Beacon Street Diary blog

Tax time

April 15th Americans take a collective sigh and pay their fair share. But it wasn't always so.

"No taxation without representation" is one of the sentiments that ignited the American Revolution. So where did it come from? While the scholarship here proves to be a little shaky, many have credited Reverend Jonathan Mayhew. Known as a liberal theologian, the Martha's Vineyard native railed against tyranny from the pulpit and in print. And it was his A Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers sermon in 1750 that is credited (some say by John Adams) with hatching the famous call against taxing citizens who have no legislative recourse.

Part politician, part pastor, Mayhew was asked by his congregation in 1766 to deliver his final sermon, The Snare Broken, after the repeal of the Stamp Act. Whatever the provenance of the taxation reference, one Mayhewism that historian Ola Elizabeth Winslow attested to in our Bulletin (Fall 1974) is "Kings are made by men, not God."

You can give your regards to Reverend Mayhew when you next visit the Congregational Library & Archives where his portrait hangs in our Reading Room. The likeness was painted by John Greenwood, one of the first American born portrait painters whose subjects included prominent merchants and clergy in mid-18th century Boston.