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Soame Jenkyns,
The Objections to the Taxation
of our American Colonies
by the Legislature of Great Britain,
briefly consider'd.
c1765


The right of the Legislature of Great-Britain to impose taxes on her
American Colonies, and the expedicocy of exerting that right in the present
conjuncture, are propositions so indisputably clear, that I should never
have thought it necessary to have undertaken their defence, had not many
arguments been lately flung out, both in papers and conversation, which with
insolence equal to their absurdity deny them both. As these are usually mixt
up with several patriotic and favorite words such as Liberty, Property,
Englishmen, etc., which are apt to make strong impressions on that more
numerous part of makkind, who have ears but no understanding, it will not, I
think, be improper to give them some answers: to this, therefore, I shall
singly confine myself, and do it in as few words as possible, being sensible
that the fewest will give least trouble to myself and probably most
information to my reader.

The great capital argument, which I find on this subject, and which, like an
Elephant at the head of a Nobob's army, being once overthrown, must put the
whole into confusion, is this; that no Englishman is, or can be taxed, but
by his own consent: by which must be meant one of these three propositions;
either that no Englishman can be taxed without his own consent as an
individual; or that no Englishman can be taxed without the consent of the
persons he chuses to represent him; or that no Englishman can be taxed
without the consent of the majority of all those, who are elected by himself
and others of his fellow-subjects to represent them. Now let us impartially
consider, whether any one of these propositions are in fact true: if not,
then this wonderful structure which has been erected upon them, falls at
once to the ground, and like another Babel, perishes by a confusion of
words, which the builders themselves are unable to understand.

First then, that no Englishman is or can be taxed but by his own consent as
an individual: this is so far from being true, that it is the very reverse
of truth; for no man that I know of is taxed by his own consent; and an
Englishman, I believe, is as little likely to be so taxed, as any man in the
world.

Secondly, that no Englishman is or can be taxed but by the consent of those
persons whom he has chose to represent him; for the truth of this I shall
appeal only to the candid representatives of those unfortunate counties
which produce cyder, and shall willingly acquiesce under their
determination.

Lastly, that no Englishman is, or can be taxed, without the consent of the
majority of those, who are elected by himself, and others of his
fellow-subjects, to represent them. This is certainly as false as the other
two; for every Englishman is taxed, and not one in twenty represented:
copyholders, leaseholders, and all men possessed of personal property only,
chuse no representatives; Manchester, Birmingham, and many more of our
richest and most flourishing trading towns send no members to parliament,
consequently cannot consent by their representatives, because they chuse
none to represent them; yet are they not Englishmen? or are they not taxed?

I am well aware, that I shall hear Locke, Sidney, Selden, and many other
great names quoted to prove that every Englishman, whether he has a right to
vote for a representative, or not, is still represented in the British
Parliament; in which opinion they all agree: on what principle of common
sense this opinion is founded I comprehend not, but on the authority of such
respectable names I shall acknowledge its truth; but then I will ask one
question, and on that I will rest the whole merits of the cause: Why does
not this imaginary representation extend to America, as well as over the
whole island of Great-Britain? If it can travel three hundred miles, why not
three thousand? if it can jump over rivers and mountains, why cannot it sail
over the ocean? If the towns of Manchester and Birmingham sending no
representatives to parliament, are notwithstanding there represented, why
are not the cities of Albany and Boston equally represented in that
assembly? Are they not alike British subjects? are they not Englishmen? or
are they only Englishmen when they sollicit for protection, but not
Englishmen when taxes are required to enable this country to protect them?

But it is urged, that the Colonies are by their charters placed under
distinct Governments, each of which has a legislative power within itself,
by which alone it ought to be taxed; that if this privilege is once given
up, that liberty which every Englishman has a right to, is torn from them,
they are all slaves, and all is lost.

The libery of an Englishman, is a phrase of so various a signification,
having within these few years been used as a synonymous term for blasphemy,
bawdy, treason, libels, strong beer, and cyder, that I shall not here
presume to define its meaning; but I shall venture to assert what it cannot
mean; that is, an exemption from taxes imposed by the authority of the
Parliament of Great Britain; nor is there any charter, that ever pretended
to grant such a privilege to any colony in America; and had they granted it,
it could have had no force; their charters heing derived from the Crown, and
no charter from the Crown can possibly supersede the right of the whole
legislature: their charters are undoubtedly no more than those of all
corporations, which impower them to make byelaws, and raise duties for the
purposes of their own police, for ever subject to the superior authority of
parliament; and in some of their charters, the manner of exercising these
powers is specified in these express words, "according to the course of
other corporations in Great-Britain": and therefore they can have no more
pretence to plead an exemption from this parliamentary authority, than any
other corporation in England.

It has been moreover alleged, that, though Parliament may have power to
impose taxes on the Colonies, they have no right to use it, because it would
be an unjust tax; and no supreme or legislative power can have a right to
enact any law in its nature unjust: to this, I shall only make this short
reply, that if Parliament can impose no taxes but what are equitable, and
the persons taxed are to be the judges of that equity, they will in effect
have no power to lay any tax at all. No tax can be imposed exactly equal on
all, and if it is not equal, it cannot be just: and if it is not just, no
power whatever can impose it; by which short syllogism, all taxation is at
an end; but why it should not be used by Englishmen on this side the
Atlantic, as well as by those on the other, I do not comprehend.

END

 



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