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"No taxation without representation" began as a slogan in the period 1763–1776 that summarized a primary grievance of the Britishmarker colonists in the Thirteen Colonies. In short, many in those colonies believed the lack of direct representation in the distant British Parliamentmarker was an illegal denial of their rights as Englishmen, and therefore laws taxing the colonists (the kind of law that affects the most individuals directly), and other laws applying only to the colonies, were unconstitutional. In recent times, it has been used by several other groups in several different countries over similar disputes.

The phrase captures a sentiment central to the cause of the English Civil War, as articulated by John Hampden who said “what an English King has no right to demand, an English subject has a right to refuse” in the Ship money case.

Usage in American Revolution

The phrase "No Taxation Without Representation!" was coined by Reverend Jonathan Mayhew in a sermon in Bostonmarker in 1750. By 1765 the term "no taxation without representation" was in use in Boston, but no one is sure who first used it. Boston politician James Otis was most famously associated with the term, "taxation without representation is tyranny."

Parliament had controlled colonial trade and taxed imports and exports since 1660. By the 1760s the Americans were being deprived of a historic right. The English Bill of Rights 1689 had forbidden the imposition of taxes without the consent of Parliament. Since the colonists had no representation in Parliament the taxes violated the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. Parliament contended that the colonists had virtual representation.

However, Pitt the Elder, amongst other prominent Britons and North Americans such as Joseph Galloway, debated and circulated plans for the creation of a federally representative British Parliament or imperial structure with powers of taxation that was to consist of American, West Indian, Irish and British M.P.s. Despite the fact that these ideas were debated and discussed seriously on both sides of the Atlantic, it appears no Congressional demand for this constitutional development was sent to Westminster.

The Americans rejected the Stamp Act 1765 (which was repealed), and in 1773 violently rejected the remaining tax on tea imports at the Boston Tea Partymarker. The Parliament considered this an illegal act because they believed it undermined the authority of the Crown in Parliament. When the British then used the military to enforce laws the colonists believed Parliament had passed illegally, the colonists responded by forming militias and seized political control of each colony, ousting the royal governors. 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 Parliamentmarker. In February 1775, Britain passed the Conciliatory Resolution which ended taxation for any colony which satisfactorily provided for the imperial defense and the upkeep of imperial officers.

Patrick Henry's resolutions in the Virginia legislature implied that Americans possessed all the rights of Englishmen; that the principle of no taxation without representation was an essential part of the British Constitution; and that Virginia alone enjoyed the right to tax Virginians.

Virtual representation

In Britain, representation was highly limited; only 3% of the men could vote and they were controlled by local gentry. Therefore the British government argued that the colonists had virtual representation in their interests. In English history, "no taxation without representation" was an old principle and meant that Parliament had to pass all taxes. At first the "representation" was held to be one of land, but by 1700 this had shifted to the notion that in Parliament all British subjects had a "virtual representation." "We virtually and implicitly allow the institutions of any government of which we enjoy the benefit and solicit the protection," declared Samuel Johnson in his political pamphlet Taxation No Tyranny. He rejected the plea that the colonists, who had no vote, were unrepresented. "They are represented," he said, "by the same virtual representation as the greater part of England."

The theory of virtual representation was attacked in Britain by Charles Pratt, Earl Camden, and especially by William Pitt, Earl of Chatham. It was wholly rejected in the colonies, who said the "virtual" was a cover for political corruption and was irreconcilable with their republican belief that government derives its just powers from the consent of the governed. Colonists said no man was represented if he were not allowed to vote. Moreover, even "If every inhabitant of America had the requisite freehold," said Daniel Dulany, "not one could vote, but upon the supposition of his ceasing to become an inhabitant of America, and becoming a resident of Great Britain." The colonists insisted that representation was achieved only through an assembly of men actually elected by the persons they were intended to represent.

In an appearance before Parliament in January, 1766, Prime Minister William Pitt stated:
The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible that ever entered into the head of a man.
It does not deserve a serious refutation.
The Commons of America, represented in their several assemblies, have ever been in possession of the exercise of this their constitutional right, of giving and granting their own money.
They would have been slaves if they had not enjoyed it.

Grenville responded to Pitt, saying the disturbances in America "border on open rebellion; and if the doctrine I have heard this day be confirmed, nothing can tend more directly to produce a revolution." External and internal taxes are the same, argued Grenville.

Modern use in the United States

In the United States, the phrase is used in Washington, D.C.marker as part of the campaign for a vote in Congress. In November 2000, the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles began issuing license plates bearing the slogan "Taxation without representation". In a show of support for the city, President Bill Clinton used the "Taxation Without Representation" plates on the presidential limousine; however, President George W. Bush had the tags replaced to those without the motto shortly upon taking office. In 2002, the city council authorized adding the slogan to the D.C. flag, but no new flag design has been approved. In 2007, the District of Columbia and United States Territories Quarters program was created based on the successful 50 State Quarters program.DC submitted designs containing the slogan, but they were rejected by the U.S. Mint. On February 27, 2009, the phrase, "No taxation without representation" was also used in the Tea Party protests, where protesters were upset over increased government spending and taxes.

British Prime Minister John Major used a modified version of the quote, with the order reversed, in October 1995, when at the United Nations's 50th Anniversary celebrations he said, "It is not sustainable for states to enjoy representation without taxation," in order to criticize the billion-dollar arrears of the United States' payments to the UN, echoing a statement made the previous month at the opening session of the UN General Assembly by UK Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.

To become citizens of the United States, immigrants most often must be permanent residents for a period of time (usually 5 years). Permanent residents must pay taxes on their worldwide income and cannot vote. In the late 19th century, however, some states allowed immigrants to vote after they had declared their intention to become citizens; that was an effort to attract immigrants.

The phrase is also used by other groups in America who pay various types of taxes (sales, income, property) but lack the ability to vote, such as felons (who are, in many states, barred from voting) or people under 18.

Americansmarker working in Antarctica are required to pay federal income tax per the United States Tax Code because it is written that Antarctica is not a foreign country, therefore it is exempt from the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion. However, the US Supreme Courtmarker had previously stated that Antarctica was a foreign country in Smith v. United States, 507 U.S. 197 (1993). Currently OSHA and U.S. labor laws do not apply to U.S. citizens working in Antarctica. Also, things like cigarettes sold there bear the "for use outside of U.S." seal, and the mail system for American Antarctic stations is the A.P.O. military mail system. Furthermore the Antarctic Treaty System, signed by the United States, states "Article 4 - does not recognize, dispute, or establish territorial claims and no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force."

In Canada

In Canada, Québecmarker politician Gilles Duceppe, leader of the Bloc Québécois, has repeatedly cited this phrase in defending the presence of his party in Ottawamarker. The Bloc is a Québec sovereigntist party solely running candidates in Canadian Federal elections in the province of Québec. Duceppe's evocation of the phrase implies that the proponents of Quebec's sovereigntist movement have the right to be represented in the body (which they are), the Canadian Parliamentmarker, which levies taxes upon them. He will usually cite the sentence in its original English, whether speaking English or French.


  1. For a critical and detailed account of how the slogan came about, see the series of three articles posted on the blog Boston 1775, on April 25, 26 and 27, 2009, titled respectively, Who Coined the Phrase “No Taxation Without Representation“?, James Otis, Jr., on Taxation Without Representation, Looking for “Taxation Without Representation”
  2. Daniel A. Smith, Tax Crusaders and the Politics of Direct Democracy (1998), 21-23
  3. Unger, pg. 87
  4. John C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution. 1943. pp. 31, 99, 104
  7. Miller p 122–25
  8. Miller p 212
  9. Walford Davis Green, William Pitt, Earl of Chatham and the Growth and Division of the British Empire, 1708-1778. 1901. p. 255.
  10. see for legal questions surrounding the constitutional nature of the Imperial Crown-in-Parliament's right to legislate and tax for the British Isles and Empire, and the colonies' chartered rights to legislate and tax themselves
  11. District of Columbia Flag Adoption and Design Act of 2002.
  12. U.S. Mint: District of Columbia and United States Territories Quarter Program (Accessed January 9, 2009)
  13. Protestors Gather for Self-Styled Tea Party
  14. Chronology of the United Nations Financial Crisis: 1995 - Global Policy Forum
  15. USCIS Home Page
  16. Top Reasons National Youth Rights Association of Southeast Florida Wants a Lower Voting Age,


  • William S. Carpenter, "Taxation Without Representation" in Dictionary of American History, Volume 7 (1976)
  • John C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution. 1943.
  • Edmund Morgan. Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (1989)
  • J. R. Pole; Political Representation in England and the Origins of the American Republic (1966)
  • Slaughter, Thomas P. "The Tax Man Cometh: Ideological Opposition to Internal Taxes, 1760-1790."
  • Unger, Harlow, John Hancock, Merchant King and American Patroit, 2000, ISBN 0785820264
  • William and Mary Quarterly 1984 41(4): 566-591. ISSN 0043–5597 Fulltext in Jstor

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