taxation without representation

No taxation without representation

"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 and in relation to other issues.

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 term, "taxation without representation is tyranny.

Parliament had controlled colonial trade and taxed imports and exports since 1660. By the 1760s the Americans came to believe they 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 they complained 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 loyal Americans of the Revolutionary era, composed bills and epistles for the creation of a federally representative British Parliament 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 is suggestive of the populist zeal and violent momentum of the radical, and minority, 'English-rights' American patriots that no Congressional demand for this constitutional development was sent to Westminster; the radicals feared the loss of power that such a measure would ironically involve. From this perspective, the typical British and Loyalist stance of gradual change within the British Empire, as opposed to the forced resumption of local colonial voting and/or independence via military engagement, helps explain somewhat the emotive urgency of the yell that became a mantra of the Revolution and the Republic afterwards. If representation had been fulfilled, the virulent basis of patriot grievances might have been quashed, and pretensions to the revolution and independence (and the freedom from imperial constraint such as westward expansion into Indian territory, legalisation of the smuggling trades and continuance of the threatened slave industry) would have been delayed or confined to history.

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.

Virtual representation

In Britain representation was highly limited; only 3% of the men could vote and they were controlled by local gentry. Therefore the British government argued that the colonists had virtual representation in their interests. In English history "no taxation without representation" was an old principle and meant that Parliament had to pass all taxes. At first the "representation" was held to be one of land, but by 1700 this had shifted to the notion that in Parliament all British subjects had a "virtual representation." "We virtually and implicitly allow the institutions of any government of which we enjoy the benefit and solicit the protection," declared Samuel Johnson in his political pamphlet Taxation No Tyranny. He rejected the plea that the colonists, who had no vote, were unrepresented. "They are represented," he said, "by the same virtual representation as the greater part of England."

The theory of virtual representation was attacked in Britain by Charles Pratt, Earl of Camden, and especially by William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. It was wholly rejected in the colonies, who said the "virtual" was a cover for political corruption and was irreconcilable with their republican belief that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Colonists said no man was represented if he were not allowed to vote. Moreover, even "If every inhabitant of America had the requisite freehold," said Daniel Dulany, "not one could vote, but upon the supposition of his ceasing to become an inhabitant of America, and becoming a resident of Great Britain." The colonists insisted that representation was achieved only through an assembly of men actually elected by the persons they were intended to represent.

In an appearance before Parliament in January, 1766, Prime Minister William Pitt stated:

The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible that ever entered into the head of a man. It does not deserve a serious refutation. The Commons of America, represented in their several assemblies, have ever been in possession of the exercise of this their constitutional right, of giving and granting their own money. They would have been slaves if they had not enjoyed it.

Grenville responded to Pitt, saying the disturbances in America "border on open rebellion; and if the doctrine I have heard this day be confirmed, nothing can tend more directly to produce a revolution." External and internal taxes are the same, argued Grenville.

Modern use in the United States

British Prime Minister John Major used a modified version of the quote, with the order reversed, in October 1995, when at the United Nations's 50th Anniversary celebrations he said, "It is not sustainable for states to enjoy representation without taxation," in order to criticize the billion-dollar arrears of the United States' payments to the UN, echoing a statement made the previous month at the opening session of the UN General Assembly by UK Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.

To become citizens of the United States, immigrants most often must be permanent residents for a period of time (usually 5 years). Permanent residents must pay taxes and cannot vote. In the late 19th century, however, some states allowed immigrants to vote after they had declared their intention to become citizens; that was an effort to attract immigrants.

Both Britain's and the United States' woman's suffrage movements used this to some extent.

The phrase is also used by other groups in America who pay various types of taxes (sales, income, property) but lack the ability to vote, such as ex-felons (who are, in many states, barred from voting) or people under 18.

In the United States, the phrase is used in Washington, D.C. as part of the campaign for a vote in Congress. In November 2000, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing license plates bearing the slogan "Taxation without representation". In a show of support for the city, President Bill Clinton used the "Taxation Without Representation" plates on the presidential limousine; however, President George W. Bush had the tags replaced to those without the motto shortly upon taking office. In 2002, the city council authorized adding the slogan to the D.C. flag, but no new flag design has been approved. In 2008, when the District was allowed to participate in the 50 State Quarters program, it submitted designs containing the slogan, but they were rejected by the U.S. Mint.

Americans working in Antarctica are required to pay federal income tax per the United States Tax Code because it is written that Antarctica is not a foreign country, therefore it is exempt from the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion.U.S. Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit Appeal from the United States Tax Court No. 8866-03. No. 06-1934. Open Publishing. Retrieved on 2005-07-06.. However, the US Supreme Court had previously stated that Antarctica was a foreign country in Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. 197 (1993). Currently OSHA and U.S. Labor laws do not apply to U.S. citizens working in Antarctica. Also, things like cigarettes sold there bear the "for use outside of U.S." seal, and the mail system for American Antarctic stations is the A.P.O. military mail system. Furthermore the Antarctic Treaty System, signed by the United States, states "Article 4 - does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims and no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force."

In Canada

In Canada, Québec politician Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, has repeatedly cited this phrase in defending the presence of his party in Ottawa. The Bloc is a Québec sovereigntist party solely running candidates in Canadian Federal elections in the province of Québec. Duceppe's evocation of the phrase implies that the proponents of Quebec's sovereigntist movement have the right to be represented in the body (which they are), the Canadian Parliament, which levies taxes upon them. He will usually cite the sentence in its original English, whether speaking English or French.

Popular culture

In the film The Great Escape, during a scene where the Americans are supplying the POW camp with moonshine in celebration of Independence Day, the character Goff holds a canteen above his head in a toast and yells out: "No taxation without representation," which results in an astonished look by the actor Steve McQueen, who momentarily breaks character and gives him a puzzled look, mouthing the word "what?".



  • William S. Carpenter, "Taxation Without Representation" in Dictionary of American History, Volume 7 (1976)
  • John C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution. 1943.
  • Edmund Morgan. Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1989)
  • J. R. Pole; Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic (1966)
  • Slaughter, Thomas P. "The Tax Man Cometh: Ideological Opposition to Internal Taxes, 1760-1790."
  • Unger, Harlow, John Hancock, Merchant King and American Patroit, 2000, ISBN 0785820264
  • William and Mary Quarterly 1984 41(4): 566-591. ISSN 0043–5597 Fulltext in Jstor

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