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Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Road to Revolution Taxation Without Representation Part Two of Four

From The Founders, Religion and Government:

The Road to Revolution
Taxation Without Representation
Part Two of Four

One year after passing the Sugar Act, Britain tried again with the Stamp Act. This was a tax on all paper goods. Proof that the tax was paid was shown by a stamp on the paper item. Again, the colonies saw this as a violation of their rights while Britain viewed it as an economic necessity. The outrage of this act far exceeded that of the Sugar Act. Violence erupted in the colonies. In Virginia, Patrick Henry introduced a series of resolutions against the Stamp Act. It is rumored he went so far as to say, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third — [Here Henry was interrupted with a cry of "Treason!"] — may profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it."In Boston, the house of a British official was torn down by a mob using their bare hands. It was during the protests over the Stamp Act that James Otis Jr. uttered the words which would become famous. He said, "taxation without representation is tyranny." It was later altered to the familiar "No Taxation without Representation." Otis called for a Stamp Act Congress to discuss the colonies growing problems with Britain. The colonial leaders at the congress called for a boycott of British goods. Parliament relented in 1766 and repealed the both taxes.

Not having taken the measure of the colonial temperaments, Parliament decided to try again to directly tax the colonies. This time it was the Townshend Acts, named for Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the man who introduced the acts. The Townsend Acts placed a duty on paper, paint, lead, glass, and tea that were imported into the colonies. The actual tax was low because Parliament wanted to establish a precedent. But they once again misjudged the issue. The colonists were not so much concerned with the tax rate but with their rights. These Acts met with the same resistance as the others. Eventually the colonies decided to appeal directly to King George for help. Samuel Adams wrote the Massachusetts Circular Letter which was sent around to the other colonies in order for them to join the petition. This letter constituted another step toward the Revolution since it tied the colonies together both in cause and in communication.

Hoping to avert the violence that had occurred during the Stamp Act crisis, troops were sent to Boston at the request of royal officials there. The troops escalated tensions. The Bostonians resented their presence, were forced by the Quartering Act to house and feed them, and found the soldiers taking their jobs. The tensions finally came to a head on the night of March 5, 1770, when a group of colonists gathered outside of the Boston Customs House. The reason why is unclear. It is possible that the mob began due to a personal disagreement between a colonist and the sentry on duty that night. However, whatever the reason for the gathering, once there they began taunting the sentry. Alarmed by the size and tenor of the crowd, the soldier called for assistance from the nearby barracks. Captain Thomas Preston marched a group of soldiers out to rescue the sentry. Instead, he found himself and his men surrounded. What happened next is not clear. But the result is. Shots were fired and five men lay dead or dying.

Parliament was shocked by the Boston Massacre while the colonists were outraged. To lessen tensions the taxes under the Townshend Acts were repealed, all but one. The tax on tea was left in place to maintain the authority which the colonists viewed as unconstitutional, the authority to directly tax the colonists. However, the repeal of most of the taxes, combined with the removal of the troops in Boston to a fort in the harbor, and the trial of the soldiers involved in the massacre, lessened tensions. The boycotts were abandoned one by one, and the colonial leaders seemed to take a step back to more moderate stances. This time is sometimes referred to as the "Quite Period," but it was merely the calm between the storms.

In 1773, Parliament, still not understanding the nature of the colonists, passed the Tea Act. For years the colonists had bypassed British regulations and duties through smuggling. including Dutch tea. This created a crippling surplus for the British East India Company. In an early example of "too big to fail," Parliament decided to allow the company to sell directly to the colonists. The Townshend tax on tea remained in place. The effect was to lower the cost of British tea below that of the smuggled Dutch tea. It also created a virtual monopoly for the British East India Company and threatened ruin to the tea merchants in the colonies who had legally imported tea. By dictating who the colonist could trade with, Parliament was creating another precedent that the colonists could not tolerate.

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