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November 22, 2015
Document Interpretation 3: Taxation without Representation
Peter Oliver; Origin and Progress of the American Rebellion: A Tory View
Colonial America—pre-Revolution—and the birth of the United States as an independent
nation was but an idea. However, it was an idea that proved to be quite heavy and on the verge of
labor and pain. During the first century or so of settlement in the new world, many (if not all)
colonists felt a sense of obligation toward Mother England—Britain was home, of course, and
loyalty was mostly a British state of mind. Key word: “was.” And so, the people with these mind
states were then very aged, and many had died off, leaving the up-and-coming generation with
different perspectives about political representation in America. And anyway, how can a British
government way over there, properly see to the needs of American people?
Well, for colonists in America, ideas such as “personal liberties, property rights, and
representative institutions” were things they felt they should have some say-so about. Quite
naturally, the Whigs found these ideas preposterous, and felt that Parliament should “virtually”
represent the political affairs of all people under British rule—colonists included. The American
perspective of “no taxation without representation” was how the people felt about this so-called
“virtual” representation, that Parliament “had no business taxing the American people.”1
However, “During those years the population of British America expanded, as did its economy
and trade; and the standard of living rose. Americans were incorporated into a transatlantic
1. H.W. Brands et al., American Stories: A History of the United States, 3rd. (Upper
Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2015), 107.
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consumer economy, and one of the rights they fought for in 1776 was the right to sustain their
new standard of living.”2 And too, there were a few diehards, also known as Loyalists, who were
dedicated to the British crown and practiced their own resistance to these early patriotic and
libertarian ideas of the American colonists.
One such Peter Oliver was among them—he was a Loyalist, that is. Oliver served as
Chief Justice and wrote a manuscript called The Origin and Progress of the American War to
1776 “the interest of which is mainly personal as the bias is so strong as to invalidate the value of
the account as history.”3 In Oliver’s opinion, it was acceptable that England forced taxes on the
colonies. After the Seven Years’ War, Britain experienced a national debt crisis and issued
several acts that attempted to force colonists “to contribute to the maintenance” of the British
military. These measures gave Americans no choice but to conduct business with no other
country, except Britain. The American colonists resisted. In 1767, the Townsend Revenue Act
came about by way of a “scheme” devised by the new chancellor, Charles Townsend. Townsend
bragged that he knew how to make Americans pay up. The Act involved a collection of taxes to
be imposed on “American imports of paper, glass, paint, lead, and tea.”4 Still, colonists resisted.
Peter Oliver, in his manuscript described the colonists as “a Race of Smugglers” and “a Race of
Animals.” Parliament made several attempts to gain sovereignty over the colonists, and the
2. Thomas Bender, A Nation Among Nations: America’s Place in World History (New
York: Hill and Wang, 2006), 71.
3. “Peter Oliver.” Dictionary of American Biography. (Charles Scribner's Sons. 1936),
Biography in Context.
4. Brands, et al., 109-114.
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Stamp Act of 1765 taxed a number of items. This prompted colonists to devise a few schemes of
their own in order to demonstrate their resistance. Oliver, at the end of his manuscript, shares a
story about the people’s schemes to avoid the taxes. Wool happened to be one of the items taxed
in the Woolen Act of 1699,
Virginians began to raise more sheep, grow cotton, and weave their own cotton
and woolen cloth. To maintain a market for English cloth and preserve tobacco
production, which yielded huge excise taxes for Britain, Parliament enacted the
Woolen Act of 1699. The act allowed the colonists to manufacture cloth but not to
export it, even to other colonies. As this legislation, and the subsequent Hat Act
(1732) and Iron Act (1750), constrained colonial industry, British laws taxing
foreign goods shaped colonial consumption.5
In the story, Oliver describes how a man sheered sheep that had been killed by wolves and put
the wool on a horse. Instead of buying wool from England, the colonists made their own
clothing. Peter Oliver makes fun of the clothing by comparing it to horse skin and referring to the
people as “a Race of Animals.”
5. “Salutary Neglect,” Henretta, James, last updated January 18, 2012, Encyclopedia
Bender, Thomas. A Nation Among Nations: America's Place in World History. New York: Hill
and Wang, 2006.
Brands, H.W., T.H. Breen, Hal R. Williams, and Ariela J. Gross. American Stories: A History of
the United States. 3rd. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc., 2015.
Dictionary of American Biography. “Peter Oliver.” Charles Scribner's Sons. 1936. Biography in
ge=&disab (accessed November 19, 2015).
Henretta, James. “Salutary Neglect.” January 18, 2012. Encyclopedia Virginia.
http://www.encyclopediavirginia.org/salutary_neglect#its1 (accessed November 19,