British Taxes

Contributor: Meghan Vestal. Lesson ID: 12234

Taxation is always controversial. Some politicians want to raise them, some want to lower them. It's been said, "The power to tax is the power to control." The early American colonists knew that well!


United States

learning style
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes” (Benjamin Franklin).

A tax is a fee the government places on an item purchased or money made through work.

In the U.S., unless you live in a state that does not have sales tax, you typically have to pay a small fee to the government for just about every item you purchase at the store. Also, the adults in your life have to pay a certain percentage of the money they make from work to the government. These are all examples of government-issued taxes. If a person chooses not to pay taxes, it is considered a crime. They can face a fine or even be imprisoned.

Think of an item you really love. It can be a food, clothing, electronic, or toy item. Pretend you have been able to go to the store for years and purchase that item without paying a tax on it. Then, all of a sudden, the government places a very expensive tax on the item and you have no choice but to pay every time you go to the store to buy that item.

  • How would this make you feel towards the government?
  • How would you feel every time you paid the new tax?

Discuss your responses with your teacher or parent.

This scenario is exactly what happened to the American colonists in the mid-1700s. At that time, the 13 American colonies were still ruled by Great Britain. From 1754 to 1763, the British had fought a very expensive war in North America called "the French and Indian War." The war was fought between European powers for claim over land in North America. The British won the war, taking claim to almost all the land along the east coast of North America, but the war had forced them into debt. Debt is when you owe more money than you have available. Since the French and Indian War was fought in the colonies, the British government felt the colonists should play a role in helping to pay off the debt.

To get the colonists to help pay off the war debt, Parliament (the British government) issued a tax in the colonies called "the Stamp Act." The Stamp Act placed a tax on almost all paper products, such as stationery, newspapers, and playing cards. The tax outraged the colonists. They did not have a problem with paying a tax and contributing to the debt; rather, they were upset that they were being taxed without being given any say in the matter, because the colonies had no one to represent them in Parliament.

Think about a time you were forced to do something without being given any say in the matter.

  • How did it make you feel?

Discuss your scenario with your teacher or parent.

The Stamp Act created what became ten years of intense tension between the colonies and Great Britain. The more the colonists tried to resist and protest the way they were being treated by the British government, the more taxes and laws Parliament issued in the colonies. Draw the following chart on a separate piece of paper:

Tax or Law Date Issued What It Did
  • Stamp Act
  • Quartering Act
  • Sugar Act
  • Townshend Acts
  • Tea Act


The acts listed in the chart are taxes and laws Parliament issued in the British colonies between 1764 and 1773. Each of these acts played a role in leading to the Revolutionary War. Research each of the acts to find out when it was first issued and what exactly it did (for example, what did it place a tax on or what did the law specifically say). You can use the following sites and your own research to help you complete the chart. If you are new to performing your own research, be sure to ask your teacher or parent for help:

When you have finished completing your chart, share your work with your teacher or parent.

  • If you were alive in Colonial America during the 1770s, which act would have been the most upsetting to you?

After you have discussed your answer, move on to the Got It? section to play a game to help you review each of the acts you have learned about.

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