“No taxation without representation” began as a slogan in the period 1763–1776 that summarized a primary grievance of the British colonists in the Thirteen Colonies. In short, many in those colonies believed the lack of direct representation in the distant British Parliament was an illegal denial of their rights as Englishmen, and therefore laws taxing the colonists (the kind of law that affects the most individuals directly), and other laws applying only to the colonies, were unconstitutional. In recent times, it has been used by several other groups in several different countries over similar disputes.
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.
Usage in American Revolution
The phrase “No Taxation Without Representation!” was coined by Reverend Jonathan Mayhew in a sermon in Boston in 1750. By 1765 the term “no taxation without representation” was in use in Boston, but no one is sure who first used it. Boston politician James Otis was most famously associated with the phrase, “taxation without representation is tyranny.”
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 contended that the colonists had virtual representation.
However, Pitt the Elder, amongst other prominent Britons and North Americans such as Joseph Galloway, debated and circulated plans for the creation of a federally representative British Parliament or imperial structure with powers of taxation that was to consist of American, West Indian, Irish and British M.P.s. Despite the fact that these ideas were debated and discussed seriously on both sides of the Atlantic, it appears no Congressional demand for this constitutional development was sent to Westminster.
The Americans rejected the Stamp Act 1765 (which was repealed), and in 1773 violently rejected the remaining tax on tea imports at the Boston Tea Party. 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 the colonists believed Parliament had passed illegally, the colonists responded by forming militias and seized political control of each colony, ousting the royal governors. 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. 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.
Patrick Henry’s resolutions 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 enjoyed the right to tax Virginians.
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