EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of monthly columns from the League of Women Voters of Morgantown-Monongalia County.
“No taxation without representation!” That was the rallying cry of American Colonists when the British Parliament passed The Stamp Act of 1765. This act demanded a tax payable to Great Britain on all legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets, playing cards and dice. Essentially, every sheet of vellum, parchment or paper required a tax stamp.
This was the first time Parliament had imposed a tax affecting virtually every colonial American directly. Parliament had decided the American colonists should bear the cost of the Seven Years War aka the French and Indian War.
Colonists considered themselves loyal subjects of Great Britain and argued the British Army fought to protect British soil against the French and Indigenous Indians for impeding on land the Crown had claimed. Indeed, the French were building Fort Duquesne where the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet in Pittsburgh, and that land was part of the Pennsylvania Colony. Therefore, the French were impeding British Territory.
Colonists organized a Continental Congress in October of 1765 and resolved to send a notice to both Houses of Parliament and to George III, the King of England, stating that as British Citizens: “That it is … the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives.” However, “the people of these colonies are not … represented in the House of Commons in Great-Britain.”
This tax and the retaliation toward the colonists from Parliament over the next decade became one of the biggest catalysts to the American Revolution.
In fact, American colonists had been governing themselves independently quite well for the previous 145 years — since the Mayflower Compact in 1620. By 1765, they had built a profitable and thriving colony for both England and the royal monarchy.
So why are we using this space to discuss this long-ago saga?
It is because one of the single most important events in our history was over having the ability to vote for and have representation in the government whose laws impact your everyday life.
When Americans do not participate in the elections that assign “your representatives” to offices in city, county, state and national governmental bodies, they become subject to taxation without representation, as well as other intrusions on liberty.
Those officials have been placed into office to represent their voters. When we do not cast our vote in every election, we give them free rein over the governance of our community, state, nation — and sometimes our very lives.