header by Emerson Taymor, 2005

1. The Colonial Era: 1607-1763

2. The Revolutionary Era: 1763-1789

3. The Early National Period: 1789-1824

4. Jacksonian America: 1824-1848

5. Antebellum America: 1848-1860

6. The Civil War Era: 1861-1877

7. The Gilded Age: 1877-1901

8. Progressivism: 1901-1920

9. The Twenties

10. Depression and New Deal: 1929-1939

11. World War II: 1939-1945

12. Early Cold War: 1945-1963

13. Social Ferment: 1945-1960

14. The Sixties

15. The Seventies and After




Samuel Johnson, "Taxation No Tyranny: An Answer to the Resolutions and Address of the American Congress" (1775)

In all the parts of human knowledge, whether terminating in science merely speculative, or operating upon life, private or civil, are admitted some fundamental principles, or common axioms, which, being generally received, are little doubted, and, being little doubted, have been rarely proved....

Of this kind is the position, that "the supreme power of every community has the right of requiring, from all its subjects, such contributions as are necessary to the publick safety or publick prosperity," which was considered, by all mankind, as comprising the primary and essential condition of all political society, till it became disputed by those zealots of anarchy, who have denied, to the parliament of Britain the right of taxing the American colonies....

But hear, ye sons and daughters of liberty, the sounds which the winds are wafting from the western continent. The Americans are telling one another, what, if we may judge from their noisy triumph, they have but lately discovered, and what yet is a very important truth: "That they are entitled to life, liberty, and property; and that they have never ceded to any sovereign power whatever a right to dispose of either without their consent."

While this resolution stands alone, the Americans are free from singularity of opinion; their wit has not yet betrayed them to heresy. While they speak as the naked sons of nature, they claim but what is claimed by other men, and have withheld nothing but what all withheld. They are here upon firm ground, behind entrenchments which can never be forced.

Humanity is very uniform. The Americans have this resemblance to Europeans, that they do not always know when they are well. They soon quit the fortress, that could neither have been mined by sophistry, nor battered by declamation. Their next resolution declares, that "Their ancestors, who first settled the colonies, were, at the time of their emigration from the mother-country, entitled to all the rights, liberties, and immunities of free and natural-born subjects within the realm of England."

This, likewise, is true; but when this is granted, their boast of original rights is at an end; they are no longer in a state of nature. These lords of themselves, these kings of ME, these demigods of independence sink down to colonists, governed by a charter. If their ancestors were subjects, they acknowledged a sovereign; if they had a right to English privileges, they were accountable to English laws; and, what must grieve the lover of liberty to discover, had ceded to the king and parliament, whether the right or not, at least, the power of disposing, "without their consent, of their lives, liberties, and properties. "It, therefore, is required of them to prove, that the parliament ever ceded to them a dispensation from that obedience, which they owe as natural-born subjects, or any degree of independence or immunity, not enjoyed by other Englishmen.

They say, that by such emigration, they by no means forfeited, surrendered, or lost any of those rights; but, that "they were, and their descendants now are, entitled to the exercise and enjoyment of all such of them, as their local and other circumstances enable them to exercise and enjoy."

That they who form a settlement by a lawful charter, having committed no crime, forfeit no privileges, will be readily confessed; but what they do not forfeit by any judicial sentence, they may lose by natural effects. As man can be but in one place, at once, he cannot have the advantages of multiplied residence. He that will enjoy the brightness of sunshine, must quit the coolness of the shade. He who goes voluntarily to America, cannot complain of losing what he leaves in Europe....

It must always be remembered, that they are represented by the same virtual representation as the greater part of Englishmen; and that, if by change of place, they have less share in the legislature than is proportionate to their opulence, they, by their removal, gained that opulence, and had originally, and have now, their choice of a vote at home, or riches at a distance....

The friends of the Americans, indeed, ask for them what they do not ask for themselves. This inestimable right of representation they have never solicited. They mean not to exchange solid money for such airy honour. They say, and say willingly, that they cannot conveniently be represented; because their inference is, that they cannot be taxed. They are too remote to share the general government, and, therefore, claim the privilege of governing themselves....

One mode of persuasion their ingenuity has suggested, which it may, perhaps, be less easy to resist. That we may not look with indifference on the American contest, or imagine that the struggle is for a claim, which, however decided, is of small importance and remote consequence, the Philadelphian congress has taken care to inform us, that they are resisting the demands of parliament, as well for our sakes as their own.

Their keenness of perspicacity has enabled them to pursue consequences to a greater distance; to see through clouds impervious to the dimness of European sight; and to find, I know not how, that when they are taxed, we shall be enslaved.

That slavery is a miserable state we have been often told, and, doubtless, many a Briton will tremble to find it so near as in America; but bow it will be brought hither the congress must inform us. The question might distress a common understanding; but the statesmen of the other hemisphere can easily resolve it. "Our ministers," they say, "are our enemies, and if they should carry the point of taxation, may, with the same army, enslave us. It may be said, we will not pay them; but remember," say the western sages, "the taxes from America, and, we may add, the men, and particularly the Roman catholicks of this vast continent, will then be in the power of your enemies. Nor have you any reason to expect, that, after making slaves of us, many of us will refuse to assist in reducing you to the same abject state."

These are dreadful menaces; but suspecting that they have not much the sound of probability, the congress proceeds: "Do not treat this as chimerical. Know, that in less than half a century, the quitrents reserved to the crown, from the numberless grants of this vast continent, will pour large streams of wealth into the royal coffers. If to this be added the power of taxing America, at pleasure, the crown will possess more treasure than may be necessary to purchase the remains of liberty in your island."

All this is very dreadful; but, amidst the terrour that shakes my frame, I cannot forbear to wish, that some sluice were opened for these streams of treasure. I should gladly see America return half of what England has expended in her defence; and of the stream that will "flow so largely in less than half a century," I hope a small rill, at least, may be found to quench the thirst of the present generation, which seems to think itself in more danger of wanting money, than of losing liberty.

It is difficult to judge with what intention such airy bursts of malevolence are vented; if such writers hope to deceive, let us rather repel them with scorn, than refute them by disputation.

In this last terrifick paragraph are two positions, that, if our fears do not overpower our reflection, may enable us to support life a little longer. We are told by these croakers of calamity, not only that our present ministers design to enslave us, but that the same malignity of purpose is to descend through all their successors; and that the wealth to be poured into England by the Pactolus of America, will, whenever it comes, be employed to purchase the "remains of liberty."...

It has been, of late, a very general practice to talk of slavery among those who are setting at defiance every power that keeps the world in order. If the learned author of the Reflections on Learning has rightly observed, that no man ever could give law to language, it will be vain to prohibit the use of the word slavery; but I could wish it more discreetly uttered: it is driven, at one time, too hard into our ears by the loud hurricane of Pennsylvanian eloquence, and, at another, glides too cold into our hearts by the soft conveyance of a female patriot, bewailing the miseries of her friends and fellow-citizens.

Such has been the progress of sedition, that those who, a few years ago, disputed only our right of laying taxes, now question the validity of every act of legislation. They consider themselves as emancipated from obedience, and as being no longer the subjects of the British crown. They leave us no choice, but of yielding or conquering, of resigning our dominion or maintaining it by force.

From force many endeavours have been used, either to dissuade, or to deter us. Sometimes the merit of the Americans is exalted, and sometimes their sufferings are aggravated. We are told of their contributions to the last war; a war incited by their outcries, and continued for their protection; a war by which none but themselves were gainers. All that they can boast is, that they did something for themselves, and did not wholly stand inactive, while the sons of Britain were fighting in their cause.

If we cannot admire, we are called to pity them; to pity those that show no regard to their mother-country; have obeyed no law, which they could violate; have imparted no good, which they could withhold; have entered into associations of fraud to rob their creditors; and into combinations to distress all who depended on their commerce. We are reproached with the cruelty of shutting one port, where every port is shut against us. We are censured as tyrannical, for hindering those from fishing, who have condemned our merchants to bankruptcy, and our manufacturers to hunger.

Others persuade us to give them more liberty, to take off restraints, and relax authority; and tell us what happy consequences will arise from forbearance; how their affections will be conciliated, and into what diffusions of beneficence their gratitude will luxuriate. They will love their friends. They will reverence their protectors. They will throw themselves into our arms, and lay their property at our feet; they will buy from no other what we can sell them; they will sell to no other what we wish to buy.

That any obligations should overpower their attention to profit, we have known them long enough not to expect. It is not to be expected from a more liberal people. With what kindness they repay benefits, they are now showing us, who, as soon as we have delivered them from France, are defying and proscribing us.

But if we will permit them to tax themselves, they will give us more than we require. If we proclaim them independent, they will, during pleasure, pay us a subsidy. The contest is not now for money, but for power. The question is not, how much we shall collect, but, by what authority the collection shall be made....

The dean of Gloucester has proposed, and seems to propose it seriously, that we should, at once, release our claims, declare them masters of themselves, and whistle them down the wind. His opinion is, that our gain from them will be the same, and our expense less. What they can have most cheaply from Britain, they will still buy; what they can sell to us at the highest price, they will still sell.

It is, however, a little hard, that, having so lately fought and conquered for their safety, we should govern them no longer. By letting them loose before the war, how many millions might have been saved. One wild proposal is best answered by another. Let us restore to the French what we have taken from them. We shall see our colonists at our feet, when they have an enemy so near them. Let us give the Indians arms, and teach them discipline, and encourage them, now and then, to plunder a plantation. Security and leisure are the parents of sedition.

While these different opinions are agitated, it seems to be determined, by the legislature, that force shall be tried. Men of the pen have seldom any great skill in conquering kingdoms, but they have strong inclination to give advice. I cannot forbear to wish, that this commotion may end without bloodshed, and that the rebels may be subdued by terrour rather than by violence; and, therefore, recommend such a force as may take away, not only the power, but the hope of resistance, and, by conquering without a battle, save many from the sword.

If their obstinacy continues, without actual hostilities, it may, perhaps, be mollified, by turning out the soldiers to free quarters, forbidding any personal cruelty or hurt. It has been proposed, that the slaves should be set free, an act, which, surely, the lovers of liberty cannot but commend. If they are furnished with firearms for defence, and utensils for husbandry, and settled in some simple form of government within the country, they may be more grateful and honest than their masters....

Since the Americans have made it necessary to subdue them, may they be subdued with the least injury possible to their persons and their possessions! When they are reduced to obedience, may that obedience be secured by stricter laws and stronger obligations!

Nothing can be more noxious to society, than that erroneous clemency, which, when a rebellion is suppressed, exacts no forfeiture, and establishes no securities, but leaves the rebels in their former state. Who would not try the experiment, which promises advantage without expense? If rebels once obtain a victory, their wishes are accomplished; if they are defeated, they suffer little, perhaps less than their conquerors; however often they play the game, the chance is always in their favour. In the mean time, they are growing rich by victualling the troops that we have sent against them, and, perhaps, gain more by the residence of the army than they lose by the obstruction of their port.

Their charters, being now, I suppose, legally forfeited, may be modelled, as shall appear most commodious to the mother-country. Thus the privileges which are found, by experience, liable to misuse, will be taken away, and those who now bellow as patriots, bluster as soldiers, and domineer as legislators, will sink into sober merchants and silent planters, peaceably diligent, and securely rich.

But there is one writer, and, perhaps, many who do not write, to whom the contraction of these pernicious privileges appears very dangerous, and who startle at the thoughts of "England free, and America in chains." Children fly from their own shadow, and rhetoricians are frighted by their own voices. Chains is, undoubtedly, a dreadful word; but, perhaps, the masters of civil wisdom may discover some gradations between chains and anarchy. Chains need not be put upon those who will be restrained without them. This contest may end in the softer phrase of English superiority and American obedience.

We are told, that the subjection of Americans may tend to the diminution of our own liberties; an event, which none but very perspicacious politicians are able to foresee. If slavery be thus fatally contagious, how is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?