The Revenue Act of 1764
(The Sugar Act)
taxes are laid upon us in any shape without ever having a legal
representation where they are laid, are we not reduced from the
character of free subjects to the miserable state of tributary
from a Boston Town Meeting, May 24, 1764
||The Revenue Act of 1764,
also known as the Sugar Act, was the first tax on the American colonies
imposed by the British Parliament.
Its purpose was to raise revenue through the colonial customs
service and to give customs agents more power and latitude with respect
to executing seizures and enforcing customs law.
That the Act came from an external body rather than a colonial
legislature alarmed a handful of colonial leaders in Boston who held
that the Act violated their “British privileges”.
Their principle complaint was against taxation without
representation. Just as
important, however, were the Act’s profound implications for the
colonial judicial system, for the Revenue Act of 1764 allowed British
officers to try colonists who violated the new duties at a new
Vice-Admiralty court in Halifax, Nova Scotia, thus depriving the
colonists of their right to trial by a jury of their peers.
The seriousness of this was not lost on the Massuchusetts
extension of the powers of the courts of vice-admiralty has, so far as
the jurisdiction of the said courts hath been extended, deprived the
colonies of one of the most valuable of English liberties, trials by
juries” (Petition from the Massachusetts Legislature to the House of
Commons, 3 November 1764). The Act also established new trial procedures
which essentially freed customs officers from all responsibility and
from effective civil suits for damages in colonial courts.
While a handful of colonial leaders recognized the grave
implications of the Revenue Act, it was not until news of the Stamp Act
reached the colonies that the seeds of rebellion were planted in the
hearts and minds of the broader public.