Women of Washington

Communicating America’s Founding Principles

Women of Washington is an educational organization with a focus on understanding local, national, and global issues that are critical to our world today.


From the Pilgrims’ landing in Massachusetts in 1620, and for the next 150 years, the populations of farm communities and towns continued to grow in North America.  Most of the colonists had come from England and still considered themselves to be loyal British citizens.  However, King George III and his British Parliament viewed the colonists as inferior subjects to be ruled and primarily valued as new sources of revenue for the crown.

At the same time, King Louis XVI and his French Court at Versailles were also eager to expand their sovereign authority over the new world.  Disputes arose between the English and French monarchies over the control of the Ohio Valley and escalated into what became known as the French and Indian War (1755).  Hostilities between these ancient adversaries quickly spread to Europe and escalated into the Seven Years’ War.  In 1763, the Treaty of Paris declared England victorious. However, the cost of the lengthy war nearly depleted England’s treasury.  Parliament began increasing taxes on the colonists for imported English goods and services as a way to replenish England’s coffers.

Following the war, the British Parliament sent 2,000 troops to guard the Boston Harbor against possible French incursions.   This was generally acceptable to the colonists, as it insured their peace, so they willingly paid taxes for the upkeep of the British Army encamped in their towns.  However, their sentiments began to change when they were forced to quarter (house and feed) British troops in their homes, as well as pay additional taxes to pay the costs of British-appointed magistrates judges.

The colonists felt they were being mistreated and, women became especially vulnerable to attacks from unruly British soldiers.  Even though they had to pay for British-appointed judges, their grievances fell on deaf ears.  The colonists were British citizens yet, they were denied legal representation and, in some cases, they were sent to England for trial.  The colonists were feeling their freedoms slipping away.  In addition, since the North American harbors were controlled by the British Navy, the colonists were unable to trade with other countries, which forced them to only buy high-priced merchandise from British sources. 

One of the early taxes Parliament enacted on the colonists was the Molasses and Sugar Act (1764), a commodity imported from the British West Indies.  Recognizing the potential for the colonies to become more self-sufficient, Benjamin Franklin informed Parliament that they would begin producing some of their own materials.  To counter this, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act (1765), which decreed that all paper goods used in the colonies would have to be purchased from England and bear the Crown’s tax stamp.  Tensions continued to mount when the colonists learned about the forthcoming Townshend Act (1768), which levied additional taxes on British china, glass, paint, lead, and tea.  Consequently, Parliament began sending more British troops to Boston to enforce their edicts. 

In response to these tyrannical British policies, and while under constant threat of arrest, colonists began meeting in secret to plan strategies to protect themselves from the excesses of Parliament.  Samuel Adams, a cousin to John Adams, was an early opponent of the Stamp Act, and questioned England’s continued right to tax the colonies, stating, “If Taxes are laid upon us in any shape without our having legal Representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the Character of free Subjects to the miserable State of tributary Slaves?”  His growing leadership among his peers caused the Royal Governor, Thomas Hutchinson, to proclaim, about Samuel Adams, that there was no “greater malignity of heart who has fewer scruples any measure however criminal to accomplish his purposes.”

Samuel Adams, and other Patriot leaders in Boston, structured the first Committee of Correspondence (1772) to “Prepare a statement of the rights of the colonists…” and to serve as “a declaration of the infringements of those rights…”  Their grievances included: Parliament’s assumption of power over the colonies; an illegal collection of taxes; forced home searches and quartering of soldiers during peacetime; undue restraints on businesses; and no legal protection.

With the aid of swift horseback messengers, the Boston patriots distributed their list of Parliament’s abuses throughout the thirteen colonies.  They formed a network of colonists that began working together to form their own committees and share their regional grievances at local town hall meetings.  Their use of petitions and planned boycotts caused Parliament to eventually abolish the Stamp Act.

The colonists were keenly aware of the risks of being charged with sedition. However, it became clear that they needed to establish a provisional emergency government to confront and respond to the King’s tyranny.  They were united by the phrase, “Taxation Without Representation.”