Taxation Without Representation

AuthorLeonard W. Levy

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Taxation without representation was the primary underlying cause of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION. Taxation by consent, through representatives chosen by local electors, is a fundamental principle of American CONSTITUTIONALISM. From the colonial period, REPRESENTATION had been actual: a legislator was the deputy of his local electors. He represented a particular geographic constituency, and like his electors he had to meet local residence requirements. Thus, representation of the body politic and government by consent of the governed were structurally connected in American thought.

Taxation without representation deprived one of his property contrary to the first principles of the SOCIAL COMPACT and of the British constitution. No Englishmen endorsed the constitutionality of taxation without representation; that it violated FUNDAMENTAL LAW was the teaching of the CONFIRMATIO CARTARUM, the PETITION OF RIGHT, and the BILL OF RIGHTS. Englishmen claimed, however, that

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Parliament "virtually" represented the colonies?every member of Parliament represented the English nation, not a locality?and therefore could raise a revenue in America. Rejecting the concept of virtual representation, Americans insisted that they were not and could not be represented in Parliament. The argument of virtual representation implicitly conceded the American contention that taxation was the function of a representative body, not merely a legislative or sovereign body. American legislatures, facing parliamentary taxation for the first times in 1764 and 1765, resolved that Parliament had no constitutional authority to raise a revenue in America. Pennsylvania's assembly, for example, resolved "that the taxation of the people of this province, by any other ? than ? their representatives in assembly is unconstitutional." Similarly, the STAMP ACT CONGRESS resolved that the colonies could not be constitutionally taxed except by their own assemblies. The resolutions of the colonies, individually and collectively, claimed an exemption from all parliamentary taxation including customs duties and trade regulations whose purpose was to raise revenue.

The American claims were not simply concocted to meet the unprecedented taxation levied by Parliament in 1764 and after. The experience of Virginia, the first colony, was typical. Its charter guaranteed the rights of Englishmen, which Virginia assumed included the exclusive right of its own...

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