The French and Indian War (1754-1763) was the North American phase of a worldwide conflict between Britain, the French and Native Americans.
While the British won the war, the French and Indian War had been enormously expensive and left Great Britain with a heavy debt. And, the expense of protecting the English possessions in America seemed likely to increase rather than diminish.
The war and the British government’s attempts to impose taxes on colonists to help cover these expenses resulted in increasing colonial resentment of British attempts to expand imperial authority in the colonies.
One of the early taxes to be imposed was the Stamp Act.
On February 13, 1766, Benjamin Franklin appeared before the British Parliament’s House of Commons to advocate for a repeal of the Stamp Act of 1765. (Archives) Franklin provided evidence in the form of answers to 174 questions. The session, according to the Proceedings of Parliament, lasted for four hours.
Franklin shared his observations on the attitude of the colonists towards the British Empire before and after the imposition of the Stamp Act, and comments on issues of taxation, representation and the ability of the colonies to become economically independent from the mother country. Here are some of Franklin’s responses:
At the time, In North America there were about 300,000 white men from sixteen to sixty years of age. The population increase of “the inhabitants of all the provinces together, taken at a medium, double[d] in about 25 years.”
“But their demand for British manufactures increased much faster, as the consumption is not merely in proportion to their numbers, but grows with the growing abilities of the same numbers to pay for them.”
Colonists’ Attitude to Britain
The “temper of America towards Great Britain before the year of 1763” was “The best in the world, they have submitted willingly to the government of the Crown, and paid, in all their courts, obedience to acts of parliament.”
“They had not only a respect, but an affection, for Great Britain, for its laws, its customs and manners, and even a fondness for its fashions, that greatly increased the commerce.”
“They consider themselves as a part of the British empire, & as having one common interest with it; they may be looked on here as foreigners, by they do not consider themselves as such.”
And, in 1763, “it is greatly lessened” which was due to “a concurrence of causes; the restraints lately laid on their trade, by which the bringing of foreign gold and silver into the colonies was prevented; the prohibition of making paper money among themselves; and then demanding a new and heavy tax by stamps; taking away at the same time, trials by juries, and refusing to receive & hear their humble petitions.
Their temper in 1766? … “O, very much altered.”
Before 1763, there was no “objection to the right of [Parliament] laying duties to regulate commerce; but a right to lay internal taxes was never supposed to be in parliament, as we are not represented there.”
“But the payment of duties laid by act of parliament, as regulations of commerce was never disputed.”
Previously, “there was never an occasion to make any such act, till now that [Britain has] attempted to tax us; that has occasioned resolutions of assembly, declaring the distinction, in which I think every assembly on the continent, and every member in every assembly, have been unanimous.”
Taxes Versus Duties
The difference between external taxes and internal taxes “is very great.”
“An external tax is a duty laid on commodities imported; that duty is added to the first cost, and other charges on the commodity, and when it is offered to sale, makes a part of the price. If the people do not like it at that price, they refuse it; they are not obliged to pay it.”
“But an internal tax is forced from the people without their consent, if not laid by their own representatives.”
Colonists Were Willing to Pay Their Fair Share
“The Colonies raised, paid and clothed, near 25,000 men during the last war, a number equal to those sent from Britain, and far beyond their proportion; they went deeply in debt in doing this, and all their taxes and estates are mortgages, for many years to come, for discharging that debt. Government here was at that time sensible of this. The Colonies were recommended to parliament.”
“Every year the King sent down to the house a written message to this purpose. That his Majesty, being highly sensible of the zeal and vigour with which his faithful subjects in North-America had exerted themselves, in defence of his Majesty’s just rights and possession, recommended it to the house to take the same into consideration, and enable him to give them a proper compensation.”
“You will find those messages on your own journals every year of the war to the very last, and you did accordingly give 200,000 Pounds annually to the Crown, to be distributed in such compensation to the Colonies.”
“This is the strongest of all proofs that the Colonies, far from being unwilling to bear a share of the burthen, did exceed their proportion, for if they had done less, or had only equaled their proportion, there would have been no room or reason for compensation.”
“Indeed the sums reimbursed them, were by no means adequate to the expence they incured beyond their proportion; but they never murmured at that; they esteemed their Sovereign’s approbation of their zeal and fidelity, the approbation of this house, far beyond any other kind of compensation”.
“[T]herefore, there was no occasion for this act, to force money from a willing people, they had not refused giving money for the purposes of the act: no requisition had been made; they were always willing and ready to do what could reasonably be expected from them, and in this light they wish to be considered.”
If Great-Britain should be engaged in a war in Europe, I think North-America would contribute to the support of it, “as far as their circumstances would permit.” The Colonists “consider themselves as a part of the whole.”
“Though the parliament may judge of the occasion, the people, will think it can never exercise such a right, till representatives from the Colonies are admitted into parliament, & that whenever the occasion arises, representatives will be ordered.”
“They will not find a rebellion; they may indeed make one.”
The pride of the Americans used to be “To indulge in the fashions and manufactures of G. Britain.”
What is now their pride? “To wear their old cloaths over again, till they can make new ones.” (Benjamin Franklin) (Information here is from Massachusetts Historical Society)
Repeal of Stamp Act
Delegates from the colonies convened in New York City at the Stamp Act Congress, where they drew up formal petitions to the British Parliament and to King George III to repeal the act. It was the first unified colonial response to British policy and it provided the British a taste of what would come soon thereafter.
Realizing that it actually cost more to enforce the Stamp Act in the protesting colonies than it did to abolish it, the British government repealed the tax in 1766.
Click the following link to a general summary about Ben Franklin’s ‘Examination’: