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Britain taxes its colonies

Unlike today, there was no tax on income in the 18th century. If the British wanted the Americans to contribute more to the Treasury, it would have to be by taxing certain goods that were consumed (like the VAT in Britain or TVA in France) or by taxing certain goods that entered the country (import duty).

The first attempt to extract more money out of the colonists was the Sugar Act in 1764. In fact, it reduced taxation on molasses imported to the colonies from the West Indies but severely punished anyone who tried to smuggle the syrup into America. This was considered unfair since fortunes had been made by making rum from smuggled molasses. It was ungentlemanly to enforce a law against smuggling.

Tax stamps

Tax stamps

Tax stamps

The stamps which imported goods needed to show once a tax had been paid

Worse was to come though. In 1765, Parliament in London passed the Stamp Act. This had nothing to do with postage stamps, (they did not exist then), but it was a law that required all legal documents, contracts, newspapers and even tavern licenses, to carry a special tax stamp. It had to be bought from a Stamp Master.

"No taxation without representation" was the cry that went up from the colonists. It meant that no British subject should be taxed unless his representative sat as a member in the Parliament which had voted the law.

The British government did not want trouble, and powerful merchants in London hinted to the king that a conflict in the colonies would be bad for business and, therefore, for the country. The Act was repealed in 1766. Americans danced in the streets to celebrate their "glorious victory over England".

Pennsylvania Journal

The Pennsylvania Journal printed an article against the Stamp Act

In England debts mounted and the landowners were angry that the colonies had still not paid " a single shilling" in taxes. In 1767, Prime Minister Townsend declared he had a secret plan for getting money out of the Americans without upsetting them. In fact it was simply a tax on certain imports, such as tea, paint, glass, paper and lead (to make windows).

The response of the colonies was to boycott (not buy) any of the taxed goods. In 1769, Boston's imports from Britain halved. Massachusetts became the focus of anti-British feeling.

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Shirley Burchill, Nigel Hughes, Richard Gale, Peter Price and Keith Woodall 2014

Footnote : As far as the Open Door team can ascertain the images shown on this page are in the Public Domain.