3 minute read 3 Jul 2019
boston tea party museum

Seven disagreements that fueled tax clashes through the ages


EY Global

Multidisciplinary professional services organization

3 minute read 3 Jul 2019

Taxpayers have clashed with governments for centuries over levies on wool, salt, tobacco, wine, fish, tea and more.

Disagreements between taxpayers and governments are nothing new. For much of recorded history, those in power have sought to increase the taxes they collect: in the past, to finance costly wars and enrich themselves; and more recently, to balance budgets.

Here’s a look at tax conflicts through the years.

The maltolt (1294)

To pay for the war with France, the English Government levied a tax of 3 marks on each bag of wool. Wool producers and merchants protested against the duty, which negatively impacted the price of wool, and Edward I was forced to retract the so-called maltolt in 1297.

19th Century book illustration, taken from 9th edition (1875) of Encyclopaedia Britannica, of Romney Marsh sheep

Le Puy salt tax (1341)

Salt merchants in Le Puy (France) protested the introduction of a sales tax on salt by Philip VI. The protesters argued that the salt tax violated their rights and the town privileges granted in 1226 and 1307. The tax’s implementation was delayed by Philip VI but was later reaffirmed and remained in place for a long time.

Salt pans in Oleron Island, France

Excise Bill (1733)

Great Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, Robert Walpole, submitted an Excise Bill to Parliament that would introduce taxes on tobacco and wine and reduce direct taxes, including the land tax. Merchants in London organized strong opposition to the tax, forcing Walpole to withdraw the bill later that year.

Sir Robert Walpole British Prime Minister proposed an excise scheme of 1733

Boston Tea Party (1773)

To protect the British East India Company’s tea monopoly, Great Britain’s Parliament passed the Tea Act in May 1773, which lifted normal export duties and allowed American merchants to distribute the tea only if they were loyal to Britain. The legislation was met with fierce opposition from colonists who were fed up with taxation without representation. In December of that year, some 50 protesters boarded three ships filled with British tea and dumped it into the Boston Harbor.

Boston tea party, 1773.

Exemption for fishermen (1790) 

Fishermen in Fukuyama (Japan), fed up with a shrinking supply of fish, demanded an exemption from taxation and a ban on the use of nets. Their demands were quickly met, but a few of the fishermen were punished a short time later.

A fishing boat at night in the Bay of Jeddo

Malt tax (1847) 

British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli sought to reduce the duty on malt, which was very unpopular with the agricultural sector. To compensate for that reduction, he proposed in his budget to increase the house and income taxes. The budget fell, and the malt tax stayed in place for another three decades.

Single malt whisky distillery Thames Bank London

Soda tax (1919)

In 1919, the US Congress approved a 10% tax on bottled soda pop and soda fountain sales, describing it as necessary to fund the war effort. The soda tax was not introduced due to health concerns, as is the case today, but rather because it was viewed as a luxury product. It was met with resistance from consumers and business and was repealed in 1922.

US Congress approved a 10% tax on bottled soda pop and soda fountain sales

Sources: A World History of Tax Rebellions, David F. Burg; History Channel website; Tax Foundation website

This article was originally published in Tax Insights on 26 Feb 2017.


Disputes between payers and governments about taxes are as old as the hills.  

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EY Global

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