Grade 3-5, 6-8

Taxation without Representation?

Updated: January 11 2021,

This lesson will take students through the series of tax acts that were enacted by the British government and disputed by the original 13 colonies of America prior to the American Revolution. Students will discuss the concept of government-provided services in exchange for taxes. Students will explain the specific taxes and the right of the English government to levy them in the context of the oft-used slogan: “No taxation without representation.”


texasHow did the American colonists feel when they first came to the 13 original American colonies? What changed as they built up their towns and cities? One of the key issues leading up to the American Revolution had to do with the taxes American colonists paid to the government across the sea in England. The English felt that the colonists should pay taxes because the English government was providing services that the colonists would otherwise have had to do without. The Americans felt the taxes were unfair because they were being imposed by a government in which the colonists had no “voice.” This lesson asks you to explore some of those taxes, discuss the reasons the English government had for creating them, and debate whether the colonists should have had to pay them. You will be asked to explore the concept of “taxation without representation.”

Take a moment and explore the web sites listed in the resource section of the lesson. You will find several links that will provide you with information about the taxation issue and the role that the government played and continues to play in that issue.

Learning Objectives

  • Debate the notion of “taxation without representation” as a cause of the American Revolution.
  • Describe the role of government in taxing citizens to finance various activities.

Resource List

  • Spy Letters of the American Revolution: A time-ordered set of resources on the incidents leading up to and during the American Revolution. An interesting site, this one can be explored for much more information on the Revolution beyond taxation.
  • Taxation Without Representation – Remember It!:  This Nearpod activity is a memory game that matches taxation laws with their descriptions.
    Matching Game


Activity One
Read the lyrics to the School House Rock song:

Print out the lyrics to the song and work with a partner to explain what the song means.

Consider these questions:

  1. What is the song about?
  2. What did the colonists think about the King when they first got to America?
  3. How did that change once they’d built up their towns and homes?
  4. What does the person who wrote the song think about whether England had the right to tax the colonies? How can you tell?

If you are working together with the whole class, discuss your thoughts and opinions with the rest of the class. If you are working independently, write a short summary of the song and its meaning.

Students should spend time thinking about the transitions in the song – the way the colonists’ attitudes changed over time from needing support and pledging their loyalty when they first arrived to wanting to run things their own way once they gained confidence. Ask students to consider the viewpoint of the king (in this case, the English Parliament as well as King George III himself).

Activity Two
Use the online resources below to research the different events and taxation issues that came up during the 1760s and 1770s in the American colonies.

Spy Letters of the American Revolution

colonistsHave your students pick one or two of the acts to discuss as a class. What was the British rationale for imposing the tax on the colonists? Why did the Americans object? Discuss the concept of government-provided services with a classmate or in a group. Why do governments collect taxes? Are there goods and services governments provide that couldn’t be gotten any other way? As your students complete this activity, have them think about what the taxes being collected are used to provide. It is appropriate for the government to do this? Keep this discussion in mind as they complete the remaining activities.

NOTE: Prepare this activity my visiting the web pages listed and decide how many acts and which acts you are going to have your students research. Print out enough activity sheets for each student or group of students and fill in the names of the acts you want students to research on the “I Have” line ahead of time. If you want students to be able to work independently for later use in the class, make a list of the acts you want students to study and post it somewhere in the classroom so students can check off which ones have been done. This will ensure an even distribution of the work for a later review activity.

The students will use the “I Have, Who Has” Activity Sheet to illustrate one event or tax act. They will draw a picture explaining the event and write a one or two sentence explanation for each viewpoint, British and American. The teacher will provide the students with a sheet that names a specific activity to study. If the class is working independently, provide a checklist for making sure all acts are covered.

Discuss with your students how strong did the colonists feel about the taxes they were being made to pay to England? Remind your students that It was one of the reasons the American revolution was fought. In fact, the Declaration of Independence was written, in part, as a response to these taxes. The Declaration is a letter to King George outlining a long list of grievances the colonists had with the King and taxes were among these. Have your students go to the interactive Declaration of Independence and find at least one reference to taxation.

Collect students’ work. When all students have completed their summaries and illustrations, collect the sheets and fill in the “Who Has” portion of each sheet with an act or event different than the one being illustrated. For example, one sheet will now say “I Have The Stamp Act of 1765” at the top and a student has completed the directions for illustrating and explaining the act. In the bottom line “Who Has…” you should fill in a different event or act such as the Proclamation Act of 1763, taking care to be sure all events are reflected on only one sheet. When it is time to review the events and timeline, pass out the sheets to the class and start students off by calling out the earliest event that has been illustrated. The student who has that sheet should read it, explain the two perspectives on the event, then read “Who has…?” Whoever has that event will need to recognize it and answer, then continue the chain by reading “Who has…?” in turn. Continue in this pattern until all sheets have been read and described.

As students are reading their colonial and British viewpoints, stimulate discussion by pointing out the justification the British Parliament must have felt in applying tax laws to the colonists. Also, discuss with students the concepts of redistribution of funds – much of the tax collected would be returned to England for use in other programs unrelated to the colonies. Remind students that these tax laws were the first time that England had invoked taxation from overseas. Up until this point, the colonists had taxed themselves in order to provide the local services they needed from a governmental authority.

Activity Three
Work independently or with a classmate to test your memory on the different tax acts and laws you’ve been learning about. Complete the activity: Taxation Without Representation – Remember It!. When you have finished the activity, print out your sheet and fill in the review statements to hand in to your teacher.


Take turns in your classroom explaining the English and American viewpoints on the issue of “taxation without representation.” Do you think the colonists should have paid the taxes? Why or why not? What could the English government have done differently to resolve the issues? What could/should the colonists have considered when they were asked to pay taxes for services the British government was providing? Take a class vote to see where everyone’s thinking on the issue is.


Work on your own or with a group of classmates to write your own “SchoolHouse Rock” song about taxation. Make sure some of your groups take the English side and others the American. When you have finished your songs, take turns performing them. Each group should give the others feedback on the points made during the songs. If you are not comfortable writing or performing a song, try a poem instead.

Further assessment includes:

  1. Assess the songs or poems the students have created. Songs or poems with justifications taking the British side should be based on provision of services that would otherwise be unavailable to taxpayers. On the reverse, look for examples of pro-American songs to indicate attention to the fact that colonists could not participate in Parliament because of time and distance.
  2. Evaluate student response on the handouts completed during the “I Have, Who Has” activity. Look for logical, well thought out explanations of the roles and responsibilities of the government as well as the responsibility of citizens to pay taxes in order to gain the services that would otherwise not be provided.
  3. Student response on the Remember It! Activity sheet may be used as quantitative assessment of their knowledge of the tax laws and their understanding of the arguments for and against the British government imposing those laws.