What role did taxation play in the relationship between Britain and the American Colonies?

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saintfester | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Prior to 1765, the British government allowed their colonies a large amount of freedom in regards to taxation. Local assemblies, or groups of citizens, were allowed to lay and collect taxes on their own. They of course had to have approval from the colonial governor who was appointed as the king’s representative, but this system of localized taxation functioned very effectively for several years.  There were limited duties placed on imports and exports, but for the most part the colonists enjoyed the freedoms they were given.

It wasn’t until 1765 that this system changed radically. Parliament decided to change this system after the French and Indian War to make up some of the cost of imperial defense. The Stamp Act was one of many bills passed by parliament that year, and few people in England thought much of it until they colonies began their protests. The idea that they were no longer the masters of their financial futures angered many of them, as did the manner in which the taxes were collected. This act put a nominal duty on most printed or paper goods, meaning that both rich and poor were affected, and therefore untied in their opposition.

But the idea that the British government passed this act without their consent or input was what really added to the growing discontent. The rallying cry, “no taxation without representation” was born out of this policy shift. Although the British were understanding at first, after the protests grew in both size and scope they began using tax measures like the Townsend Acts and the Tea Act to try and bring the colonies in line once again. This of course escalated tensions that eventual led to shots being fired at Concord and Lexington.

Although they weren’t the only factor in souring relations between the colonies and the crown, they certainly played a central role.

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