Most of the members of Parliament agreed with Lord Grenville, even if he was an "insufferable bore" as King George III so eloquently mentioned once . Lord Grenville was entirely correct in his assessment of the situation concerning the American colonies. The debt incurred to defend them was great, and the colonists were paying very little of that bill. "The time had come to pay for these victories which . . . the American colonies had done very little to achieve. . . . [And] in helping to meet the [$2 million] expenses, Grenville considered it was only proper that at least part of the high cost of maintaining a force of ten thousand men in America . . . should be met by the colonists themselves" . Most Americans today would agree that this was not an unreasonable request.
The debt had been incurred on the colonies' behalf, and they should have to help pay for their protection. After all, Parliament reserved the right to tax any and every citizen of the British Empire, and the colonies were part of the empire. In Lord Grenville's eyes, and in Parliament's as well, there was no question as to whether or not Parliament could tax the colonies. But a voice of opposition rose from another member or Parliament. Grenville's own brother - in - law, William Pitt the Earl of Chatham. He did not question whether or not they could tax, there was no doubt about that in any one's mind --but whether or not they should. Pitt, like Burke, had taken into account that American has been left alone for a very long time and that they would not appreciate a swift action from Parliament demanding a tax. Unfortunately, William Pitt's fear became a reality. In the colonies, there was opposition to the Revenue Act of 1763, on a basis that no one in Parliament could have foreseen.
The Revenue Act, which came to be called 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 that were imported into America from the West Indies. The American colonists, however, had found that it was not difficult to smuggle their sugar items into the colonies and avoid the tariff that was due to the British government. This sort of activity was not allowed to go on in any other part of the British Empire, and Lord Grenville saw no reason why it should be permitted in the colonies and be winked at by England. The colonies were lightly taxed when 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" . They were doing well in America. There was enough industry to surprise an Englishman who had never been there before. There was absolutely no excuse for the colonists to be further exempt from taxes that every other British citizen paid. Therefore, with logic on their side, King George, Lord Grenville, and Parliament agreed that through the Revenue Act the colonists should help pay for their own protection.
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 threepence" . Therefore, the Sugar Act should have come as a relief to the American colonists, as it would have been, provided they had been paying the tariff all along rather than avoiding it. Instead of enjoying this reduction in the cost, the colonists boycotted the purchase of sugar purchases. Lord Grenville was shocked. The tax that had been implemented to pay for the protection of these people had failed. Lord Grenville did not understand how a lowered price on an item could have caused so much opposition. Most people today would understand his confusion. If the price of an item were to be lowered, even if it did involve a new tax, most people would cheerfully pay the new tax and enjoy the lower price. The mindset of the colonists was obviously very different. In accepting the tax, they would have been accepting the right for Parliament to impose a tax upon them. The problem for the colonists was that Parliament did indeed have the right to tax them. According to the contemporary jurist William Blackstone, "The power of Parliament [was] absolute" .
Due to the opposition to this particular act, Parliament repealed the Revenue Act and Lord Grenville attempted to gain the required revenues though another route. He gave the colonies the chance to impose a tax upon themselves. After all, William Pitt had said that in his opinion, the "kingdom [had] no right lay a tax upon the colonies. Taxation is no part of the governing or legislative power. Taxes are a voluntary gift and grant of the commons alone" . This idea of Pitt's was noble, the offer of Lord Grenville was generous, and it may have actually worked very well had he not neglected to mention the amount of money he expected the colonies to raise. They expected Parliament to say that any amount collected would not be enough, so they did not bother raising the funds required to avoid a new tax. Given the distrust that the colonists had for Parliament, this was another fatal error in the relationship between England and her colonies. The necessary funds were not raised by the colonists, and a new act was implemented. This act required a tax on any paper product, including a wide range of items from legal documents such as, a marriage license, to common items, such as a deck of cards. This new law was called the Stamp Act of 1765.
The Stamp Act was despised even more than the Sugar Act that had preceded it, and this caused even more rebellion in the colonies. Parliament was 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. Even a colonist by the name of 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. They [were] the same in effect and [differed] only in name" . William Pitt answered Lord Grenville in a debate on that very same day. He said that there was definitely a difference between the two, and that if Lord Grenville could not see the difference on his own, then he could not help him . Pitt went on to say that "If [he] could have endured to have been carried in [his] sick bed . . . [he would] have borne [his] testimony against [the Stamp Act]" . It was said later that "if Pitt had been in his place . . . the disasterous policy of taxing the colonies could not have been carried . . ." to the point of actually becoming a law . Pitt did not agree with the Stamp Act, and he even applauded the colonists for refusing to pay it, but he did "[maintain] that the Parliament [had] the right to bind [and] to restrain America" . It is important to remember that he did not think Parliament could not tax the colonies, just that Parliament should not tax them.
While Pitt and Grenville were in disagreement over the Stamp Act in Parliament, governing officials in the colonies who had been charged with seeing that this law was carried out were being harassed to the point of being tarred and feathered by the rebels in some areas . Others had been threatened with the destruction of their homes. The Stamp Act was doomed from the start. There was not a royal official in the colonies who was actually going to enforce this particular act. The Stamp Act was repealed before it even went into enforcement. Grenville was again devastated by the failure of his plan to make the colonists pay for their protection. He
began to worry about the outright refusal of the rebels to pay their taxes. He even said the he "[doubted] that they [bordered] on open rebellion . . . [and feared] they would loose that name to take that of a revolution" . 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.
The Townshend Acts of 1767
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 due to the fact that most men agreed with King George III, who had once mentioned (along with the thought that Grenville was an "insufferable bore") that "he would rather have the Devil as a visitor of Buckingham Palace than to be forced to listen to George Grenville" . 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, but men were still in Parliament devising plans of how the Americans would be convinced to pay. William Pitt had a plan to get Parliament to forget about the colonists' refusal to pay taxes to them for the time being by introducing a new idea involving "The East India Company [whom] . . . British military forces had supported. . . . [William Pitt, the earl of] Chatham . . . proposed that the 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" .
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 was a man that had been around in Parliament to vote for the Stamp Act when it was popular, and then voted to repeal it when doing so was the popular thing . No man in Parliament had been able to come up with a plan that would convince the colonists to pay their taxes since Parliament started paying attention to them after the Seven Years War. Townshend decided that the best way to increase his popularity was to get the American colonists to obey Parliament and pay their taxes peacefully. 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.
"Charles Townshend . . . gambled an empire for the sake of popularity. . . ." 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" .
The Townshend Acts first involved the old Navigation Laws. Burke did not oppose these laws, as he had the others introduced by Townshend, because he did not feel that the colonies would protest against the Navigation Laws. They were "traditional commercial regulations.
They were the corner stone of British colonial policy; they protected and promoted imperial commerce, to the benefit of mother country and colonies alike. Therefore, Burke argued that the solution of the American controversy was easy. Let Britain . . . 'be content to bind America by laws of trade' because she had 'always done it'" . The colonists had admitted many times that they did not mind paying a tariff that was meant to regulate trade. They thought that tariffs were necessary for the success of any country. Edmund Burke assumed that since the colonists had not objected to the external taxes used to regulate trade before that they would have no objection to them this time. He was partially correct. They were too upset about other things, such as
the "creation of the Board of Customs Commissioners under British control, the sanction of searches by customs officials in homes as well as in stores and offices, and, most objectionable of all, the establishment of an American civil list from which money could be drawn for the payment of governors, judges, and other royal officials whose salaries had previously been in the hands of the colonial assemblies" .
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" . This was designed to halt any complaint that the money generated from these tariffs was going directly to the British Crown. There was, however, enough controversy in that promise alone to give rise to boycotts all over the colonies, but Townshend did not realize that, nor did anyone in Parliament. This idea was quite appealing to Parliament. If this plan worked, they were finally going to regain control over the British officials who had to live in the colonies, and the colonists would still be paying the salary of these men. Unfortunately, the colonists realized that if England was the one that was actually handing out the paychecks, so to speak, then they would loose to England what control they had over the officials.
The Townshend Acts that caused so much trouble in 1767 "proposed imposts on glass, paper, pasteboard, painters' supplies, and tea" . They were imposed as the external taxes that Franklin had said would meet less opposition, but they were still opposed. The words of Lord Grenville several years before must have echoed in the minds of every man who had been present in Parliament at that time. He said, "I cannot understand the difference between external and internal taxes. They are the same in effect and differ only in name" . How true those words were. This time, the colonists were so serious about not purchasing anything with any tax on it that went to the British government 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, Parliament began to feel as though "The colonial merchants demanded in effect free trade . . . or [at least] easy smuggling" . Free trade was something that the mother country England did not even have. All Englishmen paid their taxes. There was no one on English soil, even on the Island of England, who was exempt from any of these taxes. Any sympathy in England for the colonists diminished significantly when they protested this set of laws along with all of the other ones as well. And the realization that they would never willingly pay their taxes to the British Crown turned out to be "the beginning of the end."
The people in England who had at first supported the stubbornness of the American colonists began to dislike them and their attempts to avoid their taxes at all costs. The reason for this could be blamed on the Townshend Acts as well. Through the Townshend Acts, the colonists were being pinched, and the English merchants were feeling the squeeze all the way across the Atlantic Ocean in a land 3000 miles away. "The boycott on British goods, particularly tea, threatened the livelihood of many English merchants. More and more sympathy for America was confined to those narrow circles of forward-looking men or to professional politicians in opposition" . But those "forward looking men and professional politicians" were beginning to get frustrated. The colonists were not allowing themselves to be taxed, the Townshend Acts were loosing support at home because of the economic impact in England, and Parliament was running out of ideas. The Townshend Acts were finally lifted, but the damage had already been done. It was just as Burke had feared when they were first introduced to Parliament. "He [had] prophesied correctly that the laws would" gain no revenue for England, but "only embitter the colonists" .
One law did remain intact when the Townshend Acts were repealed, and that was the Tea Act. This act remained because Parliament wanted to "[keep the Tea Act] for the sake of principle" , not for revenue. Burke had asked that this law be lifted from the Americans because it was only causing a greater dislike of the English in America and gaining absolutely no revenue, but the request was denied. This left a sore spot for the colonists. They continued to despise the British rule over them, and eventually acted upon that hatred, and 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 famous Boston Tea Party" expressed the dislike of British rule. All of the tea that had been left on the merchant ships was dumped into the Boston Harbor in response to this newly lowered tax on tea. Of course Parliament could not allow this type of rebellion, the destruction of property, to go unpunished, so a new set of laws was created.
These Coercive and Intolerable Acts
The news of the "Boston Tea Party" reached Parliament in early 1774. The members of Parliament, as well as King George III, were outraged. There was absolutely no way that this display of disobedience by the colonists was going to go unpunished. They had wasted more than 400 cases of tea, and someone was going to have to pay for that destruction of property. In response to the constant insubordination of the colonists, King George III himself approved of measures that were going to force the colonists into submission. As a result of the king's approval, Parliament enacted four new laws and updated an old one. These laws, the Boston Port Bill, the Administration of Justice Act, the Massachusetts Government Act, the Quebec Act, and the updating of the Quartering Act, were called "coercive" by Parliament, but they would come to be known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts. The new set of acts, while important in itself, was not as important as the new question that came ringing across the ocean to echo in the halls of Parliament. The colonists were questioning Parliament's very right to tax and rule over them. The Coercive Acts were designed to be just what they came to be called by the Colonists - intolerable. It was the intention of Parliament at the time of these acts to force the colonists to obey the laws and pay the taxes that they were avoiding.
The first of these laws enacted in 1774 was meant as a direct punishment for the "Boston Tea Party." The Boston Port Bill "was a personal policy of the king who [had] regretted that he had been so easy with the colonies" . Lord North, the Prime Minister at the time, presented this bill to Parliament and they, with the approval of the king, closed all of the ports in Boston and ordered that they remain closed until the repayment for the tea that was at the bottom of the harbor could be made. This act alone would be detrimental to Boston's economy, and therefore Parliament expected compliance with their laws from that day forth. Their expectations however, were not met.
In order to regain control in the colonies, Parliament decided that the royal officials in the American colonies needed some form of protection from the unfair legal prosecution that they were guaranteed to experience in the colonies. Therefore, they created another new law, the Administration of Justice Act, which demanded that any British officials being tried for a crime would be extradited to England so he would receive a fair trial. This, however, was not enough, and two other laws were enacted that day as well. One of the other acts, the Massachusetts Government Act, removed the power of the assemblies and the town councils in the colonies and gave the governor complete control over them. The second act, called the Quebec Act, took away portions of land that were meant for the north western colonies and extended the border of Canada. In effect, this land was given to Quebec. But this was still not enough to punish the colonists. Four days later, there would be another motion made by Parliament to punish the colonies.
The Quartering Act of 1765 was revised as a final punishment for the colonists. Previously, the colonists were demanded only to supply the soldiers stationed in America with unoccupied buildings for shelter and some food provisions. The revision demanded that the hospitality offered to the soldiers be extended to the point of colonists taking the soldiers into their own homes. The colonists did not get along well with the troops to begin with, so this revision was especially despised.
These acts were important in England not only because they were meant to force obedience from the rebelling colonists, but also because they displayed the attitude that the men in Parliament held toward them. However, these acts became even more important when the colonists raised a new objection not to the new laws, but the very right of Parliament to enforce any laws and taxes upon them in the first place since they were not represented in Parliament. "No Taxation Without Representation" became the colonists' next attempt at avoiding the laws of England, and it sparked debates and reactions in all of Parliament.
"The right of the legislature of Great Britain to impose taxes upon her colonies . . . [was] so indisputably clear that" most men felt as though they "should never have thought it necessary to have undertaken their defense . . . " . William Pitt, who had been sympathetic with the colonists and had said many times that they should not be taxed, never said that England could not tax the colonies. That power was evident. When he asked that Parliament not tax the colonists, he reminded them that while he was opposing the taxes, he "at the same time, [asserted] the authority of this kingdom over the colonies to be sovereign and supreme in every circumstance" . What he and the rest of the British government began to face was the question of the supremacy of Great Britain. They either ruled the colonies completely and totally, or they did not rule the colonies at all. The trouble was, every Member of Parliament and even the king could see where the cards were falling on this particular issue. Great Britain was not ruling the colonies at all. They had challenged the authority of Parliament at every turn, and this latest question of authority based on representation was just another excuse to avoid the laws.
It was pointed out by Soame Jenyns, another member of Parliament at this time, that the colonists themselves even admitted that even if they were directly represented in Parliament, that they believed it would still have no right to impose taxes upon them and then use that money because "it would be an unjust tax. [The tax would] not be equal on all, and if it [was] not equal, it [could] not be just, and if it [was] not just, no power whatever [could] impose it." Jenyns thought this type of logic was absolutely absurd, because "no tax can be imposed exactly equal on all" . A new face in Parliament, Charles James Fox, supported this argument in his speech by saying "there is not an American but who must reject and resist the principle and right of our taxing them. The question then, is shortly this: Whether we ought to govern America on these principles? Can this country gain strength by keeping up such a dispute as this? Tell me when America is to be taxed, so as to relieve the burthens of this country" . William Pitt once again took the stand that Englishmen were only supposed to be taxed by their own consent, and a new question was brought before him by men in his opposition, including Lord North, the new Prime Minister of Parliament. What was consent? Was this supposed to mean the consent of the people themselves or the men that had been chosen to represent them, or the majority of their representatives? . This became a question that was examined not only for the colonists, but the people in England as well. After all, "Every man in England [was] taxed, and not one in twenty [was] represented" , but they continued to pay their taxes. It came to be argued that if common men in England were "virtually" represented and they paid their taxes, then the colonists were also "virtually" represented, then they could not be liberated from their taxes. William Pitt again took a stand and to this argument he responded by saying that "the idea of a virtual representation of America in this House [was] the most contemptable that [had] ever entered into the head of man. It [did] not deserve a serious refutation" . The debates went on and on, but one detail seemed to be lost in all of the arguments that were presented. If the colonies did not respect the power of Parliament, then who was actually governing America?
With all of the debating that went on in Parliament over the challenge of their power in America, the question always came back to one single problem. It did not matter what laws were enacted if the colonists did not adhere to them. Edmund Burke reminded everyone in Parliament that "a great black book and a great many red coats [would] never be able to govern [America]" . Truer words may never have been spoken in Parliament. The laws may have been enacted by the men in that room, but the military was what England depended upon to defend and uphold her policies in America. Burke and Pitt and their supporters could see that England was not going to be able to force America back into obedience, while others maintained that they "either [had] the right to tax the colonies or [they] did not . . ." .
The number of men in Parliament who sympathized with the situation faced by people in America was greatly diminished by 1774. It was certainly the right of Parliament to tax the colonies for their debt incurred by the Seven Years War, but none of the policies were doing any good. Parliament had attempted to retrieve the money that the colonists owed for the protection they had received during the war and the stationing of the troops there ever since. Their method for regaining the funds that had been spent on America's behalf was always a tax of some sort or another. When Lord Grenville's internal taxes were not welcome in the colonies, they were repealed. In their place, Charles Townshend attempted to collect payments for that same debt though an external tax, which Benjamin Franklin had pointed out to Parliament as an alternative to the troublesome taxes that were collected at the store. This set of taxes failed as well, and Parliament began to realize that the colonists simply had no intention or desire whatsoever to pay any sort of tax to cover the cost of their protection. While William Pitt and Edmund Burke supported the position of the colonists' refusal to pay these taxes, they maintained that Parliament did have the right to impose any taxes as well as other laws upon the colonists. The right to impose a law or a tax, however, came with no guarantee that it would be followed. That is what happened with all of the taxes that were imposed by Parliament upon the colonies. The colonists defied every act of Parliament and even questioned their right to be in authority over them. This forced the British government to enact even harsher laws where the colonists were concerned. Finally, when these laws were implemented, the colonists sparked a new debate as a last effort to avoid paying their taxes by saying that they were not represented in Parliament. They may not have been directly represented in Parliament, but, as it had been pointed out, no Englishman was directly represented. Men in England may have been able to claim representation, but, in reality, the population of Great Britain was so large and there were so few Parliamentary members that "not one in twenty" people living in England was represented in Parliament .
Parliament never asked the colonists to pay a tax that they could not afford. In reality, they were asked to pay less for the items that they had already been purchasing. Had they not been smuggling their good into the colonies and avoiding the tax at every opportunity, they would have realized this. Everyone in the British Empire had to pay a higher tax than what was asked of the colonies -- even after the various acts. This is not to mention that these taxes were going to be funding the continued protection of the British colonists in America. The Seven Years War, which benefited the colonists, was very expensive. It was also a burden on the British Crown to pay the bill for ten thousand soldiers that had to be stationed in the colonies. The colonists, in reality, were only asked to pay for their fair share of the protection that benefited them. Parliament not only had every right as the sovereign power of the British Empire to ask the tax of the colonists, but it was also their duty to keep the Crown from going bankrupt. How surprising would it be for the members of Parliament who were thwarted at every turn, to come to America today and see that the very taxes they had attempted to collect were charged of the American public not only after the Revolutionary War, but even today, in a time of peace? What a final insult that would be to the men who were members of Parliament during the time preceding the war.