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"How the British Empire tried to enforce obedience through Taxation" Any historical event with-world changing consequences will always have two sides to the story. What most Americans refer to today as the American Revolution is no different. As Americans, most of us view eighteenth-century England as a tyrannical power across the ocean, and see men like George Washington as heroes who fought against the oppressor. If history and wars were that simple, everyone would understand them, and the need for wars would be diminished. The truth is, England was not as tyrannical to the colonies as one would have thought. Actually, the rebels had no idea, nor any intention of establishing a new and separate government "of the people, by the people, and for the people. " They only meant to make a statement and attempt to avoid every tax that Parliament could dream up in the process.
Across the Atlantic Ocean in England's Parliament, some men such as William Pitt and Edmund Burke understood opposition to taxes by the American colonists. After all, the colonies had been all but ignored by England since they were established in the early part of the seventeenth century up until the Seven-Year War (1756 - 1763). Other men such as George Greenville and Charles Townshend failed to understand the protests against any taxes implemented by Parliament. These men felt that this was not only the right of Parliament to demand taxes, but also their duty to raise money for the Crown. Parliament had the power to demand a tax of every British citizen in the empire, and these men had developed their own ideas about how those taxes would be implemented. These ideas were expressed through the Revenue Act of 1763 (later called the Sugar Act) and the Stamp Act of 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767, and still later a new set of acts that are referred to as the Intolerable Acts of 1774.
All of these acts were protested in America and, eventually, the authority of Parliament in the American colonies came to be questioned by the colonists. In the mid-eighteenth century, the previously mentioned members of Parliament took their sides and faced the opposition from the colonies head on. The days of ignoring the rebellious colonies were over. The Colonists could not see England's authority over them past the governor, if they could see it extending that far. "The colonies were [clearly] not a normal part of the British structure. " [ 1 ]. They were not included in any day-to-day discussions in Parliament, and if any laws affecting the colonists did change, it would take them a minimum of three weeks to reach the shore of their continent across the ocean.
On the flip side, when the Americans did know of laws regarding trade and taxes, it was not uncommon for them to smuggle the goods to avoid paying any taxes that may have been attached to the products. This attitude was clearly a threat to England's relationship with her colonies. Edmund Burke, a Whig in Parliament, pointed out that any quick and definite taxing of the colonies after having allowed them to govern themselves for so long would cause a great many objections from the colonists. This would probably have been the best method, to convince the colonies that they were subject to the powers of parliament. Easing the colonies back into accepting and obeying all of the acts passed by British Parliament was not what most of the other members had in mind. A lot had changed concerning Parliament's attitude toward the colonies since the Seven Years War.
The Seven Years War was fought primarily on the continent of America, and when it ended in 1763, the colonists were the ones that benefited the most from it. Throughout the Seven Years War (1756 - 1763), the English government continually supplied the colonies with British troops to protect them from the French as well as the Indians who had taken sides with the French. These troops remained in America even after the French had surrendered their holdings in Canada to Great Britain. Their continued presence was to protect the colonists from Indian invasions as well as French retaliation along the borders. In all, the English Crown incurred $ 2 million in debt while fighting against the French and protecting the colonies. Along with all of the money spent to protect these colonies, there were still about ten thousand troops remaining in American every year.
The colonies had, and still were, reaping the benefits of being citizens of the British Empire while Great Britain was flipping the bill. George Grenville, the Prime Minister of Parliament in 1763, did not appreciate the fact that England was paying the bill for the protection of the American colonists while they were gaining so much from the placement of troops there. In 1763, the time had come to pay the piper, and the most logical way to do this was by taxing the American colonies. The Revenue Act, which came to be the Sugar Act, was actually an extension of an act from 1733 called the Molasses Act. The Molasses Act required a tariff on all sugar products imported into America from the West Indies. The American colonists, however, had found that it was not difficult at all to smuggle sugar items into the colonies and avoid the tariff.
Smuggling was illegal in British Empire, and Lord Grenville saw no reason why it should be permitted in the colonies. The colonies were lightly taxed compared to the rest of the British Empire. American colonists "paid no more than sixpence a year against the average English taxpayer's twenty-five shillings" [ 2 ]. The price of sugar products was actually lowered through this act because the tariff was removed and "the duty on foreign molasses imported into the British colonies was reduced from sixpence to three pence"[ 3 ].
Instead of enjoying this reduction in the cost, the colonists boycotted the purchase of sugar purchases. The colonist's believed if they accepted this tax then they would succumb to Parliamentary control on the issue of taxation. It would also allow Parliament to flex its authority over the colonies at will. The colonists did not raise the necessary funds, and a new act became implemented.
This act required a tax on a wide range of paper products. Including everything from legal documents, to marriage license's, shipment invoices, land deeds, and even to common items, such as a deck of cards and practically everything in between. The new law was the Stamp Act of 1765. This was despised even more than the Sugar Act that had preceded it, and this caused even more rebellion in the colonies. Parliament forced yet again to deal with an unpleasant situation involving the colonies. The debates on how to handle this particular rebellion were even more heated than the previous ones involving the Revenue Act.
Benjamin Franklin spoke to Parliament concerning "The Stamp Act. " He mentioned that the taxes that the colonists hated so much were the internal taxes, and that is exactly what the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act were. However, if there were an external tax, then the colonists, according to Franklin, would more readily pay it and not be so ready to rebel. This idea sparked even more debate. Lord Grenville, along with other members of parliament [could] not understand the difference between external and internal taxes. The Stamp Act was doomed from the start. Due to the angry mobs and the "Sons of Liberty, " there was not a royal official in the colony that was willing to enforce this particular act.
Many colonists stopped buying English goods in protest of both acts, the boycott spread rapidly. Under great economic pressure, England repealed The Stamp Act. Grenville again became devastated by the failure of his plan to make the colonists pay taxes. He began to worry about the outright refusal of the rebels to pay. He even said that he "[doubted] that they [bordered] on open rebellion... [and feared] they would loose that name to take that of a revolution" [ 4 ].
In his disappointment at the failure of both of his plans, Grenville had no way of knowing how true his words would ring in just a few years. Lord Grenville lost the seat of Prime Minister in 1765, but it was not because his plans to get American colonists to pay their taxes had failed. It was more because most men agreed with King George III, he once mentioned, (That Grenville was an "insufferable bore"). And that "he would rather have the Devil as a visitor of Buckingham Palace than to be forced to listen to George Grenville" [ 5 ]. Grenville did, however, remain in Parliament and voted to tax the colonies every chance he had. The Sugar Act and the Stamp Act had failed to gain revenue from the American colonists, British Parliament was still devising plans of how the Americans would be convinced to pay.
William Pitt, the earl of Chatham proposed that the "The East India Company should pay an annual rental to the government. And that the dividend policy of the East India Company should be regulated by the government to prevent speculation in the company's stocks. [Furthermore], revenues from the East India Company could have made up the national deficit and averted the taxation issues with the American colonies"[ 6 ]. This bill, however, was refused. The bold refusal of the American colonists was a slap in the face for Parliament, and it was far from forgotten. A plan to repay the debt was not enough. Parliament wanted a plan that would convince the colonists to pay their taxes.
This particular test became a challenge, and in 1767, Charles Townshend, a man seeking popularity, took that challenge. Townshend decided that the best way to increase his popularity was to get the American colonists to obey Parliament and pay their taxes peacefully, quietly, and in orderly fashion. In order to do this; he took into consideration the speech that Franklin had delivered several years earlier. Franklin had said that internal taxes were too cumbersome, and that the people in the colonies would always oppose an internal tax. An external tax, however, would be treated with a bit more respect in the colonies -- or at least, that is what Parliament was led to believe. Townshend wanted to be the man who extracted the desired taxes from the colonies, so he devised a plan, which would involve an external tax.
He decided that in "expressing their aversion to the internal taxes such as the Stamp Act, [the Americans] had admitted the validity of Britain's right to impose duties"[ 7 ]. The Townshend Acts first involved the old Navigation Laws, which were "traditional commercial regulations. They were the corner stone of British colonial policy; they protected and promoted imperial commerce, to the benefit of the mother country and colonies alike. The colonists had admitted many times that they did not mind paying a tariff, which meant to regulate trade. They thought that tariffs were necessary for the success of any country.
To placate the colonists as well as Parliament, Townshend said that the external "duties when collected would be applied to the support of civil government in the colonies and any residue would be sent to England"[ 8 ]. If this plan worked, they were finally going to regain control. The Townshend Acts that caused so much trouble in 1767 "proposed imposts on glass, paper, pasteboard, painters's up plies, and tea"[ 9 ]. This time, the colonists were so serious about the new tax that they signed a pact amongst themselves stating that they would not purchase any goods coming to the colonies from England. When these tariffs were protested in the colonies, England began to feel as though "The colonial merchants were demanding in effect free trade... or [at least] easy smuggling"[ 10 ].
Free trade was something that England did not even have. All Englishmen paid their taxes. There was no one in the British Empire, who was exempt from taxes. The realization that colonies would never willingly pay their taxes to the British Crown turned out to be "the beginning of the end"[ 11 ]. The reason for this is the Townshend Acts. Through the Townshend Acts, the colonists were being pinched, and even the English merchants were feeling the squeeze all the way across the Atlantic. "The boycott on British goods, particularly tea, threatened the livelihood of many English merchants.
The colonists were not going to allow themselves to be taxed. The Townshend Acts were loosing support because of the economic impact in England, and Parliament was running out of ideas. The Townshend Acts was repealed late in 1767, but the damage was done. One law did remain intact and that was the Tea Act. This act remained because Parliament wanted to keep the Tea Act for the sake of principle. This left a sore spot for the colonists.
The colonists continued to despise the British rule, and eventually acted upon that hatred, which gained a new set of acts for their trouble. In an attempt to convince the colonists to adhere to the laws of Parliament yet again, the Tea Tax was lowered once more. Tea was now less expensive in the colonies that it was in England. The tax on tea had been a continual irritant in the colonies, and on December 16, 1773, the f...
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