Taxation without Representation Lesson for Kids

Instructor: Deanna Corsones

Deanna has taught in a Title I elementary school for eleven years. She has a master's degree in Education.

In the years leading up to the Revolutionary War, England tried to make the colonists pay taxes to the British. This did not go over very well, and people began to protest. By the end of this lesson you will be able to explain the history behind the battle cry, 'No taxation without representation!'

Roots of Colonial Taxation

Most of us pay taxes on practically everything we buy. But at least we have a say in how our government is run. We can vote, and there are people in congress who supposedly represent us, or are doing what we ask them to. But this was not the case for the colonists in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.

After the French and Indian War (1754-63), Britain saw an opportunity to use the colonies to help pay their war debt. Parliament, Britain's government, passed laws that taxed the colonists on everyday items. This means that they charged an extra small fee for these items.

Taxation Without Representation

One of the first taxation laws Parliament passed was the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765. Colonists had to purchase stamps from the town tax collector and place the stamp on paper products to show they had paid the tax.

Many colonists believed this was fair, but others felt the colonies should have a representative in Parliament. If the colonists were going to be taxed, shouldn't they have a say in what gets taxed and how the tax money is used?

These colonists were called Patriots. They spoke out against Parliament and tried to get others on their side using the cry, 'no taxation without representation.' Patriots threatened, tarred and feathered, and scared tax collectors out of towns.

Boycotting, and More Taxes

More and more colonists began to join the Patriots by boycotting (refusing to buy) taxed items. If colonists weren't buying the taxed items, then Britain wouldn't get the tax money! When word of these events finally got back to Parliament, the Stamp Act was repealed, or taken away, in March 1766.

Benjamin Franklin, a representative of the colonies, warned Parliament that this would not be the end of the colonists' fight for voting rights. He told Parliament that they should allow colonists to participate in some of the decision-making. But Parliament didn't listen. In fact, they passed an even stricter law called the Declaratory Act that said that Parliament had full lawmaking power over the colonists and could tax them however they wanted. The colonists were not happy!

Colonists protesting the Stamp Act
Stamp Act Protest

Then in June 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, placing a tax on tea, glass, paper, paint, and lead. Again, the colonists boycotted the taxed items, and protested in the streets. All of this protesting was bad business for Britain and was costing them money, so Parliament had only one option, to repeal the Townshend Acts in April 1770. However, the tax on tea remained.

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