Taxation Without Representation Meaning

What Does No Taxation Without Representation Mean?

Taxation without representationThe phrase taxation without representation describes a citizenry that is required to pay taxes to a government authority without having any say or advocate in that government’s policies. The term traces back to a slogan of the American colonials against the British Parliament.  The slogan was – Taxation without representation is tyranny.

Taxation Without Representation in the American Colonies

Opposition to taxation without representation was one of the motivating causes of the American Revolution. The British Parliament began taxing its American colonists directly in the 1760s.  Parliament’s intent was to recoup losses incurred during the Seven Years’ War and the Indian War. The Stamp Act of 1765 was particularly despised.  It required colonial printers to pay a tax on documents used or created in the colonies.  To prove the tax was paid, an embossed revenue stamp was to be was affixed to the documents.  Violators were tried in vice-admiralty courts without a jury. The denial of a trial by peers was a second grievance in the minds of colonists.

Why were the Colonists Angry about Taxation Without Representation? 

Many colonists believed that their interests were not represented in the distant British Parliament.  As a result, they believed any taxes it imposed on them such as the Stamp Act and the Townshend Acts were unconstitutional.  Colonists were British Subjects.  So, the British Parliament’s actions were seen as a denial of the colonists’ fundamental rights as Englishmen.

The American Revolution – A Revolt Against Taxation Without Representation

Colonists considered the Stamp tax to be illegal and offensive for two reasons.  First, they had no representation in the Parliament that passed it.  Second, they were denied the right to a trial by a jury of their peers if they disobeyed. Delegates from nine of the 13 colonies met in New York in October 1765 to form the Stamp Act Congress.  That Congress is better known as the Continental Congress of 1765.

William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, John Dickinson of Pennsylvania, John Rutledge of South Carolina, and other prominent colonials met for 18 days. They then approved a Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonists.  The declaration listed the delegates’ position and was published for other colonists to read. Resolutions three, four, and five stressed the delegates’ loyalty to the British Crown.  However, the document clearly stated their objection to taxation without representation.

A later resolution disputed the use of admiralty courts that conducted trials without juries, citing a violation of the rights of all free Englishmen.  Congress eventually drafted three petitions.  The first was addressed to King George III.  The others were addressed to the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

England’s Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) and its counterpart waged in America, the French and Indian War (1754–1763), doubled Britain’s national debt. In order to recoup some of the losses Britain incurred defending its American colonies, Parliament decided for the first time to tax the colonists directly. One such tax, the 1765 Stamp Act required all printed documents used or created in the colonies to bear an embossed revenue stamp. Stamp Act violations were to be tried in vice-admiralty courts because such courts operated without a jury.  Colonial assemblies denounced the law, claiming the tax was illegal on the grounds that they had no representation in Parliament.

Colonists were likewise furious at being denied the right to a trial by jury. Many viewed the tax as an infringement of the rights of Englishmen, which contemporary opinion held to be enshrined in Magna Carta. Protests throughout the colonies threatened tax collectors with violence. Parliament finally bowed to pressure and repealed the Stamp Act in March 1766, but the colonial reaction set the stage for the American independence movement. (Source: loc.gov)

Independence Movement After the Stamp Act

The petitions were initially ignored by the British Parliament.  However, boycotts of British imports and other pressures by the colonists finally led to the repeal of the Stamp Act in March 1766.  Unfortunately, after years of increasing tensions, the American Revolution began on April 19, 1775.  The Revolution started 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 write the document.

Declaration of Independence

The first part was a simple statement of intent.  It included the declaration that all men were created equal and have inalienable 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.  Following the debate, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, with the signing occurring primarily on Aug.2, 1776. (Source: archives.gov)

Taxation Without Representation in Modern Times

Taxation without representation did not end with the separation of the American colonies from Britain. Not even in the U.S.  Residents of Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia have no voting representatives in the U.S. Congress. 

  • Puerto Rico – Residents of Puerto Rico are U.S. citizens but do not have the right to vote in presidential elections.  They have no voting representatives in the U.S. Congress unless they move to one of the 50 states.
  • District of Columbia – The phrase taxation without representation appeared on license plates issued by the District of Columbia beginning in the year 2000. The addition of the slogan was meant to increase awareness of the fact that residents of the District pay federal taxes.  Regardless, District residents have no voting representation in Congress. In 2017, the District’s City Council added one word to the phrase. It now reads “End Taxation Without Representation”.

Taxation Without Representation – Future Generations

Ironically, before most millennials left grade school, the modern-day version of taxation without representation had already been set in motion. Instead of paying for new spending with new taxes, for the past two decades, Congress has paid for new spending with future taxes in the form of debt.  This has been occurring at an accelerating pace since the 1950s and 1960s

By the time the youngest millennials were old enough to vote in 2014, the national debt was already $17.8 trillion. Before millennials were old enough to run for federal office, Congress had already promised $100 trillion in future benefits without providing a funding source for them.

Young Americans will inherit a budget in 2029 where every penny of revenue collected will be used to pay for promises and interest payments accrued from laws that were passed decades before. A 15% tax hike – equivalent to $2000 per person annually – will be needed just to stabilize the national debt.  A 29% tax hike will be needed to keep Social Security solvent.

“Debt should not be excessive or abused” – Alexander Hamilton

These costly consequences came from decisions that were made prior to millennials having any representation in the political process.  Even though we did not have the opportunity to consent to them, we are expected to pay the taxes for them. When America won our independence, the Framers of our government were wary of any system resembling the tyranny of a king. That meant placing the power to tax in the hands of the people’s chamber – the House of Representatives – where every revenue bill must originate from. While the role and responsibility of debt was a subject of great debate during our nation’s founding – with Hamilton and Jefferson arguing about whether the federal government should assume states’ debts following the Revolutionary War – the Founders universally agreed that debts should not be excessive or abused. (Source:ourpursuit.com)

Final Words

No taxation without representation was possibly the first slogan of rebellion adopted by American colonists.  It emerged through growing resentment to British governance of the Colonies.  The Colonists objected to taxes being imposed on colonists by a government that gave them no role in its policies.  The issue of taxation without representation did not end with the American Revolution.  In the 21st century, the people of the District of Columbia are citizens who endure taxation without representation.  Future generations will be saddled with a massive debt burden created by the generation before them.

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