Readings > The Stamp Act, A Simulation
The Historical Background
After the French and Indian War (1754-63), the British gained Canada and the Mississippi area as new territories. The war was won but the costs had been extensive for the British government and its North American colonies. Those costs climbed still higher after the French and Indian War, as imperial officials chose to retain in 1764 approximately 10,000 British redcoats (soldiers) in North America, with the number to be reduced to 7,500 the next year and even more five years later. Their purpose was to protect the colonies against other (western or native) enemies and ensure peace with Native Americans along the extensive frontier. The annual cost of maintaining this force was estimated at £225,000 but actually exceeded £384,000.
Parliament and George Grenville, the Prime Minister, tried to address the war debt and the ongoing military expenses in North America. Grenville realized that the customs service there did not generate its expected income and was in dire need of reform. He discovered that American customs dues produced a meager £1800 annually, in large part because the colonists simply smuggled goods and bribed collectors. The Molasses Act of 1733 illustrated the nature of this problem. It had levied a 6d tax on a gallon of imported molasses, an amount that would threaten New England's rum industry. The colonists' solution was to bribe customs officials and smuggle goods to limit that tax burden. The result was that Britain annually raised a mere £700 of an expected £200,000 revenue. Officials were startled to discover that, in the 1760s, the customs service cost more to run than it actually collected in revenues.
With a growing national debt and annual deficit, Grenville felt the colonies should at least pay a part of their own protection. During his tenure, Parliament moved in this direction. In 1764, that body passed the Sugar Act, a measure that actually cut the Molasses Act duty in half, only Parliament determined that this time it would be collected. The Sugar Act caused alarm in the American colonies for a number of reasons. It would produce economic disadvantages; it would require invasive implementation by the Royal navy; and it would come in the midst of a general post-war depression in America. Furthermore the act would be accompanied by another measure that prohibited the colonists' use of paper money as legal tender. This meant that they would have to pay this new sugar tax with scarce gold and silver coins, thus siphoning off what limited supply they had.
This combination of factors generated American opposition, which included threats to boycott English products. Provincials increasingly challenged Parliament's right to tax the colonies, thereby raising serious constitutional and legal questions about the relationship between the colonies and the mother country. British sovereignty and the authority of Parliament came under attack.
In addition to the Sugar Act, George Grenville prepared for an additional tax the following year. Instead of immediately offering it to Parliament, he warned the colonists of its impending adoption unless they could suggest a tax more suitable to them. They did not offer any alternatives and so, when no suggestions appeared, Parliament passed the Stamp Act in January 1765. It called for a tax on formal documents -- like wills, marriage licenses, deeds, newspapers -- and even playing cards and dice. The Act prescribed that these documents be printed on paper carrying an official stamp. So broadly was this tax applied that most colonists would feel its effects.
Residents of England, whose tax rates were much higher than those of their counterparts in the colonies, strongly applauded the passage of the Stamp Act. They often paid such taxes themselves, and the prime minister projected that the yearly revenues from the tax would offset 12 to 20 percent of the North American military expenses. The colonists, they believed, were represented in Parliament just as much as the vast majority of people on the British Isles, and therefore such an act was perfectly within the rights of the British government.
Parliament badly misjudged American sentiment and power. Members of Parliament assumed and never debated Parliament's supremacy over the colonies, but the colonists did. News of the impending tax generated a bitter debate about the extent of Parliament's lawful authority and the ultimate purpose of these policies. The fact that this revenue act came along with a Quartering Act, declaring the right of British redcoats to occupy uninhabited buildings in the colonies, provoked fears that military coercion might follow. Almost all assemblies in the colonies challenged the right of Parliament to tax them, and, in October of 1765, representatives of nine colonies met in New York City as the Stamp Act Congress. There, delegates agreed on the general principle that Parliament lacked authority to levy taxes on the colonies and to deny individuals a jury trial. Elsewhere, some Americans called for a boycott of English goods, which provoked concern among British merchants, and while some took to the streets to demonstrate their discontent. Mobs in various locations assaulted appointed or suspected tax distributors and destroyed buildings designated to store the hated stamped paper. A crowd in Boston hung the stamp distributor in effigy, beheaded the effigy, and then "stamped" it to pieces before shattering the windows of his home, destroying his furniture, and tearing out the paneling. The stamp distributor in Newport, Rhode Island, also lost his home, and one in Maryland was so upset upon seeing his store pulled down that he rode off in panic. After a year of debates, protests, and riots, Parliament rescinded the Stamp Act, but accompanied the announcement with a declaration that it had the right and authority to levy another tax in the future -- and indeed it did but with similar results.
The commotion surrounding the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act was only the beginning of an American opposition movement. Parliament, however, failed to understand the American argument, the changing nature of the complex Anglo-American relationship, and failed to adjust its attitude. Consequently, within a year of revoking the Stamp Act, the controversies and arguments started all over again with the implementation of the Townshend Duties.
In the class meeting specified on our semester schedule, students will participate in the following simulation. The setting is Parliament in late 1765. The British Prime Minister has assembled a special hearing to discuss the stamp tax, the colonists' opposition, and the proper response of the British government. All students, as members of the Parliamentary committee, are expected to participate in this discussion and advise the Prime Minister on a proper course of action. The Prime Minister will moderate the discussion and four individuals will begin the simulation with prepared statements. Two of those students/"Members of Parliament" will offer brief statements (no more than one to one and a half minutes each) explaining why the British government is justified in imposing this revenue measure and why it must continue to enforce it. The other two speakers will each introduce arguments why the colonists are justified in resisting the measure and should not comply with it. After these very brief presentations introducing a few basic arguments, the floor will be opened to comments and questions by the entire body. Individuals may respond to or argue with points made by the speakers and other members of the group, or they may introduce new issues for consideration.
During the debate, the committee ought to consider the following questions.
Consider your position of the Anglo-American controversy by drawing upon the arguments presented in the following primary documents. These excerpts are from the actual writings of the colonists and British officials and essayists.
The Opponents' Perspective
1. WILLIAM PITT (January 14, 1766)
Upon the whole, I will beg leave to tell the House what is really my opinion. It is, that the Stamp Act be repealed absolutely, totally, and immediately; that the reason for the repeal should be assigned, because it was founded on an erroneous principle. At the same time, 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 every point of legislation whatsoever: that we may bind their trade, confine their manufactures, and exercise every power whatsoever -- except that of taking money out of their pockets without their consent.
2. THE DECLARATION OF THE STAMP ACT CONGRESS (October 19, 1765)
The Members of this Congress, sincerely devoted, with the warmest Sentiments of Affection and Duty to his Majesty's Person and Government; inviolably attached to the present happy Establishment of the Protestant Succession, and with Minds deeply impressed by a Sense of the present and impending misfortunes of the British Colonies on this Continent; having considered as maturely as Time would permit, the Circumstances of the said Colonies, esteem it our indispensable Duty to make the following Declarations, of our humble Opinion, respecting the most Essential Rights and Liberties of the Colonists, and of the Grievances under which they labor, by Reason of several late Acts of Parliament.
1st. That his majesty's subjects in these Colonies, owe the same Allegiance to The crown of Great-Britain, that is owing from his Subjects born within the Realm, and all due Subordination to that August Body, the Parliament of Great-Britain.
2d. That his Majesty's Liege Subjects in these Colonies, are entitled to all the inherent Rights and Liberties of his Natural born Subjects within the kingdom of Great-Britain.
3d. That it is inseparably essential to the Freedom of a People, and the undoubted Right of Englishmen, that no Taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their Representatives.
4th. That the People of these Colonies are not, and from their local Circumstances, cannot be Represented in the House of Commons in Great-Britain.
5th. That the only Representatives of the people of these colonies, are Persons chosen therein, by themselves; and that no Taxes ever have been, or can be Constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective Legislature.
6th. 'That all Supplies to the Crown, being free Gifts of the People, it is unreasonable and inconsistent with the Principles and Spirit of the British Constitution, for the People of Great Britain to grant to his Majesty the Property of the Colonists.
7th. That Trial by Jury is the inherent and invaluable Right of every British Subject in these Colonies.
8th. That the late Act of Parliament, entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain Stamp Duties, and other Duties in the British Colonies and Plantations in America, &c., by imposing Taxes on the Inhabitants of these Colonies, and the said Act, and several other Acts, by extending the Jurisdiction of the Courts of Admiralty beyond its ancient Limits, have a manifest Tendency to subvert the Rights and Liberties of the Colonists.
9th. That the Duties imposed by several late Acts of Parliament, from the peculiar Circumstances of these Colonies, will be extremely Burthensome and Grievous; and from the scarcity of Specie, the Payment of them absolutely impracticable.
10th. That as the Profits of the Trade of these Colonies ultimately center in Great Britain, to pay for the Manufactures which they are obliged to take from thence, they eventually contribute very largely to all Supplies granted there to the Crown.
11th. That the Restrictions imposed by several late Acts of Parliament, on the Trade of these Colonies, will render them unable to purchase the Manufactures of Great Britain.
12th. That the Increase, Prosperity, and Happiness of these Colonies, depend on the full and free Enjoyment of their Rights and Liberties, and an Intercourse, with Great Britain, mutually Affectionate and Advantageous.
13th. That it is the Right of the British Subjects in these Colonies, to Petition the King or either House of Parliament.
Lastly, That it is the indispensable Duty of these Colonies to the best of Sovereigns, to the Mother Country, and to themselves, to endeavor by a loyal and dutiful Address to his Majesty, and humble Applications to both Houses of Parliament, to procure the Repeal of the Act for granting and applying certain Stamp Duties, of all Clauses of any other Acts of Parliament, whereby the Jurisdiction of the Admiralty is extended as aforesaid, and of the other late Acts for the Restriction of the American Commerce.
3. DANIEL DULANY, "Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies. . ." (1765)
In the constitution of England, the three principal forms of government, monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, are blended together in certain proportions; but each of these orders, in the exercise of the legislative authority, hath its peculiar department, from which the others are excluded. In this division, the granting of supplies, or laying taxes, is deemed to be the province of the house of commons, as the representative of the people. . . . All supplies are supposed to flow from their gift; and the other orders are permitted only to assent, or reject generally, not to propose any modification, amendment, or partial alteration of it.
This observation being considered, it will undeniably appear, that, in framing the late Stamp Act, the commons [Parliament] acted in the character of representative of the colonies. . . .
. . . . The advocates for the Stamp Act admit, in express terms, that "the colonies do not choose members of parliament," "but they assert that the colonies are virtually represented in the same manner with the non-electors resident in Great Britain."
How have they proved this position? Where have they defined, or precisely explained what they mean by the expression, virtual representation? . . .
There is not that intimate and inseparable relation between the electors of Great Britain, and the Inhabitants of the colonies, which must inevitably involve both in the same taxation; on the contrary, not a single actual elector in England, might be immediately affected by a taxation in America, imposed by a statute which would have a general operation and effect, upon the properties of the inhabitants of the colonies. The latter might be oppressed in a thousand shapes, without any Sympathy, or exciting any alarm in the former. Moreover, even acts, oppressive and injurious to the colonies in an extreme degree, might become popular in England, from the promise or expectation, that the very measures which depressed the colonies, would give ease to the Inhabitants of Great-Britain. . . .
. . . . If the commons of Great-Britain have no right by the constitution, to GIVE AND GRANT property not belonging to themselves or other, without their consent actually or virtually given; If the claim of the colonies not to be taxed without their consent, signified by their representatives, is well found; if it appears that the colonies are not actually represented by the commons of Great-Britain, and that the notion of double or virtual representation, doth not with any propriety apply to the people of America; then the principle of the Stamp act, must be given up as indefensible on the point of representation, and the validity of it rested upon the power which they who framed it, have to carry it into execution. . . .
The colonies have a complete and adequate legislative authority, and are not only represented in their assemblies, but in no other manner. . . .
4. SAMUEL ADAMS, letter to John Smith (December 16, 1765)
The Colonists complain that this is both burdensom & unconstitutional. They alledge, that while the Nation [Great Britain] has been contracting this Debt, solely for her own Interest, detachd from theirs, they [the colonists] have [been] subduing & settling an uncultivated Wilderness, & thereby increasing her [Great Britain's] Power & Wealth at their own Expence, which is eminently true with Regard to New England. . . . But it is said [by the Stamp Act's supporters] that this Tax is to discharge the Colonys proportion of Expence in carrying on the War in America, which was for their Defence -- To this it is said, that it does by no Means appear, that the War in America was carried on solely for the Defence of the Colonys -- had the Nation been only on the defensive here, a much less Expence would have been sufficient; there was evidently a View [by British officials] of making Conquests, & by means thereof establishing an advantageous Peace for the Nation, or perhaps advancing her Dominion & Glory. . . . But is there no Credit to be given to the New England Colonys who not only purchasd these Territorys of the Natives & settled them, but have also defended & maintaind them for more than a Century past, against the Encroachments or rather Incursions of those warlike Savages, with a Bravery & Fortitude scarcely to be equald, & without a Farthings Expence to the Nation?
The Stamp Duty, if the Act should be enforced, will probably in two or three Years, take off the whole of their remaining Cash, and leave them none to carry on any Trade at all -- I wish that Trade Policy, as an ingenious Gentleman has expressd, was better understood & exercisd, by the Mother Country with Regard to the Colonys. . . .
5. SAMUEL ADAMS, letter to Reverend G_____ W_____ (December 16, 1765)
This Act will be very grievous in its Effect, as it will very soon carry off the whole Quantity of Specie in the Continent: Money is the very Support of Trade; & if the Trade of the Colonys is beneficial to Great Britain, She must herself very soon feel the ill Effects of a Measure, wch will consume the very Vitals of that Trade. Great Britain, can make her Colonys usefull to her, by no more effectual Means than by encouraging their Trade: Our Dependence is altogether upon her Manufactorers, for many of the necessary Articles of Life; & it is Trade only that can furnish us with the Means of purchasing them: It is certainly then more for the Interest of Great Britain to encourage the Trade of the Colonys, by which means their Riches flow spontaneously into her Lap, than to exact Revenues from them at the Expence of their Trade.
6. Benjamin Franklin, Testimony Against the Stamp Act (1766)
Q. Do the Americans pay any considerable taxes among themselves?
A. Certainly many, and very heavy taxes.
Q. What are the present taxes in Pennsylvania, laid by the laws of the colony?
A. There are taxes on all estates, real and personal; a poll tax; a tax on all offices, professions, trades, and businesses, according to their profits; an excise on all wine, rum, and other spirit; and a duty of ten pounds per head on all Negroes imported, with some other duties. . . .
Q. Are not all the people very able to pay those taxes?
A. No. The frontier counties, all along the continent, have been frequently ravaged by the enemy and greatly impoverished, are able to pay very little tax. . . .
Q. Are not the colonies, from their circumstances, very able to pay the stamp duty?
A. In my opinion there is not gold and silver enough in the colonies to pay the stamp duty for one year.
Q. Don't you know that the money arising from the stamps was all to be laid out in America?
A. I know it is appropriated by the act to the American service; but it will be spent in the conquered colonies, where the soldiers are, not in the colonies that pay it. . . .
Q. Do you think it right that America should be protected by this country and pay no part of the expense?
A. That is not the case. The colonies raised, clothed, and paid, during the last war, near 25,000 men, and spent many millions.
Q. Where you not reimbursed by Parliament?
A. We were only reimbursed what, in your opinion, we had advanced beyond our proportion, or beyond what might reasonably be expected from us; and it was a very small part of what we spent. Pennsylvania, in particular, disbursed about 500,000 pounds, and the reimbursements, in the whole, did not exceed 60,000 pounds. . . .
Q. Do you think the people of America would submit to pay the stamp duty, if it was moderated?
A. No, never, unless compelled by force of arms. . . .
Q. What was the temper of America towards Great Britain before the year 1763?
A. The best in the world. They submitted willingly to the government of the Crown, and paid, in all their courts, obedience to acts of Parliament. . . .
Q. Was it an opinion in America before 1763 that the Parliament had no right to lay taxes and duties there?
A. I never heard any objection to the right of laying duties to regulate commerce; but a right to lay internal taxes was never supposed to be in Parliament, as we are not represented there. . . .
Q. Did the Americans ever dispute the controlling power of Parliament to regulate the commerce?
Q. Can anything less than a military force carry the Stamp Act into execution?
A. I do not see how a military force can be applied to that purpose.
Q. Why may it not?
A. Suppose a military force sent into America; they will find nobody in arms; what are they then to do? They cannot force a man to take stamps who chooses to do without them. They will not find a rebellion; they may indeed make one.
Q. If the act is not repealed, what do you think will be the consequences?
A. A total loss of the respect and affection the people of America bear to this country, and of all the commerce that depends on that respect and affection.
Q. If the Stamp Act should be repealed, would it induce the assemblies of America to acknowledge the right of Parliament to tax them, and would they erase their resolutions [against the Stamp Act]?
A. No, never.
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The Supporters' Perspective
7. "PACIFICUS" (Reprinted in the Maryland Gazette, March 20, 1766)
Our numerous and rich Islands give no Evidences of an ungovernable Temper; nor have the ceded Provinces afforded us any Cause to suspect their Loyalty. Georgia, the two Carolinas, and Maryland, are quiet: As are also the two Jersies, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. As to New York, they are too honest and industrious a People to encourage Insurrections. . . . Nor need we be jealous of Pennsylvania, where industrious Propensities are better rewarded by bountiful Nature than in New-York. . . .
But shall Britain yield up her Birth Rights, for the Sake of pleasing the Whim of Virginians, who emaciated Bodies and pale Faces, prove at first Sight the Degeneracy of their Morals, and the consumptive State of their natural Constitutions? These yellow Shadows of Men are by no Means fit for a Conflict with our Troops: Nor will ever such romantic Adventures of Chivalry enter into their trembling Hearts. Such Combatants would be far fitter for an Engagement with our Covent Garden Ladies, than with our battled Squadrons. So soon as these doughty Champions found Matters growing serious, they might probably then look for Caverns where they could hide their shaking Limbs amongst those extensive Woods which they are too lazy or too feeble to cut down. . . .
As for the New-Englanders, I have given their Characters already. They are the Joke of America. I cannot reasonably imagine that such a Hated and sour tempered Province can find any Allies. Their Valour arising from the Stems [steams?] of their poisonous Rum, will quickly evaporate in sudden Tumults; which, like April Showers, will be almost as soon over as begun. They are not so distracted as to spend much of their Blood in so idle a Cause; in which indeed no Man, above the Degree of an Ideot, would risque his Life, Property, and all that he holds dear in this World. He must have little Sense, who would become liable to be treated as a Rebel for the Sake of shunning Payment of a Shilling or Eighteen Pence for a Sheet of stamped Paper. Our Colonies must be the veriest Beggars in the World, if such inconsiderable Duties appear to be intolerable Burthens in their Eyes. . . .
What Subject of this great Republic, in his right Senses, would agree that our Constitution, so vigorous and so well proportioned, should be broke up at the Pleasure of such Opponents, by the Introduction of Representatives from Virginia or New-England in our House of Commons? Would our Morals be safe under Virginian Legislatures, or would Church be in no Danger from Pumkin Senators? . . . Degenerate Britons! how can ye entertain the humiliating Thought!
8. "JOHN PLOUGHSHARE," LONDON CHRONICLE (February 20, 1766)
I am a Farmer in Hertfordshire; I rent four-score pounds a year, and pay the taxes (tho' I wish they were not so many) without murmuring. I was glad at my heart whenever I heard that we had thrashed the French and Spainiards during the war. When the peace came, and I understood that we had got all America to ourselves, I thought it would be a great thing for old England; and that our fellow-subjects in that part of the world would trade with us more extensively than ever, and be ready to contribute, according to their abilities, to the payment of our debts and taxes, especially as a great part of the debt (I do not know how much) had been contracted in the late war, undertaken upon their account, and ending to their advantage. When I heard that they were mobbing the King's Officers, and declaring openly that the Parliament of England had no right to tax them, I was as much astonished as if a field where I had sowed barley should turn up pease. Surely they do not pretend to be subjects of England for the King and Parliament can undoubtedly tax them if they be subjects. I hear that a very great Man takes their part, and sys, that the Parliament of England has no right to tax them, for they are not represented. Mr. Printer, I am not represented, and there are millions of Englishmen, as well as I, who have no more share in the elections of Members of Parliament than the Man of the Moon, and I believe that we notwithstanding pay the greatest part of the taxes. I, for my part, don't desire that it should be otherwise. We are very well in this Country, if we could but think so. But I fear our folly and restlessness will not suffer us to remain long in our present condition: If these new-fashioned doctrines get once into the people's heads, they won't be easily got out again. . . .
England labours under a great load of debt, and heavy taxes; England has a very expensive government to maintain; the Americans have a government of very little expence; and consequently we must dwindle and decline every day in our trade, whilst they thrive and prosper exceedingly. The consequence of this will certainly be, that the inhabitants [the colonists] will run away [seek independence] as fast as they can from this country to that, and Old England will become a poor, deserted, deplorable kingdom-like a farm that has been over-cropped, and the manure carried away to another man's ground. I think it no shame to say, that I am for Old England; and I hold it neither fair nor honest in the Americans and their advocates to say, that they will not pay any part of the expence even of that army which defends them against the savages. . . .
9. THE BOSTON RIOT, August 26, 1765 (according to the diary of Josiah Quincy, Jr., August 27, 1765)
. . . . The populace of Boston, about a week since, had given a very notable instance of their detestation of the above unconstitutional Act [the Stamp Act], and had sufficiently shown in what light they viewed the man who would undertake to be the stamp distributor. But, not content with this, the last night they again assembled in King's Street; where, after having kindled a fire, they proceeded, in two separate bodies, to attack the houses of two gentlemen of distinction, who, it had been suggested, were accessories to the present burthens; and did great damage in destroying their houses, furniture, &c., and irreparable damage in destroying their pipers. Both parties, who before had acted separately, then unitedly proceeded to the Chief-Justice's house, who, not expecting them, was unattended by his friends, who might have assisted, or proved his innocence. In this situation, all his family, it is said, abandoned the house, but himself and his eldest daughter, whom he repeatedly begged to depart; but as he found all ineffectual, and her resolution fixed to stay and share his fate, with a tumult of passions only to be imagined, he took her in his arms and carried her to a place of safety, just before the incensed mob arrived. This filial affection saved, it is more than probable, his life. Thus unexpected, and nothing removed from the house, an ample field offered to vitiate, if possible, this rage-intoxicated rabble. They beset the house on all sides, and soon destroyed every thing of value. . . . The destruction was really amazing; for it was equal to the fury of the onset. But what above ill is to be lamented is the loss of some of the most valuable records of the country, and other ancient papers; for, as his Honor was continuing his history, the oldest and most important writings and records of the Province, which he had selected with great care, pains, and Expense, were in his possession. This is a loss greatly to be deplored, as it is absolutely irretrievable.
The distress a man must feel on such an occasion can only be conceived by those who the next day saw his Honor the Chief-Justice come into court, with a look big with the greatest anxiety, clothed in a manner which would have excited compassion from the hardest heart, though his dress had not been striking contrasted by the other judges and bar, who appeared in their robes. Such a man in such a station, thus habited, with tears starting from his eyes, and a countenance which strongly told the inward anguish of his soul, what must his audience have felt, whose compassion had before been moved by what they knew he had suffered, when they heard him pronounce the following words in a manner which the agitations of his mind dictated?
GENTLEMEN, There not being a quorum of the court without me, I am obliged to appear. Some apology is necessary for my dress: indeed, I had no other. Destitute of every thing, no other shirt; no other garment but what I have on; and not one in my whole family in a better situation than myself. The distress of a whole family around me, young and tender infants hanging about me, are infinitely more insupportable than what I feel for myself, though I am obliged to borrow part of tells clothing. . . .
I hope the eyes of the people will be opened, that they will see how easy it is for some designing, wicked man to spread false reports, to raise suspicions and jealousies in the minds of the populace, and enrage them against the innocent; but, if guilty, this is not the way to proceed. The laws Of OUR country are open to punish those who have offended. This destroying all peace and order of the community, all will feel its effects; and I hope all will see how easily the people may be deluded, inflamed and carried with madness against an innocent man.
I pray God give us better hearts!
10. WILLIAM KNOX (1765)
When the house of commons had last year come to the resolution, That it might be proper to charge certain stamp-duties upon the colonies; the agents for the colonies on the Continent understanding that the resolution was conceived in such terms, and the further proceedings thereon suspended till the next session, in order to give the colonies an opportunity of making propositions in compensation for the revenue that such a tax might be expected to produce; and understanding also, that not a single member of parliament doubted of the right of parliament to impose a stamp duty, or any other tax upon the colonies; thought it their duty to wait upon the chancellor of the Exchequer, to thank him for his candor and tenderness to the colonies; and to ask his opinion of the sort of proposition, which would probably be accepted from them to parliament. That gentleman, with great openness and affability, told, them, He had proposed the resolution in the terms the parliament had adopted, from a real regard and tenderness for the subjects in the colonies; that it was highly reasonable they should contribute something towards the charge of protecting themselves, and in aid of the great expence Great Britain put herself to on their account; that no tax appeared to him so easy and equitable as a stamp-duty; and what ought particularly to recommend it to the colonies, was the mode of collecting it, which did not require any number of officers vested with extraordinary powers of entering houses . . . .
11. SOAME JENYNS, "The Objections to the taxation consider'd" (1765)
The great capital argument, which I find on this subject, and which, like an Elephant at the head of a Nobob's army, being once overthrown, must put the whole into confusion, is this; that no Englishman is, or can be taxed, but by his own consent: by which must be meant one of these three propositions; either that no Englishman can be taxed without his own consent as an individual; or that no Englishman can be taxed without the consent of the persons he chuses to represent him; or that no Englishman can be taxed without the consent of the majority of all those, who are elected by himself and others of his fellow-subjects to represent them. Now let us impartially consider, whether any one of these propositions are in fact true: if not, then this wonderful structure which has been erected upon them, falls at once to the ground, and like another Babel, perishes by a confusion of words, which the builders themselves are unable to understand.
First then, that no Englishman is or can be taxed but by his own consent as an individual: this is so far from being true, that it is the very reverse of truth; for no man that I know of is taxed by his own consent; and an Englishman, I believe, is as little likely to be so taxed, as any man in the world.
Secondly, that no Englishman is or can be taxed but by the consent of those persons whom he has chose to represent him; for the truth of this I shall appeal only to the candid representatives of those unfortunate counties which produce cyder, and shall willingly acquiesce under their determination.
Lastly, that no Englishman is, or can be taxed, without the consent of the majority of those, who are elected by himself, and others of his fellow-subjects, to represent them. This is certainly as false as the other two; for every Englishman is taxed, and not one in twenty represented: copyholders, leaseholders, and all men possessed of personal property only, chuse no representatives; Manchester, Birmingham, and many more of our richest and most flourishing trading towns send no members to parliament, consequently cannot consent by their representatives, because they chuse none to represent them; yet are they not Englishmen? or are they not taxed?
12. THOMAS WHATELY, "The Regulations Lately Made concerning the Colonies and the Taxes Imposed upon Them, Considered" (1765)
The Revenue that may be raised by the Duties which have been already, or by these [stamp dates] if they should be hereafter imposed, are all equally applied by Parliament, towards defraying the necessary Expences of defending, protecting, and securing, the British Colonies and Plantations in America: Not that on the one hand an American Revenue might not have been applied to different Purposes; or on the other, that Great Britain is to contribute nothing to these: The very Words of the Act of Parliament and of the Resolution of the House of Commons imply, that the whole of the Expence is not to be charged upon the Colonies: They are under no Obligation to provide for this or any other particular national Expence; neither can they claim any Exemption from general Burthens; but being a part of the British Dominions, are to share all necessary Services with the rest. . . . Great Britain has a Right at all Times, she is under a Necessity, upon this Occasion, to demand their Assistance; but still she requires it in the Manner most suitable to their Circumstances; for by appropriating this Revenue towards the Defence and Security of the Provinces where it is raised, the Produce of it is kept in the Country, the People are not deprived of the Circulation of what Cash they have amongst themselves, and thereby the severest Oppression of an American Tax, that of draining the Plantations of Money which they can so ill spare, is avoided. What Part they ought to bear of the national Expence, that is necessary for their Protection, must depend upon their Ability, which is not yet sufficiently known: to the whole they are certainly unequal, that would include all the military and all the naval Establishment, all Fortifications which it may be thought proper to erect, the Ordnance and Stores that must be furnished, and the Provisions which it is necessary to supply; but surely a Part of this great Disbursement, a large Proportion at least of some particular Branches of it, cannot be an intolerable Burthen upon such a Number of Subjects, upon a Territory so extensive, and upon the Wealth which they collectively possess. As to the Quota which each Individual must pay, it will be difficult to persuade the Inhabitants of this Country, where the neediest Cottager pays out of his Pittance, however scanty, and how hardly soever earned, our high Duties and Customs and Excise in the Price of all his Consumption; it will be difficult I say, to persuade those who see, who suffer, or who relieve such Oppression; that the West Indian out of his Opulence, and the North American out of his Competency, can contribute no more than it is now pretended they can afford towards the Expence of Services, the Benefit of which, as a Part of this Nation they share, and as Colonists they peculiarly enjoy. They have indeed their own civil Governments besides to support; but Great Britain has her civil Government too; she has also a large Peace Establishment to maintain; and the national Debt, tho' so great a Part, and that the heaviest Part of it has been incurred by a War undertaken for the Protection of the Colonies, lies solely still upon her.
The Reasonableness, and even the Necessity of requiring an American Revenue being admitted, the Right of the Mother Country to impose such a Duty upon her Colonies, if duly considered, cannot be questioned: they 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! but let us not limit the legislative Rights of the British People to Subjects of Taxation only: No new Law whatever can bind us that is made without the Concurrence of our Representatives. The Acts of Trade and Navigation, and all other Acts that relate either to ourselves or to the Colonies, are founded upon no other Authority; they are not obligatory if a Stamp Act is not, and every Argument in support of an Exemption from the Superintendance of the British Parliament in the one Case, is equally applicable to the others. The Constitution knows no Distinction; the Colonies have never attempted to make one; but have acquiesced under several parliamentary Taxes. The 6 Geo. II. c. 13. which has been already refered to, lays heavy Duties on all foreign Rum, Sugar, and Melasses, imported into the British Plantations: the Amount of the Impositions has been complained of; the Policy of the Laws has been objected to; but the Right of making such a Law, has never been questioned. . . .
The Instances that have been mentioned prove, that the Right of the Parliament of Great Britain to impose Taxes of every Kind on the Colonies, has been always admitted; but were there no Precedents to support the Claim, it would still be incontestable, being founded on the Principles of our Constitution; for the Fact is, that the Inhabitants of the Colonies are represented in Parliament: they do not indeed chuse the Members of that Assembly [Parliament]; neither are Nine Tenths of the People of Britain Electors; for the Right of Election is annexed to certain Species of Property, to peculiar Franchises, and to Inhabitancy in some particular Places; but these Descriptions comprehend only a very small Part of the Land, the Property, and the People of this Island: all Copyhold, all Leasehold Estates, under the Crown, under the Church, or under private Persons, tho' for Terms ever so long; all landed Property in short, that is not Freehold, and all monied Property whatsoever are excluded: the Possessors of these have no Votes in the Election of Members of Parliament; Women and Persons under Age be their Property ever so large, and all of it Freehold, have none. The Merchants of London, a numerous and respectable Body of Men, whose Opulence exceeds all that America could collect; the Proprietors of that vast Accumulation of Wealth, the public Funds; the Inhabitants of Leeds, of Halifax, of Birmingham, and of Manchester, Towns that are each of them larger than the Largest in the Plantations; many of less Note that are yet incorporated; and that great Corporation the East India Company, whose Rights over the Countries they possess, fall little short of Sovereignty, and whose Trade and whose Fleets are sufficient to constitute them a maritime Power, are all in the same Circumstances; none of them chuse their Representatives; and yet are they not represented in Parliament? Is their vast Property subject to Taxes without their Consent? Are they all arbitrarily bound by Laws to which they have not agreed? The Colonies are in exactly the same Situation: 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. Their Rights and their Interests, however his own Borough may be affected by general Dispositions, ought to be the great Objects of his Attention, and the only Rules for his Conduct. . . .
The Inhabitants of the Colonies however have by some been supposed to be excepted, because they are represented in their respective Assemblies. So are the Citizens of London in their Common Council; and yet so far from excluding them from the national Representation, it does not impeach their Right to chuse Members of Parliament: it is true, that the Powers vested in the Common Council of London, are not equal to those which the Assemblies in the Plantations enjoy; but still they are legislative Powers, to be exercised within their District, and over their Citizens; yet not exclusively of the general Superintendance of the great Council of the Nation. . . .
And after all, does any Friend to the Colonies desire the Exemption [from Parliament's authority]? he cannot, if he will reflect but a Moment on the Consequences. 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 Dependance upon their Mother Country; but that Dependance would be Slavery not Connection, if they bore no Part in the Government of the whole. . . . they would be reduced from Equality to Subordination, and be at the same Time deprived of the Benefits, and liable to the Inconveniences, both of Independency and of Connection. 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.
If there really were any Inconsistency between a national and a provincial Legislature, the Consequence would be the Abolition of the latter; for the Advantages that attend it are purely local: the District it is confined to might be governed without it, by means of the national Representatives; and it is unequal to great general Operations; whereas the other is absolutely necessary for the Benefit and Preservation of the whole: But so far are they from being incompatible, that they will be seldom found to interfere with one another: The Parliament will not often have occasion to exercise its Power over the Colonies, except for those Purposes, which the Assemblies cannot provide for. A general Tax is of this Kind; the Necessity for it, the Extent, the Application of it, are Matters which Councils limited in their Views and in their Operations cannot properly judge of; and when therefore the national Council determine these Particulars, it does not encroach on the other, it only exercises a Power which that other does not pretend to, never claimed, or wished, nor can ever be vested with: The latter remains in exactly the same State as it was before, providing for the same Services, by the same Means, and on the same Subjects. . . .
. . . . The Parliament of Great Britain not only may but must tax the Colonies, when the public Occasions require a Revenue there: The present Circumstances of the Nation require one now; and a Stamp Act, Of which we have had so long an Experience in this, and which is not unknown in that Country, seems an eligible Mode of Taxation. From all these Considerations, and from many others which will occur upon Reflexion and need not be suggested, it must appear proper to charge certain Stamp Duties in the Plantations to be applied towards defraying the necessary Expences of defending, protecting, and securing the British Colonies and Plantations in America. . . .
13. "WILLIAM PYM": London General Evening Post (August 20, 1765)
The people in our American colonies lay a very great stress upon the importance their charters, and imagine that the privileges granted to their ancestors, at the time of their original establishment, must infallibly exempt them from participating in the least inconvenience of the Mother country, though the Mother country must share in every inconvenience of theirs. This mode of reasoning is however no less new than it is extraordinary: and one would almost be tempted to imagine that the persons, who argue in this manner, were alike unacquainted with the nature of the colonies and the constitution of this kingdom.
I shall very readily grant, that the colonies at the time of their first settling might receive particular indulgences from the Crown to encourage adventurers to go over; and I will also grant, that these charters should be as inviolably adhered to as the nature of public contingencies will admit. But at the same time let me inform my fellow subjects of America, that a resolution of the British parliament can at any time set aside all the charters that have ever been granted by our monarchs; and that consequently nothing can be more idle than this pompous exclamation about their charter exemptions, whenever such a resolution has actually passed.
The great business of the British Legislative power is, to consult upon what new laws may be necessary for the general good of the British dominions, and to remove any casual inconveniencies which may arise from the existence of their former acts. . . . If then the Legislative power of this country have a right to alter or annul those public acts which were solemnly passed by former princes and former parliaments; it must be a necessary consequence that they have an equal right to annul the private charters of former princes also; and that these charters, which are by no means to be set in the same degree of importance with our laws, are at least every whit as subject to their jurisdiction and authority. This is a circumstance which the assembly of Virginia in particular should have attended to before their late unaccountable resolutions; and 'tis what I hope the assemblies of our other settlements will judiciously attend to, if they find the least propensity to follow the extraordinary example of their Sister colony.
The people of Ireland, though they have a parliament of their own (and a parliament, I will take the liberty of saying, composed of people to the full as eminent for their fortune and abilities, as any of our American assemblies) are nevertheless under the immediate subjection of the British Legislature. The vote of an English Senate can in an instant abrogate all the laws of that kingdom; and surely none of the plantations can possibly plead a greater share either of merit or privileges than our Irish fellow subjects; who nevertheless behave with an uncommon degree of respect to our decisions; and never presume to blame the hand which increases their burdens, however they may grown beneath the heaviness of the load.
I am very well aware that the present impatience, which the whole kingdom feels at the least increase of taxes, will naturally create a number of friends for the colonies; but at the same time let us consider that the propriety of the tax, which has excited such a ferment among our American fellow-subjects, is not now the foundation of dispute. The question now is, Whether those American subjects are, or are not, bound by the resolutions of a British parliament? If they are not, they are entirely a separate people from us, and the mere reception of officers appointed in this kingdom, is nothing but an idle farce of government, which it is by no means our interest to keep up, if it is to produce us no benefit but the honour of protecting them whenever they are attacked by their enemies. On the other hand, if the people of America are bound by the proceedings of the English legislature, what excuse the Virginians possibly make for the late indecent vote (to give it no harsher apellation) of their assembly. The present crisis, Sir, is really an alarming one; and after all the blood and treasure which we have expended in defence of the colonies, it is now questioned, whether we have any interest in those colonies at all.
If the people of Virginia were offended either with the tax itself, or with the mode of taxation, the proper method of proceeding would have been to petition the parliament, to point out the grievances arising from it, and to solicit the necessary redress. This is the invariable manner in which all the rest of their fellow-subjects (at least the European part of their fellow subjects) have acted in cases of alike nature. But to think of bullying their King, and the august Council of the Mother country, into an acquiescence with their sentiments, by a rash and hot headed vote; not only must expose them to the ridicule, but the resentment of every considerate man who wishes well either to their interest or to the prosperity of this kingdom.
The people of the colonies know very well that the taxes of the Mother country are every day increasing; and can they expect that no addition whatsoever will be made to theirs? They know very well that a great part of our national debt was contracted in establishing them on a firm foundation, and protecting them from the arbitrary attempts of their implacable enemies.Can anything then be so unreasonable, as a refusal of their assistance to wipe a little of it off? For my own part I am as much astonished at their want of justice, as I am surprized at their want of gratitude; and cannot help declaring it as my opinion, that we ought to shew but a very small share of sensibility for the circumstances of those people who are so utterly regardless of ours. To be sure, Sir, in assisting the colonies we had an eye to our own interest. It would be ridiculous otherwise to squander away our blood and our treasure in their defence. But certainly the benefit was mutual; and consequently the disadvantage should be mutual too. If we reap emoluments from the existence of the colonies, the colonies owe every thing to our encouragement and protection. As therefore we share in the same prosperity, we ought to participate of the same distress; and nothing can be more inequitable, than the least disinclination to bear a regular portion of those disbursements, which were applied to support the general interest both of the mother-country and themselves.