Taxation Without Representation: What It Means and History

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Taxation Without Representation: What It Means and History

What Is Taxation Without Representation?

Taxation without representation refers to a population that is compelled to pay taxes to a governing authority while having no control over the government’s policies. “Taxation without representation is tyranny,” a slogan of American colonials against their British masters, inspired the expression.

Key Takeaways

  • Taxation without representation was arguably the first phrase used by American colonists who were dissatisfied with British authority.
  • They were opposed to the imposition of taxes on colonists by a government that offered them no say in policy decisions.
  • The inhabitants of the District of Columbia are citizens who face taxes without representation in the twenty-first century.

Taxation Without Representation

History of Opposition to Taxation Without Representation

Although taxation without representation has occurred in many civilizations, the term entered the popular vernacular in the American colonies during the 1700s. One of the fundamental motivations of the American Revolution was opposition to taxation without representation.

The Stamp Act Triggers Colonists

In the 1760s, the British Parliament started taxing its American colonies directly, presumably to repay losses sustained during the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). The Stamp Act of 1765, for example, required colonial printers to pay a tax on papers used or printed in the colonies and to confirm it by affixing an embossed revenue stamp to the documents.

Violators were tried without a jury in vice-admiralty tribunals. In the perspective of colonists, the denial of a trial by peers constituted a second insult.

Revolt Against the Stamp Act

The tax was deemed unconstitutional by colonists because they had no representation in the Parliament that imposed it and were denied the right to a jury trial of their peers. In October 1765, delegates from nine of the thirteen colonies assembled in New York to create the Stamp Act Congress, also known as the Continental Congress of 1765.

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For 18 days, Connecticut’s William Samuel Johnson, Pennsylvania’s John Dickinson, South Carolina’s John Rutledge, and other notable colonials convened. They subsequently passed a “Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonists,” which stated the delegates’ common viewpoint for the rest of the colonists to read. Resolutions three, four, and five emphasized the delegates’ devotion to the monarch while opposing taxation without representation.

Trial Without a Jury

A later resolution disputed the use of admiralty courts that conducted trials without juries, citing a violation of the rights of all free Englishmen.

The Congress eventually drafted three petitions addressed to King George III, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons.

After the Stamp Act

The petitions were initially ignored, but boycotts of British imports and other financial pressures by the colonists finally led to the repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766.

It was too late. After years of increasing tensions, the American Revolution began on April 19, 1775, with battles between American colonists and British soldiers in Lexington and Concord.

On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee introduced a resolution to Congress declaring the 13 colonies free from British rule. Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were among the representatives chosen to word the resolution.

A Statement of Intent

The first part was a simple statement of intent, including the declaration that all men were created equal and have unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A second section listed the colonists’ grievances and declared their determination to achieve independence. The final paragraph dissolved the colonists’ ties with Britain.

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Following debate, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, with the signing occurring primarily on Aug. 2, 1776.

Taxation Without Representation in Modern Times

Taxation without representation did not die with the secession of the American colonies from Britain, not even in the United States.

Residents of Puerto Rico, for example, are US citizens but have no voting rights in presidential elections and no voting representatives in the US Congress (unless they move to one of the 50 states.)

Furthermore, starting in the year 2000, the term “taxation without representation” appeared on license plates issued by the District of Columbia. The tagline was added to raise awareness of the fact that District residents pay federal taxes while having no voting representation in Congress.

The District’s City Council added one word to the term in 2017. “End Taxation Without Representation,” it now says.

Which Tax Triggered the Rebellion Against Great Britain?

Many colonists were outraged by the Stamp Act of 1765, which taxed every paper document used in the colonies. It was the first tax imposed by the monarch exclusively on American colonists.

Did Taxation Without Representation End After the American Revolution?

Both yes and no. While the newly established country’s states had representation, federal districts like as Washington, D.C., and territories such as Puerto Rico still do not have the same representation on the federal level in the contemporary age.

Does Taxation Without Representation Refer to Local or Federal Government?

Today, the word alludes to a lack of federal representation. Puerto Rico, for example, has the same organization as a state, with mayors and a governor, but instead of senators or representatives in Congress, they have a resident commissioner who represents the people in Washington, D.C. Puerto Ricans may vote for president only if they have established residence in one of the 50 states.

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