My position is this—I repeat it—I will maintain it to my last hour,
—taxation and representation are inseparable.
—Lord Camden, speech in Parliament (1767)
The covenant idea is nothing but the expression of the representative
principle consistently applied to all reality.
—Cornelius Van Til, A Survey of Christian Epistemology (1969)
What we usually call the French and Indian War (1754-1763) was actually a conflict between the British colonies in North America and those in New France with ample support from the parent countries and their Native American allies. The War soon spilled over into the worldwide Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). By the time it was it over, that larger war had nearly doubled Britain’s national debt. Wars can do that. But France had ceded her North American holding to Britain, and the foreign threat on the American frontier was over.
Still, Parliament wanted to continue spending a lot of money to maintain a large military presence in North America. In theory, this was for the defense of the colonies against hostile Indian tribes. The colonists, however, suggested that Parliament’s real motivation was the creation of positions for officers who would otherwise have to be discharged. The real issue, though, turned on how exactly this new money would be collected from the Colonies. The colonies generally acknowledged that Parliament could and should regulate trade for the Empire as a whole. (Mercantilist philosophy reigned on both sides of the Atlantic at least in theory, if not always in practice.) But Parliament had never taxed the colonies directly. That was about to change.
Under the leadership of a new Prime Minister, George Grenville, Parliament passed the Stamp Act (1765). This law required that the colonists place stamps on—or buy stamp embossed paper for—all legal documents, commercial papers, ship’s papers, liquor licenses, academic degrees, newspapers, pamphlets, and even packs of playing cards.
Strategically speaking, the whole thing was a disaster. It offended lawyers, ship’s captains, merchants, pub owners, and newspapers publishers… the key movers and shakers in colonial society. But philosophically it raised an issue that would become a battle cry for the coming Revolution: “No taxation without representation.”
No Taxation Without Representation
There has been some confusion over who coined this phase. But in the context of colonial taxation it appeared for the first time as a summary headline in the February 1768 London Magazine above a reprint of Lord Camden’s speech in Parliament defending American rights. But by then George Otis had already written this:
The sum of my argument is: that civil government is of God; that the administrators of it were originally the whole people; that they might have devolved it on whom they pleased; that this devolution is fiduciary, for the good of the whole; . . . that by this constitution every man in the dominions is a free man; that no parts of His Majesty’s dominions can be taxed without their consent; that every part has a right to be represented in the supreme or some subordinate legislature . . . (The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved [Boston, 1764]).
Five years later the Reverend John Joachim Zubly (1724-1781) produced a pamphlet titled An Humble Enquiry into the Nature of the Dependency of the American Colonies upon the Parliament of Great-Britain, and the Right of Parliament to Lay Taxes on the Said Colonies. He wrote:
In England there can be no taxation without representation, and no representation without election; but it is undeniable that the representatives of Great-Britain are not elected by nor for the Americans, and therefore cannot represent them…
But by then Patrick Henry had already called for the Virginia House of Burgesses to pass this resolution:
Resolved, That the Taxation of the People by themselves, or by Persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who could only know what Taxes the People are able to bear, or the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every Tax laid on the People, is the only Security against a burdensome Taxation, and the distinguishing characteristick of British Freedom, without which the ancient Constitution cannot exist (Virginia Resolves, 1765).
The colonial position, in other words, was that Parliament had no authority to tax the colonies in order to raise revenue. Only the colonial legislatures, where the colonists were represented by men of their own choosing, men drawn from among their fellows, could lawfully exercise such power.
This concept of representation has deep roots in covenant theology.
The Theology of Representation
The doctrine of creation places an infinite gulf between the Being of God and that of His creation, a gulf that humanity simply can’t bridge. Man can never become God—not by magic or politics or education or technology. And, God never merges Himself with created being. Only in Jesus Christ did God become true man, and even there the humanity and the divinity are united “not by confusion of substance, but by unity of Person” (Athanasian Creed).
The biblical doctrine of creation, then, lays the axe to all forms of pagan mysticism. Man can never “reach out and touch the face of God.” Man’s thoughts, intuitions, and feelings are never divine. Man can never look into his heart and find God there. God reveals Himself, not subjectively in the human heart, but objectively—first, in Jesus Christ, and then in His written word, the Bible. God speaks to us in and through Scripture.
The doctrine of creation, then, leads immediately to the biblical idea of covenant, particularly to the biblical concept of representation. God represents Himself through His Son, who is “the express image of His person” (Heb. 1:3). Christ represents Himself to His people through His written Word, and He appoints representatives in family, church, and State to enforce that Word within their respective spheres. But since Christ directs His Word to all of His people, they all have the authority and responsibility to ask, even insist, that those in authority over them fulfill their God-given charge. All of God’s people are image bearers, as kings and priests in Christ (Rev. 1:6) and represent Him to one another, to their own communities, and to the wider world.
Whenever God’s people begin to understand the implications of creation and covenant, certain shifts in society and culture inevitably follow. First, God’s people cease to be impressed with claims of men. They know they have one King, Christ Jesus. All human kings, bishops, and parliaments are His servants. None are God. None speaks with divine authority or can rightly claim divine authority. The godly man or woman with an open Bible in hand can stand before Kings and Presidents and say, “Thus saith the Lord!”
Second, God’s people learn that they are qualified to recognize and appoint to office those gifted and called by God to exercise authority in church and State. Puritan and Presbyterian congregations elected their elders from among their own number. These elders ruled in Christ’s name, but were always accountable to the congregation. This principle carried over easily into the civil realm in America as well.
Third, when the greater authorities fail to honor God’s law or, worse, become criminal in their policies and actions, God’s people eventually feel compelled to resist their tyranny and lawlessness. Being people of the covenant, a people used to laws and representatives, they normally begin with the most peaceful means. Pastors, elders, and local officials begin the resistance.
Further, the resistance always begins with the spoken and written Word. Preaching and prayer are central. Later come tracts, blogs, newspaper articles, letters, and books. Then there may be rallies and campaigns and even some marches and demonstrations. Only when all else has failed will they turn to armed resistance under the leadership of what the Puritans called “lesser magistrates.” And even then they never become terrorists and assassins. They understand that even the war for freedom is subject to God’s law. And this, generally, was the course followed by those who fought the American War for Independence.
The colonists refused to buy or use the stamps required by the Stamp Act. They got rid of the stamps, then shamed and pushed the authorized distributors of the stamps into abandoning their posts. Parliament soon learned the hard way that the Stamp Act was a failure. They repealed it, but at the same time they passed the Declaratory Act (1766), which said that Parliament had “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America . . . in all cases whatsoever.” The war over the power to tax and the nature of representation was just beginning.
For Further Reading:
Rousas J. Rushdoony, This Independent Republic, Studies in the Nature and Meaning of American History (Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1964).
Clarence B. Carson, The Rebirth of Liberty, The Founding of the American Republic 1760-1800 (Irvington-on-Hudson, NY: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc., 1976).
J. L. Bell, “Who Coined the Phrase, ‘No Taxation Without Representation’?”, Boston 1775.
J. L. Bell, “No Taxation Without Representation (Part 1),” Journal of the American Revolution.
J. L. Bell, “No Taxation Without Representation (Part 2) ,” Journal of the American Revolution.