J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Irish Roots for “Taxation without Representation”?

Digging for the origin of the phrase “[no] taxation without representation,” I keep coming across some claims that haven’t held up:
David McCullough’s John Adams made that last statement in 2001. However, the book didn’t cite any example or source. And all the Irish examples I’ve found appear after the American Revolution, some of them explicitly pointing to that earlier conflict across the ocean.

The “Address from the Society of the United Irishmen of Dublin” dated 23 Nov 1792 stated:
Three millions—we repeat it—three millions taxed without being represented, bound by laws to which they had net given consent, and politically dead in their native land. The apathy of the Catholic mind changed into sympathy, and that begot an energy of sentiment and action. They had eyes, and they read. They had ears, and they listened. They had hearts, and they felt.

They said—“Give us our rights as you value your own. Give us a share of civil and political liberty, the elective franchise, and the trial by jury. Treat us as men, and we shall treat you as brothers. Is taxation without representation a grievance to three millions across the Atlantic, and no grievance to three millions at your doors? Throw down that pale of persecution which still keeps up civil war in Ireland, and make us one people. We shall then stand, supporting and supported, in the assertion of that liberty which is due to all, and which all should unite to attain.”
Arguing in the Irish Parliament to extend the franchise to Catholics on 22 Feb 1793, Henry Grattan (1746-1820, shown above) said:
I see no reason why the church [of England] should be more in danger from the catholics than from the presbyterians, who, in Ireland, are the majority of the protestants. If the church is in danger, it is from the times, not from the catholics; and I know of nothing so likely to encrease that danger as an opposition on the part of the church to the liberty of three parts of the island. To insist on a system of taxation, without representation, in order to secure a system of tithe, without consolation, would be to hazard both; but to make the latter in a time of some speculation on the subject of church emoluments, the best policy is to make those emoluments reconcileable to other interests and passions.
By that point the phrase had appeared in American political writing and then histories of the American war for twenty years. So I think these Irish activists picked up the words from the Americans. If anyone has found earlier examples of the phrase from Ireland, I’d be pleased to see them. (I’m not looking for previous examples of the argument, just the phrase.)

Until now, the earliest example of the phrase “taxation without representation” that I found was from the Rev. John Joachim Zubly of Georgia, published in 1769.

TOMORROW: The origin in 1768?

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