Soame Jenyns on the taxation of the colonies (1765)


In 1765 Soame Jenyns, an English essayist, penned The Objections to the Taxation Consider’d, an examination of the Stamp Act issue:


“The great capital argument I find on this subject is this: that no Englishman is, or can be taxed but by his own consent, by which must be meant one of these three propositions – either that no Englishman can be taxed without his own consent as an individual… or that no Englishman can be taxed without the consent of the persons he chooses to represent him… or that no Englishman can be taxed without the consent of the majority of all those who are elected by himself and others…

Now let us impartially consider whether any one of these propositions are in fact true. If not, then this wonderful structure which has been erected upon them falls at once to the ground.

First then, that no Englishman is or can be taxed but by his own consent as an individual. This is so far from being true, that it is the very reverse of truth; for no man that I know of is taxed by his own consent. And an Englishman, I believe, is as little likely to be so taxed as any man in the world.

Secondly, that no Englishman is or can be taxed but by the consent of those persons whom he has chose to represent him. For the truth of this I shall appeal only to the candid representatives of those unfortunate counties which produce cider, and shall willingly acquiesce under their determination.

Lastly, that no Englishman is, or can be taxed, without the consent of the majority of those elected by himself, and others of his fellow-subjects, to represent them. This is certainly as false as the other two; for every Englishman is taxed, and not one in twenty represented. Copyholders, leaseholders, and all men possessed of personal property only choose no representatives. Manchester, Birmingham, and many more of our richest and most flourishing trading towns send no members to parliament, consequently cannot consent by their representatives, because they choose none to represent them. Yet are they not Englishmen? Or are they not taxed?

If Parliament can impose no taxes but what are equitable, and the persons taxed are to be the judges of that equity, they will in effect have no power to lay any tax at all. No tax can be imposed exactly equal on all, and if it is not equal, it cannot be just: and if it is not just, no power whatever can impose it; by which short syllogism, all taxation is at an end; but why it should not be used by Englishmen on this side the Atlantic, as well as by those on the other, I do not comprehend.”

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