamentary taxation and to employ it against their liberties by making colonial governors and judges independent of the assemblies."
Some members of Parliament objected because Townshend's plan was expected to generate only ₤40,000 in yearly revenue, but he explained that once the precedent for taxing the colonists had been firmly established, the program could gradually be expanded until the colonies paid for themselves. According to historian Peter Thomas, Townshend's "aims were political rather than financial".
To better collect the new taxes, the Commissioners of Customs Act of 1767 established the American Board of Customs Commissioners, which was modeled on the British Board of Customs. The American Customs Board was created because of the difficulties the British Board faced in enforcing trade regulations in the distant colonies. Five commissioners were appointed to the board, which was headquartered in Boston. The American Customs Board would generate considerable hostility in the colonies towards the British government. According to historian Oliver M. Dickerson, "The actual separation of the continental colonies from the rest of the Empire dates from the creation of this independent administrative board."
Another measure to aid in enforcement of the trade laws was the Vice Admiralty Court Act of 1768. Although often included in discussions of the Townshend Acts, this act was initiated by the Cabinet when Townshend was not present, and was not passed until after his death. Before this act, there was just one vice admiralty court in North America, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Established in 1764, this court proved to be too remote to serve all of the colonies, and so the 1768 Vice Admiralty Court Act created four district courts, which were located at Halifax, Boston, Philadelphia, and Charleston. One purpose of the vice admiralty courts, which did not have juries, was to help customs officials prosecute smugglers, since colonial juries were reluctant to convict persons for violating unpopular trade regulations.
Townshend also faced the problem of what to do about the New York Provincial Assembly, which had refused to comply with the 1765 Quartering Act because its members saw the act's financial provisions as levying an unconstitutional tax. The New York Restraining Act, which according to historian Robert Chaffin was "officially a part of the Townshend Acts", suspended the power of the Assembly until it complied with the Quartering Act. The Restraining Act never went into effect because, by the time it was passed, the New York Assembly had already appropriated money to cover the costs of the Quartering Act. The Assembly avoided conceding the right of Parliament to tax the colonies by making no reference to the Quartering Act when appropriating this money; they also passed a resolution stating that Parliament could not constitutionally suspend an elected legislature.
Townshend knew that his program would be controversial in the colonies, but he argued that, "The superiority of the mother country can at no time be better exerted than now." The Townshend Acts did not create an instant uproar like the Stamp Act had done two years earlier, but before long, opposition to the program had become widespread. Townshend did not live to see this reaction, having died suddenly on 4 September 1767.
The most influential colonial response to the Townshend Acts was a series of twelve essays by John Dickinson entitled "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania", which began appearing in December 1767. Eloquently articulating ideas already widely accepted in the colonies, Dickinson argued that there was no difference between "internal" and "external" taxes, and that any taxes imposed on the colonies by Parliament for the sake of raising a revenue were unconstitutional. Dickinson warned colonists not to concede to the taxes just because the rates were low, since this would set a dangerous precedent.
Dickinson sent a copy of his "Letters" to James Otis of Massachusetts, informing Otis that "whenever the Cause of American Freedom is to be vindicated, I look towards the Province of Massachusetts Bay". The Massachusetts House of Representatives began a campaign against the Townshend Acts by first sending a petition to King George asking for the repeal of the Revenue Act, and then sending a letter to the other colonial assemblies, asking them to join the resistance movement. Upon receipt of the Massachusetts Circular Letter, other colonies also sent petitions to the king. Virginia and Pennsylvania also sent petitions to Parliament, but the other colonies did not, believing that it might have been interpreted as an admission of Parliament's sovereignty over them. Parliament refused to consider the petitions of Virginia and Pennsylvania.
In Great Britain, Lord Hillsborough, who had recently been appointed to the newly created office of Colonial Secretary, was alarmed by the actions of the Massachusetts House. In April 1768 he sent a letter to the colonial governors in America, instructing them to dissolve the colonial assemblies if they responded to the Massachusetts Circular Letter. He also sent a letter to Massachusetts Governor Francis Bernard, instructing him to have the Massachusetts House rescind the Circular Letter. By a vote of 92 to 17, the House refused to comply, and Bernard promptly dissolved the legislature.
Merchants in the colonies, some of them smugglers, organized economic boycotts to put pressure on their British counterparts to work for repeal of the Townshend Acts. Boston merchants organized the first non-importation agreement, which called for merchants to suspend importation of certain British goods effective 1 January 1769. Merchants in other colonial ports, including New York City and Philadelphia, eventually joined the boycott. In Virginia, the non-importation effort was organized by George Washington and George Mason. When the Virginia House of Burgesses passed a resolution stating that Parliament had no right to tax Virginians without their consent, Governor Lord Botetourt dissolved the assembly. The members met at Raleigh Tavern and adopted a boycott agreement known as the "Association".
The non-importation movement was not as effective as promoters had hoped. British exports to the colonies declined by 38 percent in 1769, but there were many merchants who did not participate in the boycott. The boycott movement began to fail by 1770, and came to an end in 1771.
The newly created American Customs Board was seated in Boston, and so it was there that the Board concentrated on strictly enforcing the Townshend Acts. The acts were so unpopular in Boston that the Customs Board requested naval and military assistance. Commodore Samuel Hood complied by sending the fifty-gun warship RomneyHMS , which arrived in Boston Harbor in May 1768.
On June 10, 1768, customs officials seized the Liberty, a sloop owned by leading Boston merchant John Hancock, on allegations that the ship had been involved in smuggling. Bostonians, already angry because the captain of the Romney had been impressing local sailors, began to riot. Customs officials fled to Castle William for protection. With John Adams serving as his lawyer, Hancock was prosecuted in a highly publicized trial by a vice-admiralty court, but the charges were eventually dropped.
Given the unstable state of affairs in Massachusetts, Hillsborough instructed Governor Bernard to try to find evidence of treason in Boston. Parliament had determined that the Treason Act 1543 was still in force, which would allow Bostonians to be transported to England to stand trial for treason. Bernard could find no one who was willing to provide reliable evidence, however, and so there were no treason trials. The possibility that American colonists might be arrested and sent to England for trial produced alarm and outrage in the colonies.
Even before the Liberty riot, Hillsborough had decided to send troops to Boston. On 8 June 1768, he instructed General Thomas Gage, Commander-in-Chief, North America, to send "such Force as You shall think necessary to Boston", although he conceded that this might lead to "consequences not easily foreseen". Hillsborough suggested that Gage might send one regiment to Boston, but the Liberty incident convinced officials that more than one regiment would be needed.
People in Massachusetts learned in September 1768 that troops were on the way. Samuel Adams organized an emergency, extralegal convention of towns and passed resolutions against the imminent occupation of Boston, but on 1 October 1768, the first of four regiments of the British Army began disembarking in Boston, and the Customs Commissioners returned to town. The "Journal of Occurrences", an anonymously written series of newspaper articles, chronicled clashes between civilians and soldiers during the military occupation of Boston, apparently with some exaggeration. Tensions rose after Christopher Seider, a Boston teenager, was killed by a customs employee on 22 February 1770. Although British soldiers were not involved in that incident, resentment against the occupation escalated in the days that followed, resulting in the killing of five civilians in the so-called Boston Massacre of 5 March 1770. After the incident, the troops were withdrawn to Castle William.
On the 5 of March 1770— the same day as the Boston Massacre—Lord North, the new Prime Minister, presented a motion in the House of Commons that called for partial repeal of the Townshend Revenue Act. Although some in Parliament advocated a complete repeal of the act, North disagreed, arguing that the tea duty should be retained to assert "the right of taxing the Americans". After debate, the Repeal Act received the Royal Assent on 12 April 1770.
Historian Robert Chaffin argued that little had actually changed:
It would be inaccurate to claim that a major part of the Townshend Acts had been repealed. The revenue-producing tea levy, the American Board of Customs and, most important, the principle of making governors and magistrates independent all remained. In fact, the modification of the Townshend Duties Act was scarcely any change at all.
The Townshend duty on tea was retained when the 1773 Tea Act was passed, which allowed the East India Company to ship tea directly to the colonies. The Boston Tea Party soon followed, which set the stage for the American Revolution.
The Parliament of Great Britain was formed in 1707 following the ratification of the Acts of Union by both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland. The Acts created a new unified Kingdom of Great Britain and dissolved the separate English and Scottish parliaments in favour of a single parliament, located in the former home of the English parliament in the Palace of Westminster, near the City of London. This lasted nearly a century, until the Acts of Union 1800 merged the separate British and Irish Parliaments into a single Parliament of the United Kingdom with effect from 1 January 1801.
Following the Treaty of Union in 1706, Acts of Union, ratifying the Treaty, were passed in both the Parliament of England and the Parliament of Scotland, which created a new Kingdom of Great Britain. The Acts dissolved both parliaments, replacing them with a new parliament, referred to as the 'Parliament of Great Britain', based in the home of the former English parliament. All of the traditions, procedures, and standing orders of the English parliament were retained, as were the incumbent officers, and members representing England comprised the overwhelming majority of the new body. It was not even considered necessary to hold a new general election. While Scots law and Scottish legislation remained separate, new legislation was thereafter to be enacted by the new parliament.
After the Hanoverian King George I ascended the British throne in 1714 through the Act of Settlement of 1701, real power continued to shift away from the monarchy. George was a German ruler, spoke poor English, and remained interested in governing his dominions in continental Europe rather than in Britain. He thus entrusted power to a group of his ministers, the foremost of whom was Sir Robert Walpole, and by the end of his reign in 1727 the position of the ministers — who had to rely on Parliament for support — was cemented. George's I successor, his son George II, continued to follow through with his father's domestic policies and made little effort to re-establish monarchy control over the government which was now in firm control by Parliament. By the end of the 18th century the monarch still had considerable influence over Parliament, which was dominated by the English aristocracy, by means of patronage, but had ceased to exert direct power: for instance, the last occasion on which the Royal Assent was withheld was in 1708 by Queen Anne. At general elections the vote was restricted to freeholders and landowners, in constituencies that had changed little since the Middle Ages, so that in many "pocket" and "rotten boroughs" seats could be bought, while major cities remained unrepresented, except by the knights of the shire representing whole counties. Reformers and Radicals sought parliamentary reform, but as the Napoleonic Wars developed the British government became repressive against dissent and progress towards reform was stalled.
George's II successor, George III, sought to restore royal supremacy and absolute monarchy, but by the end of his reign the position of the king's ministers — who discovered that they needed the support of Parliament to enact any major changes — had become central to the role of British governance, and would remain so ever after.
During the first half of George III's reign, the monarch still had considerable influence over Parliament, which itself was dominated by the patronage and influence of the English nobility. Most candidates for the House of Commons were identified as Whigs or Tories, but once elected they formed shifting coalitions of interests rather than dividing along clear party lines. At general elections the vote was restricted in most places to property owners, in constituencies which were out of date and did not reflect the growing importance of manufacturing towns or shifts of population, so that in the pocket and rotten boroughs seats in parliament could be bought from the rich landowners who controlled them, while major cities remained unrepresented. Reformers like William Beckford and Radicals beginning with John Wilkes called for reform of the system. In 1780 a draft programme of reform was drawn up by Charles James Fox and Thomas Brand Hollis and put forward by a sub-committee of the electors of Westminster. This included calls for the six points later adopted by the Chartists.
The American Revolutionary War ended in the humiliating defeat of a foreign policy seeking to forcibly restore the thirteen American colonies to British rule which King George III had fervently advocated, and in March 1782 the king was forced to appoint an administration led by his opponents which sought to curb royal patronage. In November 1783 he took the opportunity to use his influence in the House of Lords to defeat a bill to reform the British East India Company, dismissed the government of the day, and appointed William Pitt the Younger to form a new government. Pitt had previously called for Parliament to begin to reform itself, but he did not press for long for reforms the king did not like. Proposals Pitt made in April 1785 to redistribute seats from the "rotten boroughs" to London and the counties were defeated in the House of Commons by 248 votes to 174.
In the wake of the French Revolution of 1789, Radical organisations such as the London Corresponding Society sprang up to press for parliamentary reform, but as the Napoleonic Wars developed the government took extensive repressive measures against feared domestic unrest aping the democratic and egalitarian ideals of the French Revolution and progress toward reform was stalled for decades.
In 1801 the Parliament of the United Kingdom was created when the Kingdom of Great Britain was merged with the Kingdom of Ireland to become the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland under the Act of Union 1800.
Boston Tea Party
The Sugar Act, also known as the American Revenue Act or the American Duties Act, was a revenue-raising act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain on April 5, 1764. The preamble to the act stated: "it is expedient that new provisions and regulations should be established for improving the revenue of this Kingdom ... and ... it is just and necessary that a revenue should be raised ... for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same." The earlier Molasses Act of 1733, which had imposed a tax of six pence per gallon of molasses, had never been effectively collected due to colonial evasion. By reducing the rate by half and increasing measures to enforce the tax, the British hoped that the tax would actually be collected. These incidents increased the colonists' concerns about the intent of the British Parliament and helped the growing movement that became the American Revolution.
The earlier Molasses Act of 1733 was passed by Parliament largely at the insistence of large plantation owners in the British West Indies. Molasses was used in New England for making rum. A large trade had been growing between the New England and Middle colonies and the French, Dutch, and Spanish West Indian possessions. Sugar from the British West Indies was priced much higher than its competitors and they also had no need for the large quantities of lumber, fish, and other items offered by the colonies in exchange. Sometimes colonists would pay Molasses Act taxes because they were rather low depending on where they resided and how much money they had. In the first part of the 18th Century, the British West Indies were Great Britain's most important trading partner, so Parliament was attentive to their requests. However, rather than acceding to the demands to prohibit the colonies from trading with the non-British islands, Parliament passed the prohibitively high tax on the colonies on molasses imported from those islands. If actually collected, the tax would have effectively closed that source to New England and destroyed much of the rum industry. Instead, smuggling, bribery or intimidation of customs officials effectively nullified the law.
During the Seven Years War, known in Colonial America as the French and Indian War, the British government substantially increased the national debt to pay for the war. In February 1763, as the war ended, the ministry headed by John Stuart, the Earl of Bute, decided to maintain a standing army of ten thousand British regular troops in the colonies. Shortly thereafter, George Grenville replaced Bute. Grenville supported his predecessor's policy, even more so after the outbreak of Pontiac's Rebellion in May 1763. Grenville faced the problem of not only paying for these troops but servicing the national debt. The debt grew from £75,000,000 before the war to £122,600,000 in January 1763, and almost £130,000,000 by the beginning of 1764.
George Grenville did not expect the colonies to contribute to the interest or the retirement of the debt, but he did expect the Americans to pay a portion of the expenses for colonial defense. Estimating the expenses of maintaining an army in the Continental colonies and the West Indies to be approximately £200,000 annually, Grenville devised a revenue-raising program that would raise an estimated £78,000 per year.
The Molasses Act was set to expire in 1763. The Commissioners of Customs anticipated greater demand for both molasses and rum as a result of the end of the war and the acquisition of Canada. They believed that the increased demand would make a sharply reduced rate both affordable and collectible. When passed by Parliament, the new Sugar Act of 1764 halved the previous tax on molasses. In addition to promising stricter enforcement, the language of the bill made it clear that the purpose of the legislation was not to simply regulate the trade (as the Molasses Act had attempted to do by effectively closing the legal trade to non-British suppliers) but to raise revenue.
The new act listed specific goods, the most important being lumber, which could only be exported to Britain. Ship captains were required to maintain detailed manifests of their cargo and the papers were subject to verification before anything could be unloaded from the ships. Customs officials were empowered to have all violations tried in vice admiralty courts rather than by jury trials in local colonial courts, where the juries generally looked favorably on smuggling as a profession.
Historian Fred Anderson wrote that the purpose of the Act was “to resolve the problems of finance and control that plagued the postwar empire.” To do this “three kinds of measures” were implemented -- “those intended to make customs enforcement more effective, those that placed new duties on items widely consumed in America, and those that adjusted old rates in such a way as to maximize revenues.”
The Sugar Act was passed by Parliament on April 5, 1764, and it arrived in the colonies at a time of economic depression. It was an indirect tax, although the colonists were well informed of its presence. A good part of the reason was that a significant portion of the colonial economy during the Seven Years War was involved with supplying food and supplies to the British Army. Colonials, however, especially those affected directly as merchants and shippers, assumed that the highly visible new tax program was the major culprit. As protests against the Sugar Act developed, it was the economic impact rather than the constitutional issue of taxation without representation that was the main focus for the colonists.
New England ports especially suffered economic losses from the Sugar Act as the stricter enforcement made smuggling molasses more dangerous and risky. Also they argued that the profit margin on rum was too small to support any tax on molasses. Forced to increase their prices, many colonists feared being priced out of the market. The British West Indies, on the other hand, now had undivided access to colonial exports. With supply of molasses well exceeding demand, the islands prospered with their reduced expenses while New England ports saw revenue from their rum exports decrease. Also the West Indies had been the primary colonial source for hard currency, or specie, and as the reserves of specie were depleted the soundness of colonial currency was threatened.
Two prime movers behind the protests against the Sugar Act were Samuel Adams and James Otis, both of Massachusetts. In May 1764, Samuel Adams drafted a report on the Sugar Act for the Massachusetts assembly, in which he denounced the act as an infringement of the rights of the colonists as British subjects:
In August 1764, fifty Boston merchants agreed to stop purchasing British luxury imports, and in both Boston and New York there were movements to increase colonial manufacturing. There were sporadic outbreaks of violence, most notably in Rhode Island. Overall, however, there was not an immediate high level of protest over the Sugar Act in either New England or the rest of the colonies. That would begin in the later part of the next year when the Stamp Act was passed.
The Sugar Act was repealed in 1766 and replaced with the Revenue Act of 1766, which reduced the tax to one penny per gallon on molasses imports, British or foreign. This occurred around the same time that the Stamp Act of 1765 was repealed.
Boston Port Act
The Boston Tea Party (initially referred to by John Adams as simply "the Destruction of the Tea in Boston" or by other informal names][ and so named only half a century later][) was a political protest by the Sons of Liberty in Boston, a city in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the tax policy of the British government and the East India Company that controlled all the tea imported into the colonies. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and other political protests often refer to it.
The Tea Party was the culmination of a resistance movement throughout British America against the Tea Act, which had been passed by the British Parliament in 1773. Colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to "No taxation without representation," that is, be taxed only by their own elected representatives and not by a British parliament in which they were not represented. Protesters had successfully prevented the unloading of taxed tea in three other colonies, but in Boston, embattled Royal Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to allow the tea to be returned to Britain.
The Boston Tea Party was a key event in the growth of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Coercive Acts, or Intolerable Acts, which, among other provisions, ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston's commerce. Colonists up and down the Thirteen Colonies in turn responded to the Coercive Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts and coordinated colonial resistance to them. The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.
The Boston Tea Party arose from two issues confronting the British Empire in 1765: the financial problems of the British East India Company, and an ongoing dispute about the extent of Parliament's authority, if any, over the British American colonies without seating any elected representation. The North Ministry's attempt to resolve these issues produced a showdown that would eventually result in revolution.
As Europeans developed a taste for tea in the 17th century, rival companies were formed to import the product from China. In England, Parliament gave the East India Company a monopoly on the importation of tea in 1698. When tea became popular in the British colonies, Parliament sought to eliminate foreign competition by passing an act in 1721 that required colonists to import their tea only from Great Britain. The East India Company did not export tea to the colonies; by law, the company was required to sell its tea wholesale at auctions in England. British firms bought this tea and exported it to the colonies, where they resold it to merchants in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston.
Until 1767, the East India Company paid an taxad valorem of about 25% on tea that it imported into Great Britain. Parliament laid additional taxes on tea sold for consumption in Britain. These high taxes, combined with the fact that tea imported into Holland was not taxed by the Dutch government, meant that Britons and British Americans could buy smuggled Dutch tea at much cheaper prices. The biggest market for illicit tea was England—by the 1760s the East India Company was losing £400,000 per year to smugglers in Great Britain—but Dutch tea was also smuggled into British America in significant quantities.
In 1767, to help the East India Company compete with smuggled Dutch tea, Parliament passed the Indemnity Act, which lowered the tax on tea consumed in Great Britain, and gave the East India Company a refund of the 25% duty on tea that was re-exported to the colonies. To help offset this loss of government revenue, Parliament also passed the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, which levied new taxes, including one on tea, in the colonies. Instead of solving the smuggling problem, however, the Townshend duties renewed a controversy about Parliament's right to tax the colonies.
Controversy between Great Britain and the colonies arose in the 1760s when Parliament sought, for the first time, to directly tax the colonies for the purpose of raising revenue. Some colonists, known in the colonies as Whigs, objected to the new tax program, arguing that it was a violation of the British Constitution. Britons and British Americans agreed that, according to the constitution, British subjects could not be taxed without the consent of their elected representatives. In Great Britain, this meant that taxes could only be levied by Parliament. Colonists, however, did not elect members of Parliament, and so American Whigs argued that the colonies could not be taxed by that body. According to Whigs, colonists could only be taxed by their own colonial assemblies. Colonial protests resulted in the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1765, but in the 1766 Declaratory Act, Parliament continued to insist that it had the right to legislate for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever".
When new taxes were levied in the Townshend Revenue Act of 1767, Whig colonists again responded with protests and boycotts. Merchants organized a non-importation agreement, and many colonists pledged to abstain from drinking British tea, with activists in New England promoting alternatives, such as domestic Labrador tea. Smuggling continued apace, especially in New York and Philadelphia, where tea smuggling had always been more extensive than in Boston. Dutied British tea continued to be imported into Boston, however, especially by Richard Clarke and the sons of Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson, until pressure from Massachusetts Whigs compelled them to abide by the non-importation agreement.
Parliament finally responded to the protests by repealing the Townshend taxes in 1770, except for the tea duty, which Prime Minister Lord North kept to assert "the right of taxing the Americans". This partial repeal of the taxes was enough to bring an end to the non-importation movement by October 1770. From 1771 to 1773, British tea was once again imported into the colonies in significant amounts, with merchants paying the Townshend duty of three pence per pound. Boston was the largest colonial importer of legal tea; smugglers still dominated the market in New York and Philadelphia.
The Indemnity Act of 1767, which gave the East India Company a refund of the duty on tea that was re-exported to the colonies, expired in 1772. Parliament passed a new act in 1772 that reduced this refund, effectively leaving a 10% duty on tea imported into Britain. The act also restored the tea taxes within Britain that had been repealed in 1767, and left in place the three pence Townshend duty in the colonies. With this new tax burden driving up the price of British tea, sales plummeted. The company continued to import tea into Great Britain, however, amassing a huge surplus of product that no one would buy. For these and other reasons, by late 1772 the East India Company, one of Britain's most important commercial institutions, was in a serious financial crisis.
Eliminating some of the taxes was one obvious solution to the crisis. The East India Company initially sought to have the Townshend duty repealed, but the North ministry was unwilling because such an action might be interpreted as a retreat from Parliament's position that it had the right to tax the colonies. More importantly, the tax collected from the Townshend duty was used to pay the salaries of some colonial governors and judges. This was in fact the purpose of the Townshend tax: previously these officials had been paid by the colonial assemblies, but Parliament now paid their salaries to keep them dependent on the British government rather than allowing them to be accountable to the colonists.
Another possible solution for reducing the growing mound of tea in the East India Company warehouses was to sell it cheaply in Europe. This possibility was investigated, but it was determined that the tea would simply be smuggled back into Great Britain, where it would undersell the taxed product. The best market for the East India Company's surplus tea, so it seemed, was the American colonies, if a way could be found to make it cheaper than the smuggled Dutch tea.
The North ministry's solution was the Tea Act, which received the assent of King George on May 10, 1773. This act restored the East India Company's full refund on the duty for importing tea into Britain, and also permitted the company, for the first time, to export tea to the colonies on its own account. This would allow the company to reduce costs by eliminating the middlemen who bought the tea at wholesale auctions in London. Instead of selling to middlemen, the company now appointed colonial merchants to receive the tea on consignment; the consignees would in turn sell the tea for a commission. In July 1773, tea consignees were selected in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Charleston.
The Tea Act retained the three pence Townshend duty on tea imported to the colonies. Some members of Parliament wanted to eliminate this tax, arguing that there was no reason to provoke another colonial controversy. Former Chancellor of the Exchequer William Dowdeswell, for example, warned Lord North that the Americans would not accept the tea if the Townshend duty remained. But North did not want to give up the revenue from the Townshend tax, primarily because it was used to pay the salaries of colonial officials; maintaining the right of taxing the Americans was a secondary concern. According to historian Benjamin Labaree, "A stubborn Lord North had unwittingly hammered a nail in the coffin of the old British Empire."
Even with the Townshend duty in effect, the Tea Act would allow the East India Company to sell tea more cheaply than before, undercutting the prices offered by smugglers. In 1772, legally imported Bohea, the most common variety of tea, sold for about 3 shillings (3s) per pound. After the Tea Act, colonial consignees would be able to sell it for 2 shillings per pound (2s), just under the smugglers' price of 2 shillings and 1 penny (2s 1d). Realizing that the payment of the Townshend duty was politically sensitive, the company hoped to conceal the tax by making arrangements to have it paid either in London once the tea was landed in the colonies, or have the consignees quietly pay the duties after the tea was sold. This effort to hide the tax from the colonists was unsuccessful.
In September and October 1773, seven ships carrying East India Company tea were sent to the colonies: four were bound for Boston, and one each for New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston. In the ships were more than 2,000 chests containing nearly 600,000 pounds of tea. Americans learned the details of the Tea Act while the ships were en route, and opposition began to mount. Whigs, sometimes calling themselves Sons of Liberty, began a campaign to raise awareness and to convince or compel the consignees to resign, in the same way that stamp distributors had been forced to resign in the 1765 Stamp Act crisis.
The protest movement that culminated with the Boston Tea Party was not a dispute about high taxes. The price of legally imported tea was actually reduced by the Tea Act of 1773. Protesters were instead concerned with a variety of other issues. The familiar "no taxation without representation" argument, along with the question of the extent of Parliament's authority in the colonies, remained prominent. Some regarded the purpose of the tax program—to make leading officials independent of colonial influence—as a dangerous infringement of colonial rights. This was especially true in Massachusetts, the only colony where the Townshend program had been fully implemented.
Colonial merchants, some of them smugglers, played a significant role in the protests. Because the Tea Act made legally imported tea cheaper, it threatened to put smugglers of Dutch tea out of business. Legitimate tea importers who had not been named as consignees by the East India Company were also threatened with financial ruin by the Tea Act. Another major concern for merchants was that the Tea Act gave the East India Company a monopoly on the tea trade, and it was feared that this government-created monopoly might be extended in the future to include other goods.
South of Boston, protesters successfully compelled the tea consignees to resign. In Charleston, the consignees had been forced to resign by early December, and the unclaimed tea was seized by customs officials. There were mass protest meetings in Philadelphia. Benjamin Rush urged his fellow countrymen to oppose the landing of the tea, because the cargo contained "the seeds of slavery". By early December, the Philadelphia consignees had resigned and the tea ship returned to England with its cargo following a confrontation with the ship's captain. The tea ship bound for New York City was delayed by bad weather; by the time it arrived, the consignees had resigned, and the ship returned to England with the tea.
In every colony except Massachusetts, protesters were able to force the tea consignees to resign or to return the tea to England. In Boston, however, Governor Hutchinson was determined to hold his ground. He convinced the tea consignees, two of whom were his sons, not to back down.
When the tea ship Dartmouth arrived in the Boston Harbor in late November, Whig leader Samuel Adams called for a mass meeting to be held at Faneuil Hall on November 29, 1773. Thousands of people arrived, so many that the meeting was moved to the larger Old South Meeting House. British law required the Dartmouth to unload and pay the duties within twenty days or customs officials could confiscate the cargo. The mass meeting passed a resolution, introduced by Adams and based on a similar set of resolutions promulgated earlier in Philadelphia, urging the captain of the Dartmouth to send the ship back without paying the import duty. Meanwhile, the meeting assigned twenty-five men to watch the ship and prevent the tea—including a number of chests from Davison, Newman and Co. of London—from being unloaded.
Governor Hutchinson refused to grant permission for the Dartmouth to leave without paying the duty. Two more tea ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor (there was another tea ship headed for Boston, the William, but it encountered a storm and was destroyed before it could reach its destination). On December 16—the last day of the Dartmouth's deadline—about 7,000 people had gathered around the Old South Meeting House. After receiving a report that Governor Hutchinson had again refused to let the ships leave, Adams announced that "This meeting can do nothing further to save the country." According to a popular story, Adams's statement was a prearranged signal for the "tea party" to begin. However, this claim did not appear in print until nearly a century after the event, in a biography of Adams written by his great-grandson, who apparently misinterpreted the evidence. According to eyewitness accounts, people did not leave the meeting until ten or fifteen minutes after Adams's alleged "signal", and Adams in fact tried to stop people from leaving because the meeting was not yet over.
While Samuel Adams tried to reassert control of the meeting, people poured out of the Old South Meeting House headed out to prepare to take action. In some cases, this involved donning what may have been elaborately prepared Mohawk costumes. While disguising their individual faces was imperative, because of the illegality of their protest, dressing as Mohawk warriors was a very specific and symbolic choice. It showed that the Sons of Liberty identified with America, over their official status as subjects of Great Britain.
That evening, a group of 30 to 130 men, some dressed in the Mohawk warrior disguises, boarded the three vessels and, over the course of three hours, dumped all 342 chests of tea into the water. The precise location of the Griffin's Wharf site of the Tea Party has been subject to prolonged uncertainty; a comprehensive study places it near the foot of Hutchinson Street (today's Pearl Street).
Whether or not Samuel Adams helped plan the Boston Tea Party is disputed, but he immediately worked to publicize and defend it. He argued that the Tea Party was not the act of a lawless mob, but was instead a principled protest and the only remaining option the people had to defend their constitutional rights.
By "constitution" he referred to the idea that all governments have a constitution, written or not, and that the constitution of Great Britain could be interpreted as banning the levying of taxes without representation. For example, the Bill of Rights of 1689 established that long-term taxes could not be levied without Parliament, and other precedents said that Parliament had to actually represent the people it ruled over, in order to "count".
Governor Thomas Hutchinson had been urging London to take a hard line with the Sons of Liberty. If he had done what the other royal governors had done and let the ship owners and captains resolve the issue with the colonists, the Dartmouth, Eleanor and the Beaver would have left without unloading any tea.
In Britain, even those politicians considered friends of the colonies were appalled and this act united all parties there against the colonies. The Prime Minister Lord North said, "Whatever may be the consequence, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over". The British government felt this action could not remain unpunished, and responded by closing the port of Boston and putting in place other laws known as the "Coercive Acts".
In the colonies, Benjamin Franklin stated that the destroyed tea must be repaid, all 90,000 pounds (which, at two shillings per pound, comes to £9,000, or £968 thousand today). Robert Murray, a New York merchant, went to Lord North with three other merchants and offered to pay for the losses, but the offer was turned down. A number of colonists were inspired to carry out similar acts, such as the burning of the Peggy Stewart. The Boston Tea Party eventually proved to be one of the many reactions that led to the American Revolutionary War.][ In his December 17th, 1773 entry in his diary, John Adams wrote:
There was a repeat performance on March 7, 1774, but it was much less destructive.
In February 1775, Britain passed the Conciliatory Resolution, which ended taxation for any colony that satisfactorily provided for the imperial defense and the upkeep of imperial officers. The tax on tea was repealed with the Taxation of Colonies Act 1778, part of another Parliamentary attempt at conciliation that failed.
According to historian Alfred Young, the term "Boston Tea Party" did not appear in print until 1834. Before that time, the event was usually referred to as the "destruction of the tea". According to Young, American writers were for many years apparently reluctant to celebrate the destruction of property, and so the event was usually ignored in histories of the American Revolution. This began to change in the 1830s, however, especially with the publication of biographies of George Robert Twelves Hewes, one of the few still-living participants of the "tea party", as it then became known.
The Boston Tea Party Museum is located on the Congress Street Bridge in Boston. It features reenactments, a documentary, and a number of interactive exhibits. The museum features two authentically restored ships, the Eleanor and the Beaver. Additionally, the museum possesses one of two known tea chests from the original event, part of its permanent collection.
The issue was never the tax but how the tax was passed without American input; United States Congress taxed tea from 1789 to 1872.
The Boston Tea Party has often been referenced in other political protests. When Mohandas K. Gandhi led a mass burning of Indian registration cards in South Africa in 1908, a British newspaper compared the event to the Boston Tea Party. When Gandhi met with the British viceroy in 1930 after the Indian salt protest campaign, Gandhi took some duty-free salt from his shawl and said, with a smile, that the salt was "to remind us of the famous Boston Tea Party."
American activists from a variety of political viewpoints have invoked the Tea Party as a symbol of protest. In 1973, on the 200th anniversary of the Tea Party, a mass meeting at Faneuil Hall called for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon and protested oil companies in the ongoing oil crisis. Afterwards, protesters boarded a replica ship in Boston Harbor, hanged Nixon in effigy, and dumped several empty oil drums into the harbor. In 1998, two conservative US Congressmen put the federal tax code into a chest marked "tea" and dumped it into the harbor.
In 2006, a libertarian political party called the "Boston Tea Party" was founded. In 2007, the Ron Paul "Tea Party" money bomb, held on the 234th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, broke the one-day fund-raising record by raising $6.04 million in 24 hours. Subsequently, these fund-raising "Tea parties" grew into the Tea Party movement, which dominated politics for the next two years, culminating in a voter victory for the Republicans in 2010 who were widely awarded seats in the United States House of Representatives.
No taxation without representation
The Boston Port Act (the Trade Act 1774) is an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which became law on March 31, 1774, and is one of the measures (variously called the Intolerable Acts, the Punitive Acts or the Coercive Acts) that were designed to secure Great Britain's jurisdictions over her American dominions.
The Act was a response to the Boston Tea Party. King George III's speech of 7 March 1774 charged the colonists with attempting to injure British commerce and subvert the Constitution, and on the 18th Lord North brought in the Port Bill. It outlawed the use of the Port of Boston (by setting up a barricade/blockade) for "landing and discharging, loading or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandise" until such time as restitution was made to the King's treasury (for customs duty lost) and to the East India Company for damages suffered. In other words, it closed Boston Port to all ships, no matter what business the ship had. It also provided that Massachusetts Colony's seat of government should be moved to Salem and Marblehead made a port of entry. The Act was to take effect on June 1.
Even some of the best friends of America in Parliament at first approved the Act as moderate and reasonable, as the town could end the punishment at any moment by paying for legitimate merchandise destroyed by riot and allowing law and order to have their course. But the Whig opposition soon collected itself, and the bill was fought in its various stages by Edmund Burke, Isaac Barré, Thomas Pownall and others. In spite of them, the Act became a law 31 March, without a division in the Commons and by unanimous vote in the Lords.
Royal Navy warships subsequently began patrols at the mouth of Boston Harbor to enforce the acts. The Royal Army also joined in enforcing the blockade, and Boston was filled with troops, Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief. Colonists objected that the Port Act punished all of Boston rather than just the individuals who had destroyed the tea, and that they were being punished without having been given an opportunity to testify in their own defence. All the citizens of Boston were angered including the Loyalists (also known as Tories) and Patriots who all sought for aid from the other colonies.
As the Port of Boston was a major source of supplies for the citizens of Massachusetts, sympathetic colonies as far away as South Carolina sent relief supplies to the settlers of Massachusetts Bay. So great was the response, that the Boston leaders boasted that the town would become the chief grain port of America if the act were not repealed. This was the first step in the unification of the thirteen colonies. These colonies finally had a cause for them to work together. The First Continental Congress was convened in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, to coordinate a colonial response to the Port Act and the other Coercive Acts.
Age of Enlightenment
History of the United States
18th century in the United States
"No taxation without representation" is a slogan originating during the 1750s and 1760s that summarized a primary grievance of the British colonists in the Thirteen Colonies, which was one of the major causes of the American Revolution. In short, many in those colonies believed that, as they were not directly represented in the distant British Parliament, any laws it passed taxing the colonists (such as the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act) were illegal under the Bill of Rights 1689, and were a denial of their rights as Englishmen.
The phrase captures a sentiment central to the cause of the English Civil War, as articulated by John Hampden who said “what an English King has no right to demand, an English subject has a right to refuse” in the Ship money case.][
The British Parliament had controlled colonial trade and taxed imports and exports since 1660. By the 1760s, the Americans were being deprived of a historic right. The English Bill of Rights 1689 had forbidden the imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament. Since the colonists had no representation in Parliament, the taxes violated the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. Parliament initially contended that the colonists had virtual representation, but the idea "found little support on either side of the Atlantic". The issue of American representation in the House of Commons (and by implication, the House of Lords) surfaced as early as 1640-41, when members of Parliament asked the Puritan colonists, as recalled by the eponymous Governor of Massachusetts Bay in his Journal of John Winthrop, to send representative delegates to Britain either as lobbyists or as members. This offer was initially refused on the grounds that "if we [New Englanders] should put ourselves under the protection of the Parliament, we must be then subject to such laws as they should make...[which] might prove very prejudicial to us." However, Winthrop and the Massachusetts Assembly eventually sent agents to lobby Parliamentarians, although this does not seem to have been as members of the Commons. The issue of colonial representation in Parliament continued to emerge from time-to-time, as evidenced in the writings of the Queen Anne-era historian John Oldmixon.
The phrase had been used for more than a generation in Ireland. By 1765, the term was in use in Boston, and local politician James Otis was most famously associated with the phrase, "taxation without representation is tyranny." In the course of the Revolutionary era (1750-1783), many arguments seeking to resolve the dispute surrounding Parliamentary sovereignty, self-governance, taxation, and the constitutional rights of 'commoners' to representation were pursued. These included:
In the course of the 1760s and 1770s, William Pitt the Elder, Sir William Pulteney, and George Grenville, amongst other prominent Britons and colonial Americans, such as Joseph Galloway, James Otis, Jr., Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, the London Quaker Thomas Crowley, Royal Governors such as Thomas Pownall M.P., William Franklin, Sir Francis Bernard, and the Attorney-General of Quebec, Francis Maseres, debated and circulated plans for the creation of colonial seats in London, imperial union with Great Britain, or a federally representative British Parliament with powers of taxation that was to consist of American, West Indian, Irish and British Members of Parliament. Despite the fact that these ideas were considered and discussed seriously on both sides of the Atlantic, it appears no Congressional or colonial Assemblage request for such constitutional developments was sent to Westminster.
Jared Ingersoll Snr., colonial agent for Connecticut, wrote to his American colleague, the Royal Governor of Connecticut Thomas Fitch, that following Isaac Barre's famous Parliamentary speech against the Stamp Act in 1764, Richard Jackson, M.P., supported Barre and other pro-American M.P.s by producing before the House copies of earlier Acts of Parliament that had admitted Durham and Chester seats upon their petitions for representation. The argument was put forward in Parliament that America ought to have representatives on these grounds too. Richard Jackson supposed that Parliament had a right to tax America, but he much doubted the expediency of the Stamp act. He said if it was necessary, as ministers claimed, to tax the colonies, the latter should be permitted to elect some part of the Parliament, "otherwise the liberties of America, I do not say will be lost, but will be in danger."
William Knox, an aide of George Grenville, pamphleteer and subsequent Irish Under-Secretary of State for the American Colonies, received an appointment in 1756 to the American provinces, and after his return to London in 1761, he recommended the creation of a colonial aristocracy and colonial representation in the British Parliament. He was shortly afterwards appointed agent for Georgia and East Florida, a post which he forfeited by writing in favour of the Stamp Act. In his Grenville-backed pamphlet of 1769, The Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies Reviewed, Knox wrote that the colonial delegates to the Stamp Act Congress had been offered seats in the British Parliament, the offers of which they had refused. Knox submitted that,
whilst [the radical colonists] exclaim against Parliament for taxing them when they are not represented, they candidly declare they will not have representatives [in Parliament] lest they should be taxed...The truth...is that they are determined to get rid of the jurisdiction of Parliament...and they therefore refuse to send members to that assembly lest they should preclude themselves of [the] plea [that Parliament's] legislative acts...are done without their consent; which, it must be confessed, holds equally good against all laws, as against taxes...The colony advocates...tell us, that by refusing to accept our offer of representatives they...mean to avoid giving Parliament a pretence for taxing them.
Edmund Burke responded to Knox, who had drawn up the The Controversy between Great Britain and her Colonies Reviewed as well as The Present State of the Nation (1768) under the supervision of George Grenville, by opining in his political tract Observations on a Late State of the Nation (1769),
NOW comes [Knox's] American representation...Is not the reader a little astonished at the proposal of an American representation from that quarter [of Grenville's]? It is proposed merely as a project of speculative improvement; not from the necessity in the case, not to add any thing to the authority of parliament: but that we may afford a greater attention to the concerns of the Americans, and give them a better opportunity of stating their grievances, and of obtaining redress. I am glad to find the author has at length discovered that we have not given a sufficient attention to their concerns, or a proper redress to their grievances. His great friend [Grenville] would once have been exceedingly displeased with any person, who should tell him, that he did not attend sufficiently to those concerns. He thought he did so, when he regulated the colonies over and over again: he thought he did so, when he formed two general systems of revenue; one of port-duties, and the other of internal taxation. These systems supposed, or ought to suppose, the greatest attention to, and the most detailed information of, all their affairs. However, by contending for the American representation, he seems at last driven virtually to admit, that great caution ought to be used in the exercise of all our legislative rights over an object so remote from our eye, and so little connected with our immediate feelings; that in prudence we ought not to be quite so ready with our taxes, until we can secure the desired representation in parliament. Perhaps it may be some time before this hopeful scheme can be brought to perfect maturity; al|though the author seems to be no wise aware of any obstructions that lie in the way of it.
Burke later argued in Parliament (April 1774),
AGAIN, and again, revert to your old principles—seek peace, and ensue it—leave America, if she has taxable matter in her, to tax herself...Nobody will be argued into slavery. Sir, let the gentlemen on the other side [of the House of Commons] call forth all their ability; let the best of them get up, and tell me, what one character of liberty the Americans have, and what one brand of slavery they are free from, if they are bound in their property and industry, by all the restraints you can imagine on commerce, and at the same time are made pack-horses of every tax you choose to impose, without the least share in granting them?"
While Parliament had a constitutional right to virtually represent the colonial subjects, these politicians were arguing, it ought not exercise that right unless it was done so in as actually representative a manner as possible. For some this meant Parliamentary inclusion, but for most this meant using the consent of the colonial Assemblies, involving the colonial Agents in policy, and using tax revenue of virtually represented colonies only for expenditure in those domains.
The Americans rejected the Stamp Act of 1765 brought in by British Prime Minister George Grenville, and violently rejected the remaining tax on tea imports, under the Tea Act passed in May 1773, at the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773. The Parliament considered this an illegal act because they believed it undermined the authority of the Crown-in-Parliament. When the British then used the military to enforce laws that the colonists believed Parliament had passed illegally, the colonists responded by forming militias and seized political control of each colony, ousting the royal governors - with the exception of the American-born Royal Governor of Connecticut, John Trumbull, who was allowed to remain as the new Patriot Governor.
The complaint was never officially over the amount of taxation (the taxes were quite low, though ubiquitous), but always on the political decision-making process by which taxes were decided in London, i.e. without representation for the colonists in British Parliament.
Patrick Henry's resolution in the Virginia legislature implied that Americans possessed all the rights of Englishmen, that the principle of no taxation without representation was an essential part of the British Constitution, and that Virginia alone had the right to tax Virginians.
This offer of actual imperial representation was likewise re-stated to the delegates of the colonies via the colonial agents in 1774, according to Connecticut-born Reverend Thomas Bradbury Chandler, in his publication A Friendly Address to All Reasonable Americans. In February 1775, Britain passed the Conciliatory Resolution which ended taxation for any colony which satisfactorily provided for the imperial defense and the upkeep of imperial officers.
James Macpherson, a colonial secretary of British West Florida, defended the North administration in an officially sponsored polemic in 1776 named The Rights of Great Britain Asserted. This work replied to the Continental Congress' July 6, 1775 Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms by proposing that,
Had the Americans, instead of flying to arms, submitted the same supposed grievance [as the taxed though unrepresented Palatine counties in England had], in a peaceable and dutiful manner, to the Legislature, I can perceive no reason why their request should be refused. Had they, like the County and City of Chester, represented, that "for lack of Knights and Burgesses to represent them in the High Court of Parliament, they had been oftentimes TOUCHED and GRIEVED with Acts and Statutes made within the said Court, derogatory to their most ancient jurisdictions, liberties and privileges, and prejudicial to their quietness, rest and peace;" this Country [of Britain] would, I am persuaded, have no objection to their being represented in her Parliament... If they are not madly bent on independence, let them propose the conditions on which they wish to continue as subjects...The Legislature of this Kingdom cannot possibly depart from any part of its supremacy over the Colonies; but it is in the power of the Colonies to share in that supremacy. If they complain of being taxed without having the privilege of sending Members to Parliament, let them be represented. Nay, more: Let their representation increase in proportion to the Revenue they shall furnish. If they wish rather to vote their QUOTA towards the general supply, through their own General Courts and Assemblies, the resolution of Parliament on that subject is still open to their choice. But, as long as they assume the language of a Sovereign State, this Kingdom can enter into no negociation [sic], can meet no compromise."
The noted economist Adam Smith seconded this view in his famous 1776 publication Wealth of Nations when he recommended the Americans "to send fifty or sixty new representatives to Parliament" on the basis of the amount of taxes they would contribute to the Imperial coffers. Writing in October 1776 to Lord North in Strictures upon the Declaration of the Congress of the recent Declaration of Independence, and particularly of James Otis, Jr.'s pamphlet Rights of the British Colonies and its endorsement by the Massachusetts Assembly, Governor Thomas Hutchinson said,
The Assembly of Massachusetts Bay, therefore, was the first that took any publick of the [Sugar] Act, and the first which ever took exception to the right of Parliament to impose Duties or Taxes on the Colonies, whilst they had no representatives in the House of Commons. This they did in a letter to their Agent in the summer of 1764, which they took care to print and publish before it was possible for him to receive it. And in this letter they recommend to him a pamphlet, wrote by one of their members, in which there are proposals for admitting representatives from the Colonies to fit in the House of Commons. I have this special reason, my Lord, for taking notice of this Act of the Massachusetts Assembly; that though an American representation is thrown out as an expedient which might obviate the objections to Taxes upon the Colonies, yet it was only intended to amuse the authority in England; and as soon as it was known to have its advocates here [in London], it was renounced by the colonies, and even by the Assembly of the Colony which first proposed it, as utterly impracticable."
Indeed, the resolves of the Continental Congresses of both 1765 and 1774 declared that imperial representation was too impractical on the footing that "local and other circumstances, cannot properly be represented in the British parliament".
It is important to note, however, that neither was such an offer of seats likewise formally made to the colonies, as far as current historiography has gathered, by Parliament until 1778. Parliament's Carlisle Peace Commission of 1778 nevertheless proposed to the Congress the rights of provincial representation, Congressional representation, pardons for the Congressional delegates, and above all, actual Parliamentary representation of Americans in London.
In Britain, representation was highly limited due to unequally distributed voting constituencies and property requirements; only 3% of the population could vote and they were often controlled by local gentry. This meant 'virtual representation' had come to be employed in Britain to explain the iniquities in its political life. Therefore the British government attempted to argue that the colonists had virtual representation in their interests. In English history, "no taxation without representation" was an old principle and meant that Parliament had to pass all taxes. At first, the "representation" was held to be one of land, but, by 1700, this had shifted to the notion that, in Parliament, all British subjects had a "virtual representation." "We virtually and implicitly allow the institutions of any government of which we enjoy the benefit and solicit the protection," declared Samuel Johnson in his political pamphlet Taxation No Tyranny. He rejected the plea that the colonists, who had no vote, were unrepresented. "They are represented," he said, "by the same virtual representation as the greater part of England." However, the lack of an aristocracy in the colonies and a tradition of greater democracy amongst Americans gave impetus to the charge, voiced by Britons and colonists alike, that virtual representation was "sophistry".
The colonial insistence on direct representation as opposed to virtual representation has thus been seen by later commentators to have "usher[ed] in a profound political and social revolution, which rooted out most of the remaining traces of monarchic rule and feudalism inherited from the only partially complete English bourgeois revolution. The Americans carried through the bourgeois democratic revolution on a scale never before seen in history."
Professor Michael Zuckert, regarding Whateley's opinions that it "is the estate of the commons that is present in the constitution, and not merely these particular persons who happen to be electors", has written "Although the Americans greeted the theory of virtual representation with scorn, it is in fact an extremely plausible application of the underlying theory of the constitution, as contained in the Bill of Rights, to the situation of the colonists, to whom the “rights of Englishmen” had been promised."
Josiah Tucker, A Welsh Anglican cleric, argued in Four Tracts on Political and Commercial Subjects [London, 1774] that incorporation of American representatives on a demographically proportional basis as opposed to a virtual one, alongside such an equalisation in suffrage of Britons, would result in a House of Commons with too many members to function efficiently. He maintained that virtual representation was adequate because it did not effect the theoretical right of qualified British subjects across the Empire, including in England, to vote for representatives in Britain, even though "their Distance from the Place of Election" made this right "inconvenient".
Thomas Whateley, a member of Parliament who helped draft the Stamp Act, defended it in 1765 by declaring American rights were theoretically not infringed as British subjects, otherwise known as 'Commons', when he wrote that the Americans,
claim it is true the Privilege, which is common to all British Subjects, of being taxed only with their own Consent, given by their Representatives; and may they ever enjoy the Privilege in all its Extent: May this sacred Pledge of Liberty be preserved inviolate, to the utmost Verge of our Dominions, and to the latest Page of our History!..All British Subjects are really in the same; none are actually, all are virtually represented in Parliament; for every Member of Parliament sits in the House, not as Representative of his own Constituents, but as one of that august Assembly by which all the Commons of Great Britain are represented...It would be a singular Objection to a Man's Vote for a Member of Parliament that being represented in a provincial, he cannot be represented in a national Assembly;..We value the Right of being represented in the national Legislature as the dearest Privilege we enjoy; how justly would the Colonies complain, if they alone were deprived of it? They acknowledge Dependence upon their Mother Country; but that Dependence would be Slavery not Connection, if they bore no Part in the Government of the whole...to deny the Authority of [Parliament] is to surrender all Claims to a Share in its Councils...a permanent Title to a Share in national Councils, would be exchanged for a precarious Representation in a provincial Assembly...Happily for them, this is not their Condition. They are on the contrary a Part, and an important Part, of the Commons of Great Britain: they are represented in Parliament, in the same Manner as those Inhabitants of Britain are, who have not Voices in Elections; and they enjoy, with the Rest of their Fellow-subjects the inestimable Privilege of not being bound by any Laws, or subject to any Taxes, to which the Majority of the Representatives of the Commons have not consented."
The theory of virtual representation was attacked in Britain by Charles Pratt, 1st Earl Camden, and his ally William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. It was wholly rejected in the colonies, who said the "virtual" was a cover for political corruption and was irreconcilable with their belief that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Colonists said no man was represented if he were not allowed to vote. Moreover, even "If every inhabitant of America had the requisite freehold," said Daniel Dulany, "not one could vote, but upon the supposition of his ceasing to become an inhabitant of America, and becoming a resident of Great Britain." The colonists and like-minded Britons insisted that representation was achieved only through an assembly of men actually elected by the persons they were intended to represent.
The argument between the colonies and Parliament sought to resolve how the British 'commoners' of the various part of the Empire were represented most constitutionally - as Daniel Dulaney, an American Loyalist and lawyer, put it "[the] constitutional authority [of Parliament's rights to bind American subjects] depends upon the single question, Whether the Commons of Great-Britain are virtually the representatives of the Commons of America, or not.
William Pitt argued in 1766 that the Commons of Britain ought not to tax the '"Commons of America" without gaining consent of their representatives in stating, "even under former arbitrary reigns, Parliaments were ashamed of taxing a people without their consent, and allowed them representatives. Why did [Grenville] confine himself to Chester and Durham? He might have taken a higher example in Wales—Wales, that never was taxed by Parliament till it was incorporated." He then said,
I am no courtier of America. I stand up for this kingdom. I maintain that the Parliament has a right to bind, to restrain America. Our legislative power over the colonies is sovereign and supreme. When it ceases to be sovereign and supreme, I would advise every gentleman to sell his lands, if he can, and embark for that country. When two countries are connected together like England and her colonies, without being incorporated, the one must necessarily govern. The greater must rule the less. But she must so rule it as not to contradict the fundamental principles that are common to both...let the sovereign authority of this country over the colonies be asserted in as strong terms as can be devised, and be made to extend to every point of legislation whatsoever; that we may bind their trade, confine their manufactures, and exercise every power whatsoever, except that of taking their money out of their pockets without their consent."
In his first speeches in Parliament, Lord Camden vigorously attacked the declaratory act which was proposed to mollify the crown on the repeal of the Stamp Tax. After his first affirmation of "no taxation without representation" Camden was attacked by British PM Grenville, Chief Justice James Mansfield, Robert Henley, 1st Earl of Northington, and others. He responded:
[T]he British Parliament have no right to tax the Americans. I shall not consider the Declaratory Bill now lying on your table; for to what purpose, but loss of time, to consider the particulars of a Bill, the very existence of which is illegal, absolutely illegal, contrary to the fundamental laws of nature, contrary to the fundamental laws of this constitution? A constitution grounded on the eternal and immutable laws of nature; a constitution whose foundation and centre is liberty, which sends liberty to every individual who may happen to be within any part of its ample circumference. Nor, my Lords, is the doctrine new, it is as old as the constitution; it grew up with it; indeed it is its support; taxation and representation are inseparably united; God hath joined them, no British parliament can separate them; to endeavour to do it, is to stab our very vitals. ... My position is this—I repeat it—I will maintain it to my last hour,—taxation and representation are inseparable; this position is founded on the laws of nature; it is more, it is itself an eternal law of nature; for whatever is a man's own, is absolutely his own; no man has a right to take it from him without his consent, either expressed by himself or representative; whoever attempts to do it, attempts an injury; whoever does it, commits a robbery; he throws down and destroys the distinction between liberty and slavery. Taxation and representation are coeval with and essential to the constitution. ... [T]here is not a blade of grass growing in the most obscure corner of this kingdom, which is not, which was not ever, represented since the constitution began; there is not a blade of grass, which when taxed, was not taxed by the consent of the proprietor. ... I can never give my assent to any bill for taxing the American colonies, while they remain unrepresented; for as to the distinction of a virtual representation, it is so absurd as not to deserve an answer; I therefore pass it over with contempt. The forefathers of the Americans did not leave their native country, and subject themselves to every danger and distress, to be reduced to a state of slavery: they did not give up their rights; they looked for protection, and not for chains, from their mother country; by her they expected to be defended in the possession of their property, and not to be deprived of it: for, should the present power continue, there is nothing which they can call their own; or, to use the words of Mr. Locke, ‘What property have they in that, which another may, by right, take, when he pleases, to himself?’”
In an appearance before Parliament in January, 1766, former Prime Minister William Pitt stated:
The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible that ever entered into the head of a man. It does not deserve a serious refutation. The Commons of America, represented in their several assemblies, have ever been in possession of the exercise of this their constitutional right, of giving and granting their own money. They would have been slaves if they had not enjoyed it.
Grenville responded to Pitt, saying the disturbances in America "border on open rebellion; and if the doctrine I have heard this day be confirmed, nothing can tend more directly to produce a revolution." External and internal taxes are the same, argued Grenville.
In the United States, the phrase is used in Washington, D.C. as part of the campaign for a vote in Congress, to publicize the fact that Washington residents pay Federal taxes, but do not have representation in Congress. In November 2000, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing license plates bearing the slogan "Taxation without representation". In a show of support for the city, President Bill Clinton used the "Taxation Without Representation" plates on the presidential limousine; however, President George W. Bush had the tags replaced to those without the motto shortly after taking office. Barack Obama has announced his intention to use the plates with the motto beginning at his second inauguration.
In 2002, the city council authorized adding the slogan to the D.C. flag, but no new flag design has been approved. In 2007, the District of Columbia and United States Territories Quarters program was created based on the successful 50 State Quarters program. DC submitted designs containing the slogan, but they were rejected by the U.S. Mint.
On February 27, 2009, the phrase "Taxation without representation" was also used in the Tea Party protests, where protesters were upset over increased government spending and taxes, and specifically regarding a growing concern amongst the group that the U.S. government is increasingly relying upon a form of taxation without representation through increased regulatory levies and fees which are allegedly passed via unelected government employees who have no direct responsibility to voters and cannot be held accountable by the public through elections.
British Prime Minister John Major used a modified version of the quote, with the order reversed, in October 1995, when at the United Nations's 50th Anniversary celebrations he said, "It is not sustainable for states to enjoy representation without taxation," in order to criticize the billion-dollar arrears of the United States' payments to the UN, echoing a statement made the previous month at the opening session of the UN General Assembly by UK Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.
To become citizens of the United States, immigrants most often must be permanent residents for a period of time (usually 5 years). Permanent residents must pay taxes on their worldwide income and, in most cases, cannot vote. However, throughout the 19th century, many states did allow immigrants to vote after they had declared their intention to become citizens. This was primarily because these new states were populated largely by immigrants who had not yet attained citizenship. Throughout U.S. history, non-citizens have been allowed to vote in 40 U.S. states and territories.][ Today, non-citizens are allowed to vote in seven jurisdictions in the United States.
The phrase is also used by other groups in America who pay various types of taxes (sales, income, property) but lack the ability to vote, such as felons (who are, in many states, barred from voting), people who work in one state and live in another (thus having to pay income tax to a state they don't live in), or people under 18.
In Canada, Québec politician Gilles Duceppe, former leader of the Bloc Québécois, has repeatedly cited this phrase in defending the presence of his party in Ottawa. The Bloc is a Québec sovereigntist party solely running candidates in Canadian Federal elections in the province of Québec. Duceppe's evocation of the phrase implies that the proponents of Quebec's sovereigntist movement have the right to be represented in the body (which they are), the Canadian Parliament, which levies taxes upon them. He will usually cite the sentence in its original English.][
The first government of South Australia was by a Legislative Council, whose members were chosen by the Crown and from which office-bearers "Official Members" were selected by the Governor. John Stephens and his South Australian Register were among those who campaigned for democratic reform. Partial reform took place in 1851, when a majority of Members of the South Australian Legislative Council, 1851–1855 were elected.