Devin (canariesrise) wrote,

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The Importance of "Taxation Without Representation"

This year I took a really amazing class, AP US History, which was a ton of fun. This was mostly because it was taught by my favorite teacher, but it was also really fun because this class did Colombus-Civil War, which interests me much more than postbellum (which isn't a word, but I'm making it one) stuff. I did, eventually, have to study the postbellum crap for the exam, but anyway, all the papers I wrote for the class were Colombus-Civil War era. So, this is a short paper I wrote as a practice sort of essay for the exam, where you had to support or refute a certain statement. In this case, the statement was something along the lines of "Taxation without representation was the primary cause of the American Revolution." This wasn't a Document Based Question, so its pretty simple, just based on general knowledge from the period, but I hope you find it insightful.

Lies Your Fifth Grade History Book Told You: The True Importance of Taxation Without Representation

            American complaints about taxation without representation are often overstated in regards to their influence on the Revolution; in fact, these complaints were only a moral pretense for many other problems that the colonists had with the British and their rule. This lack of representation was indeed a reality for the colonists; their tax burden paled in comparison with that of the British, giving them few sympathizers in Parliament or among the commoners. The colonists were supposedly “virtually represented” by the members of Parliament who kept the best interests of everyone in the empire in mind. The American colonists, however, were too remote and independent for this to be a reality for them. The Stamp Act Congress officially denounced virtual representation in their resolution, stating simply that, “[T]he people of these colonies are not, and cannot from their local circumstance be, represented in the House of Commons in Great Britain.” Political idealism like that expressed by John Locke further convinced Americans that they had certain political rights which they were born with, and representation was arguably one of them.

            If the colonies had been, for so many decades, without true advocates in Britain, it is easy to question why these years saw the first emergence of any complaint. The issue was, in many cases, not the concept of taxation, but the taxes themselves. After years of salutary neglect, when the throne tried to regain a strong control over American affairs, the colonists reacted like the rebellious teenager as the watched their freedoms slip through their fingers. Each further act infringed more and more upon American lifestyles. Eventually, not only the taxes but also their enforcement became troublesome. Customs officers constantly abused their powers, and often provoked incidents like that involving the Gaspee. In trying violators of recent acts, the authorities often used Vice Admiralty Courts and generally cut away at the colonists constitutional rights, as the Second Continental Congress complained in their “Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Arms.” These violations of American civil liberties convinced many that Britain was conspiring against them. Stereotyping and tensions developed as the British and Americans fought together in the Seven Years’ War created a further rift between the two sides.

            Thomas Paine added to the developing revolutionary sentiments by publishing Common Sense. In this pamphlet, he made many connections between current events and the need for revolution. Paine wrote of how the king was also involved in the supposed conspiracy and how kingship in itself was a tradition of danger and superstition. He also confirmed a growing belief that it was becoming unnatural for a group of people who were thriving and living upon their own continent to be ruled by a distant and much smaller island. For many Americans, the pamphlet signified the final severance of their ties with England.

            Taxation without representation was certainly a reasonable complaint of the Americans, but solving this discrepancy would have, in no way, dissolved the great tensions that developed between the two sides in the decades before the war. Americans grew to believe that the British had plotted a scheme to rob them of the basic rights and basically make their lives miserable; furthermore, writing like Paine’s and Locke’s convinced Americans that they deserved their own chance at true self-determination. When it came time to actually fight the war, taxation without representation was only one of a myriad of American gripes. This cause, however, probably developed such great significance because it was inherently moral and an easy ideal for all the colonists to get behind.

Tags: american revolution, ap us, essays, history, junior year, writing

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