Week 6: The Stamp Act Controversy
Considerations on the Propriety of Imposing Taxes in the British Colonies, for the Purpose of rasing a Revenue, by Act of Parliament
I shall undertake to disprove the supposed similarity of situation, whence the same kind of Representation is deduced of the inhabitants of the colonies, and of the British non-electors; and, if I succeed, the Notion of a virtual representation of the colonies must fail, which, in Truth is a mere cob-web, spread to catch the unwary, and intangle the weak. I would be understood. I am upon a question of propriety, not of power; and though some may be inclined to think it is to little purpose to discuss the one, when the other is irresistible, yet are they different considerations; and, at the same time that I invalidate the claim upon which it is founded, I may very consistently recommend a submission to the law, whilst it endures. .
Lessees for years, copyholders, proprietors of. the public funds, inhabitants of Birmingham, Leeds, Halifax and Manchester, merchants of the City of London, or members of the corporation of the East India Company, are, as such, under no personal incapacity to be electors; for they may acquire the right of election, and there are actually not only a considerable number of electors in each of the classes of lessees for years etc., but in many of them, if not all, even members of Parliament. The interests therefore of the nonelectors, the electors, and the representatives, are individually the same; to say nothing of the connection among neighbours, friends and relations. The security of the non-electors against oppression, is that their oppression will fall also upon the electors and the representatives. The one can’t be injured and the other indemnified.
Further, if the nonelectors should not be taxed by the British Parliament, they would not be taxed at all; and it would be iniquitous, as well as a solecism in the political system, that they should partake of all the benefits resulting from the imposition and application of taxes, and derive an immunity from the circumstances of not being qualified to vote. Under this Constitution then, a double or virtual representation may be reasonably supposed.
There is not that intimate and inseparable relation between the electors of Great-Britain and the inhabitants of the colonies, which must inevitably involve both in the same taxation; on the contrary, not a single actual elector in England, might be immediately affected by a taxation in America, imposed by a statute which would have a general operation and effect, upon the properties of the inhabitants of the colonies . . . wherefore the relation between the British Americans, and the English electors, is a knot too infirm to be relied on. . .
It appears to me, that there is a clear and necessary Distinction between an Act imposing a tax for the single purpose of revenue, and those Acts which have been made for the regulation of trade, and have produced some revenue in consequence of their effect and operation as regulations of trade.
The colonies claim the privileges of British subjects -It has been proved to be inconsistent with those privileges, to tax them without their own consent, and it hath been demonstrated that a tax imposed by Parliament, is a tax without their consent.
The subordination of the colonies, aid the authority of Parliament to preserve it, have been fully acknowledged. Not only the welfare, but perhaps the existence of the mother country, as an independent kingdom, may depend upon her trade and navigation, and these so far upon her intercourse with the colonies, that if this should be neglected, there would soon be an end to that commerce, whence her greatest wealth is derived, and upon whichhich her maritime power is principally founded. From these considerations, the right of the British Parliament to regulate the trade of the colonies, may be justly deduced; a denial of it would contradict the admission of the subordination, and of the authority to preserve it, resulting from the nature of the relation between the mother country and her colonies. It is a common, and frequently the most proper method to regulate trade by duties on imports and exports. The authority of the mother country to regulate the trade of the colonies being unquestionable, what regulations are the most proper, are to be of course submitted to the determination of the Parliament; and if an incidental revenue, should be produced by such regulations; these are not therefore unwarrantable.
A right to impose an internal tax on the colonies, without their consent for the single purpose of revenue, is denied, a right to regulate their trade without their consent is admitted. The imposition of a duty may, in some instances, be the proper regulation. If the claims of the mother country and the colonies should seem on such an occasion to interfere, and the point of right to be doubtful, (which I take to be otherwise) it is easy to guess that the determination will be on the side of power, and the inferior will be constrained to submit.