What Does "No Taxation Without Representation" Mean?

1846 lithograph of the Boston Tea Party
1846 lithograph of the Boston Tea Party

“No Taxation without Representation”' is a slogan that was developed in the 1700s by American revolutionists. It was popularized between 1763 and 1775 when American colonies protested against British taxes demanding representation in the British Parliament during the formulation of taxation laws.

During the British rule in the United States, the Parliament levied taxes on the colonies without consultation, consent or approval of the taxed parties. These laws formed the foundation of the American Revolution and were among the reasons for the havoc of the Boston Tea Party. The Stamp, Tea, and Sugar Acts were among the laws passed by the British Parliament based in the United Kingdom. The colonists complained that parliament was violating the right to representation, which was a tradition of the Englishman. The British Parliament claimed that America was an extension of Britain, but the Americans argued that parliamentarians knew nothing concerning America.

In 1765, the Americans rejected the Stamp Act, and in 1773, they rebelled against taxation of tea imports. An armed tussle ensued and quickly escalated into the American War of Independence. Although the taxes introduced by the British were low, much of the complaint was not about the amount but the decision-making process in which the taxes were decided.

Origin Of The Phrase

Reverend Jonathan Mayhew coined the slogan “No Taxation without Representation" during a sermon in Boston in 1750. By 1764, the phrase had become popular among American activists in the city. Political activist James Otis later revamped the phrase to "taxation without representation is tyranny." In the mid-1760s, Americans believed that the British were depriving them of a historical right prompting Virginia to pass resolutions declaring Americans equal to the Englishmen. The English constitution stipulated that there should not be taxation without representation, and therefore only Virginia could tax Virginians.

Modern Usage

The phrase "No Taxation without Representation” has been adopted as a global slogan to rally against exclusion from political decisions, unresponsive governments, and high taxes. It was used by women movements to decry the denial of voting rights. The TEA (Taxed Already Enough) movement continues to use the slogan to undermine Washington’s continued lack of fiscal restraint without considering public opinion. The phrase appears on the District of Columbia license plates because the citizens of the district pay federal taxes yet they are not represented by a voting member in Congress.


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