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The British levied several taxes on the American Colonists (13), which were at least part of the reason for the American Revolution. Were the British taxing the 13 colonies for more money than was being spent on or in the 13 colonies?

[edit] I am not asking if taxation was the cause of the American Revolution. I am asking how much the British took in as tax revenue from the 13 Colonies, and how much was spent on the 13 Colonies (before the Declaration of Independence).

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I think some of this is touched on it my question: history.stackexchange.com/questions/235/… - mostly the British Crown was trying to recoup costs pertaining to the Seven Years War. It was a shared burden since the American Colonies were protected during that war. –  MichaelF Oct 26 '11 at 7:46
@MichaelF Is correct. The taxation was not ridiculous by any means, it was quite fair considering the effort put forth by the British to protect their American colonies. –  GPierce Oct 27 '11 at 4:22
"Were the British taxing the 13 colonies for more money than was being spent on or in the 13 colonies?" That is a very strange criteria. Are you measuring how much they spent on them over the entire investment of the colony? vs how much they returned? Or a 5 year moving average? And as others have pointed out, how do you account for the relatively involuntary costs of the seven years war? –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 12 '12 at 11:48
@MarkC.Wallace I was hoping for an annual comparison of colonial tax revenue vs. military and infrastructure spending as seen by the British parliament budget office. –  JoeHobbit Dec 16 '12 at 20:54
OK - just wanted to clarify, because that's not how the contemporary British would have seen it. I've lost the reference, but the last primary source document I looked at summarized the trade relationship not in terms of taxes, but inflows of commodities and outflows of manufactured goods. (leaving aside the value of expanding the Empire and humiliating the French). –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 17 '12 at 11:32

3 Answers 3

Actual tax figures had less to do with the revolution than the lack of representation in British Parliament.

In short, many in those colonies believed the lack of direct representation in the distant British Parliament was an illegal denial of their rights as Englishmen, and therefore laws taxing the colonists (one of the types of laws that affects the majority of individuals directly), and other laws applying only to the colonies, were unconstitutional. However, during the time of the American Revolution, only one in twenty British citizens had representation in parliament, none of whom were part of the colonies.


The complaint was never officially over the amount of taxation (the taxes were quite low, though ubiquitous), but always on the political decision-making process by which taxes were decided in London, i.e. without representation for the colonists in British Parliament.


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Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you going. –  Tom Au Oct 26 '11 at 22:45
And a second. A good summary. It would help if you could expand on it with your own words perhaps, but nonetheless. :-) –  Noldorin Oct 27 '11 at 1:30
@malloc - The American colonies actually did have representation in British parliament by "virtual representation." Essentially one of the MPs was in change of American issues. Also, just using block quotes from Wikipedia is in bad form. –  GPierce Oct 27 '11 at 4:23
@Gpierce: The British did like to argue that (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) - but of course, this claim was risible even but 18th century standards. –  Felix Goldberg Dec 11 '12 at 19:58
This doesn't answer the question! The OP specifically stated he did not want a cause of the War of Independence! So what does he get? The cause! –  spiceyokooko Dec 11 '12 at 22:19

Britain taxed the American colonies to help pay for the French and Indian War. Together with the taxes, Britain placed restrictions on their colonists crossing the Appalachian Mountains (to pacify certain Indian allies like the Iroquois.

The colonies felt that they had done Britain a favor by fighting on the front lines. They felt that they should have been rewarded, with greater settlement rights in the newly conquered territories, and fewer trade restrictions.

Instead, the colonists felt that they were being "punished." Hence the cry of "no taxation without representation." The real issue was not one of taxation, but rather privilege, and ultimately of "equality" with Britain--through independence.

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It's quite ironic that the issue of taxation immediately reared it's ugly head following the successful American Revolution. +1 though, good answer. –  GPierce Oct 27 '11 at 4:24
Also to be remembered that Universal suffrage was not in place at this time in Great Britain. The vote being only to property owners. Not for the common man. –  James Woolfenden Sep 22 '14 at 14:28

The cash amounts of the taxes were not particularly high, but to the colonist's eyes this was besides the point. The success of the French and Indian war was enabled by a cooperation between the colonial governments and the British military. When a campaign was required, General Redcoat would go to a colonial legislature and say 'we need 500 men and their equipment, and supplies for 3 weeks. Or even "I need 10000 pounds to pay the regulars" Then the legislature would take care of the raising of the troops, supplies and funds. So the government and colonial government were partners in the enterprise of winning the war for the king.

Then after the war, the British Laws come in and cut out the colonial governments entirely, without even consulting them. By American colonial thinking, Parliament should have sent a message to the 13 colonies asking them to raise X dollars for this purpose. And after some negotiation, presumably they would do it. Parliament, having had nothing to do with the previous arrangement aside from benefiting from it, saw no need to elevate the status of colonial governments into a kind of partners in the Empire, decided to play hardball. The Colonial governments, not wanting to be demoted to bystanders, fought back with boycotts and later more extreme actions. And when push came to shove, the Colonies won independence. It all might have been avoided with some understanding on both sides of the ocean, but that's the breaks.

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