In order to understand the current Tea Party movement, it is important to understand our nation’s founding. The following series of articles is a summary of the events surrounding our country’s birth. Check back regularly for new articles.
No Taxation Without Representation
In order to understand the American Revolution one has to first examine the various taxes and acts that were passed by the British Parliament. Colonial trade had been controlled by Parliament since the late 17th century. By the 1760’s the colonists came to believe they were being deprived of a historic right. The English Bill of Rights establishes freedom from taxation by Royal Prerogative, meaning “the agreement of parliament became necessary for the implementation of any new taxes”. The colonists argued that all new taxes imposed by the Crown violated the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. Parliament counter argued that the colonists had virtual representation in Parliament based on Members of Parliament being elected by similar voters.
By the end of the French and Indian War (1763) Great Britain had secured vast holdings in the North American continent including New France, Spanish Florida and Native American lands east of the Mississippi River. The French and Indian War was a small chapter of the larger Seven Years War, fought on four continents and involving all major European powers. Due to this conflict, Great Britain incurred a large debt defending its North American colonies and the West Indies. Great Britain’s intent by the end of the war was that the colonies would help pay for this debt through taxation. It was argued in Parliament that the average Englishman paid quite a bit more in taxes than their American counterparts. However, the average Englishman earned a higher annual wage and also received more direct services from the government. The phrase “No taxation without representation” became popular in many American circles which rejected the theory that men in London, who knew nothing about their needs and conditions, could represent them.
In 1764 Parliament enacted the Sugar Act, the Currency Act and the Stamp Act, further straining relations between Great Britain and the Colonists. The Sugar Act, passed on April 5, 1764, was a continuation of the Molasses Act which expired in 1763. The Sugar Act (1764) placed a tax on all imported foreign molasses. It also placed a tax on the exportation of certain goods, most notably lumber. Essentially the act halved the previous tax on molasses and promised stricter enforcement. The Molasses Act (1733) was designed to regulate trade whereas the Sugar Act (1764) was strictly designed as a way to collect revenue. This act was later repealed and replaced with the Revenue Act of 1766 which further reduced the tax on molasses.
The Currency Act, passed in 1764, prohibited the American colonies from issuing paper currency in any form. The colonies were continuously running trade deficits with Britain and shipping gold and silver to Britain was the only way to balance the excess of imports over exports. British merchants engaged in credit sales to the colonies, but the severe British financial crisis of 1762 to 1772 caused British merchants to call in colonial debts. This act hurt trade considerably and caused extreme dissatisfaction in the Colonies by removing the circulating medium. The government was able to assume control of the colonial currency system by removing all paper money and establishing a monetary system employing a “hard currency” based on the pound sterling.
The Stamp Act of 1765 required many printed materials in the colonies to carry a stamp tax. The Stamp Act was a direct tax to help pay for troops stationed in the colonies following the victory of the Seven Years War. The British government believed that because the colonists directly benefited from the military presence, they should bear some of the burden of cost. The Stamp Act directly impacted the lives of colonists and, as such, was cause for numerous protests in the streets throughout most of the colonies. The Stamp Act was repealed on March 17, 1766.
The Intolerable Acts are names used to describe a series of laws passed by Parliament in 1774. First of the acts was the Boston Port Act, which was passed in direct response to the Boston Tea Party. The port of Boston was closed until the East India Company had been repaid for the tea and order had been restored in Boston. The Massachusetts Government Act brought the Massachusetts government under direct control of the British government, meaning that all government posts were now appointed directly by the king or the royal governor. The Administration of Justice Act allowed the governor to move trials of all accused royal officials to another colony or even to Great Britain, meaning that if the governor did not think that the accused person could not get a fair trial in Massachusetts then the governor could change the location of the trial. The Quartering Act applied to all colonies, not just Massachusetts. The act sought to create a more effective method of housing British troops in America. The Quartering Act required the colonies to provide adequate shelter for troops. If no provisions had been made then the governor could house troops in other suitable buildings. 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.
These Acts and others that were passed between 1764 and 1774 directly lead to the outbreak of the American War for Independence. Colonists believed that their rights as Englishmen had been violated and petitioned the king in 1774. The petition was sent to King George III by the First Continental Congress. The petition expressed loyalty to the king and hoped for redress relating to the Intolerable and other Acts. In May of 1775 the Second Continental Congress was convened and the Olive Branch Petition was drafted, again expressing loyalty and reconciliation. The Olive Branch Petition was undermined by a letter confiscated from John Adams, in which he disclosed his discontent with the petition and stated that he believed war was inevitable. The British used Adams’ letter to claim that the Olive Branch Petition was insincere. King George III refused to receive it, issuing instead the Proclamation of Rebellion, requiring action against the traitors.