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The men who founded this nation did so, in part, with taxes on their minds, but not in the same way that Obama and his colleagues are focusing on them today.
The Founding Fathers were outraged because the English monarch was taxing items colonial citizens used every day. At the conclusion of the French and Indian war the English parliament determined it was necessary to raise taxes on colonials, because taxes were levied high enough in England that riot was a serious concern. The English government did not believe the sudden taxation of colonials would be problematic; prior to the French and Indian war taxation in the colonies had been minimal and the war had been one the British Empire fought in order to protect the colonies from French control. Colonials, including the Founding Fathers, were extremely distressed by the new taxation. A large part of the concern was the lack of true colonial representation in English parliament: Colonials were only represented by an English official.
"If taxes are laid upon us without our having a legal representation where they are laid, we are reduced from the character of free subjects to the state of tributary slaves." – Samuel Adams
The first of the new taxes levied on the unrepresented colonists was the Sugar Act of 1764 which forbade the importation of foreign rum and put duties on coffee, silk, wine, and several other luxury items. Along with the duties applied to items colonials purchased, the English parliament authorized more officials to collect taxes and enabled these officials to call upon the English regulars to search areas where smuggling was suspected. Colonists were outraged and feared the new duties would have a ruinous effect on their businesses. However, colonials were not yet put off enough to stage a revolution against this injustice.
The second infuriating action taken by British Parliament was the Stamp Act of 1765. The Stamp Act placed a duty on revenue stamps. These stamps had to be affixed to all newspapers, leases, legal documents, and numerous other paper documents. Once again business owners were frustrated at the potential damage that such a regulation could have on their ability to operate. In response to the Stamp Act, merchants across the colonies formed nonimportation associations resulting in significantly deteriorating trade with England. In fact, it was Samuel Adams’ charge of Britain levying taxes without proper colonial representation which gave birth to the political use of the phrase, “no taxation without representation!” During this time, the Sons of Liberty were also organized to harass British troops and officials in the colonies.
The third and final taxation I will mention is the Townshend Acts: which imposed duties on imported paper, glass, lead, and tea. Once again, colonials turned to nonimportation associations and made do with what they could make. The new duties along with additional troops dispatched to enforce them led to a violent dispute in the Boston Massacre in which British regulars fired on citizens who had been throwing snowballs at the troops stationed in Boston. From that moment on, the tensions between colonists and English troops and officials were irreconcilable.
The Founding Fathers forged this great nation in blood, sweat, and tears with these outrageous taxes fresh in their minds. As the debt talks continue, a glance into our history leads one to wonder why our representatives would now accept taxes that our government feels are necessary when “We the People” feel they are unjust. From that same preamble of the Constitution, our Founders cite a need to “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” as one of the prime reasons to “form a more perfect Union”.
In this blog series, I will explore the evolution of Constitutional law and how it has impacted our economic liberty. Just as our ancestors did in their lifetimes, it is now time for us to hold government accountable for its actions. We must revolutionize the way our representatives and our government are motivated by the best interest of American citizens and not political power or advancement. Call your representative and hold them accountable today. Call and tell them they represent you, not themselves, and that without your consent they are nothing.