Rhode Island Politics and the American Revolution, 1760- 1776

By David S. Lovejoy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER V
TAXATION WITH REPRESENTATION AND JUSTICE OF THE COMMON LAW IN RHODE ISLAND

B EHIND the constitutional protests against Parliamentary taxation and admiralty justice lay local and particular reasons for Rhode Island's strenuous objections to the new revenue acts. An understanding of why Rhode Islanders reacted as they did to Parliamentary encroachment depends upon an understanding of the taxing and judicial systems that Parliament encroached upon; for taxation with representation and trial by jury in a local court had peculiar significance in the colony of Rhode Island.


I
LOCAL TAXATION

All taxation was burdensome; Rhode Islanders were no different from human beings all over the world. But taxation by Parliament in the form of a Sugar Act and a Stamp Act was not only burdensome; it was relatively equal. A tax on imported foreign molasses, which was the cornerstone of the colony's economy, if paid, was felt by a large proportion of the inhabitants. The importers shared the burden with the merchants and the distillers and all who became involved in the rum trade and, of course, rum consumption. The long arm of Parliament in levying a stamp duty would reach into the homes of the colonists, increase the price of their newspapers and playing cards, and tax all the official papers in business and practice of law. Taxation by the General Assembly, on the other hand, was burdensome; but it was not equal. Since control of the government was in the hands of one faction or the other, the levying of taxes was quick to respond to the prejudices of party.

The power to tax is an accepted right of self-government. In the colony of Rhode Island where self-government meant government by

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