Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer: Letter 4

John Dickinson

1767

An objection, I hear, has been made against my second letter, which I would willingly clear up before I proceed. “There is,” say these objectors, “a material difference between the Stamp-Act and the late Act for laying a duty on paper, &c., that justifies the conduct of those who opposed the former, and yet are willing to submit to the latter. The duties imposed by the Stamp-Act were internal taxes; but the present are external, and therefore the parliament may have a right to impose them.”

To this I answer, with a total denial of the power of parliament to lay upon these colonies any “tax” whatever.

This point, being so important to this, and to succeeding generations, I wish to be clearly understood.

To the word “tax,” I annex that meaning which the constitution and history of England require to be annexed to it; that is–that it–is an imposition on the subject, for the sole purpose of levying money. . .

Whenever we speak of “taxes” among Englishmen, let us therefore speak of them with reference to the principles on which, and the intentions with which they have been established.

In the national, parliamentary sense insisted on, the word “tax” was certainly understood by the congress at New-York, whose resolves may be said to form the American “bill of rights.”

The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth resolves are, thus expressed.

[Here Dickinson quoted the resolves of the Stamp Act Congress.]

Here is no distinction made between internal and external taxes. It is evident from the short reasoning thrown into these resolves, that every imposition “to grant to his Majesty the property of the colonies,” was thought a “tax”; and that every such imposition, if laid any other way, than “with their consent, given personally, or by their representatives,” was not only “unreasonable, and inconsistent with the principles and spirit of the British constitution,” but destructive “to the freedom of a people.”

Such persons therefore as speak of internal and external “taxes,” I pray may pardon me, if I object to that expression, as applied to the privileges and interests of these colonies. There may be internal and external IMPOSITIONS, founded on different principles, and having different tendencies, every “tax”, being an imposition, tho’ every imposition is not a “tax.” But all taxes are founded on the same principles; and have the same tendency.

External impositions, for the regulation of our trade, do not “grant to his Majesty the property of the colonies.” They only prevent the colonies acquiring property, in things not necessary, in a manner judged to be injurious to the welfare of the whole empire. But the last statute respecting us, “grants to his Majesty the property of the colonies,” by laying duties on the manufactures of Great-Britain which they MUST take, and which she settled on them, on purpose that they SHOULD take.

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