Too Many Acts: Four Acts That Led to the American Revolution
How many people want their entire paycheck to go to the government in the form of taxes? Hmm, not many, huh? Is it not the right of the person who goes to work every day and works hard to earn a paycheck to decide how to spend his money and which charities to fund? (I’m sure that it’s not a coincidence that that place we go to earn money is called “work” as in hard work.) Does the government have the right to dictate to us, the people who earn our money, how that money should be spent? Or does that person have the right to decide how to spend that hard earned money? Whether it be on an expensive health insurance program, or on a fancy boat, or maybe a vacation. Perhaps he is working hard to send his children to private school, all while putting away money for their college education. Well, the Colonists certainly thought that taxation without representation was unfair. It’s one of the very things that caused them to declare their own independence.
On April 5, 1764, Parliament passed the Sugar and Molasses Act. Also known as the Plantation Act or the Revenue Act, this act, essentially, attempted to prevent the colonies from “smuggling” sugar and molasses from the French and Dutch West Indies (Source). The colonies had been avoiding extraordinary taxes on goods from England by instead importing the goods from other countries.
So, England decided to fix this by reducing the tax yet at the same time “enforcing the collection of duties” (Source). For example, the tax on molasses from England went from 6 pence per gallon down to three. At the same time, they added tax to new goods such as coffee, wine, calico, and cambric.
These duties went to placing a larger British military presence in the colonies. This allowed them to seize any cargo that violated the new laws. Then, the violators’ punishment was decided not by the colonial courts, but instead by the British admiralty courts.
Essentially, the act had three overall goals: Curb illegal trade and establish their law while protecting their own trading. Lastly, they wanted Americans to pay for their own protection. Their finances had begun to run low thanks to the French Indian War.
The Currency Act:
On September 1, 1764, Parliament passed the Currency Act. The intent of this bill was “to regulate the issue and legal tender status of paper money in the colonial economy” (Source). Britain had outlawed the Colonial minting of currency.
The little bit of gold and silver coins the colonies did have went to paying for imports, leaving very little for anything they actually needed. As a result, merchants and shopkeepers were forced to accept any form of payments the customers could manage.
Always wanting to work around British laws, Colonists issued Bills of Credit, which was not technically money. These credits were backed by taxes, land, and property. Over time, these not-actually-money bills developed very different purposes. “For instance, some bills were used to pay private debts to British merchants, others to pay public debt for government services, and others to pay taxes” (Source). To make it only more confusing, there was no defined value to the currency. Britain could see only one way to solve the problem, force the colonies to establish a “hard currency system based on the pound sterling” (Source).
The Stamp Act:
On March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This act imposed taxes on every piece of printer paper. “Ship’s papers, legal documents, licenses, newspapers,” as well as playing cards, dice, pamphlets, cards, and almanacs (Source). All were taxed. All the money raised on paper taxes went to protecting the American frontier.
Unlike the previous acts, which seemed to simply want to regulate commerce through taxes and duties, this act was using taxes to raise money. Furthermore, they were raising money in the colonies without asking the Colonists’ approval; without bringing it to the colonial legislatures.
In response, the Colonists not only refused to use stamps, but also burned them and rioted. Then, the Colonists formed a Stamp Act Congress, in which representatives from nine colonies met to “frame resolutions of ‘rights and grievances’ and to petition the king and Parliament for repeal of the objectionable measures” (Source). One American newspaper even went so far as to suggest that the hated British stamps should take on the form of the skull and bones, as depicted in the featured image.
By 1766, Britain had repealed the Stamp Act, replacing it with the Declaratory Act, which gave them the authority to “direct taxation anywhere within the empire” (Source).
The Quartering Act:
On March 24, 1765, Parliament passed the Quartering Act. This required the colonies to “provide food, drink, quarters, fuel, and transportation to British forces stationed in their towns and villages” (Source).
The Colonists resented being forced to take in British soldiers. They felt that they should have the right to offer housing to the soldiers. So, they decided to refuse following the act, particularly in New York.
As a result, Parliament passed the New York Restraining Act. This “prohibited the royal governor of New York from signing any further legislation until the assembly complied with the Quartering Act” (Source). The governor of New York managed to convince Parliament that they were compliying, when, in fact, they were actually housing the British soldiers on a Massachusetts island, where barracks already existed, but where “soldiers had no hope of keeping the peace in a city riled by the Townshend Revenue Acts” (Source). They complied to house the British in public places, but continued to refuse housing them in private homes.
This left the British with no choice but to pitch tents. It also resulted in intense tensions between the British and American armies, especially in Boston, where many of the soldiers were pitching their tents. Unfortunately, they stayed around until George Washington and the Continental Army drove them out in 1776.
[Below: The Stamp Act Congress]
These four acts did a lot to push the Colonists to declare their independence. Parliament and the king were not listening to their needs, but imposing unjust laws. So, the Colonists took matters into their own hands. They would, over time, form a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We’d be smart to take a page from their notebooks (tax or no tax).
“If This Be Treason, Make the Most of It!”