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Lord Bute is driven from office by the revolt in Parliament against the tax on cider.

[Excerpted from Conceived in Liberty, volume 3, chapter 4 (“The British Army and the Grand Design”) by Murray N. Rothbard.]

During the regime of Lord Bute, the imperial design made further strides. Bute and Parliament made a preliminary decision for a large peacetime standing army in America, which Bute planned to force the colonies to support. A new customs act pushed by Grenville, as first lord of the Admiralty, encouraged British sailors to harass smuggling by promising them shares of the booty from condemned vessels.

The final decision to station troops in America after the war was made by the imperialist Earl of Egremont, brother-in-law of George Grenville and secretary of state for the Southern Department, and by Welbore Ellis, secretary of war, and a follower of Henry Fox. Egremont and Ellis decided in December 1762 that twelve thousand troops would be stationed in America as a regular standing army, and that the Americans would be forced to pay for its support. The decision was based on the model of Ireland, where the Irish Parliament had been compelled by England to pay for the redcoat army that kept Ireland in subjection.

As liberals and opponents of strong imperial and royal power, Newcastle and the Whigs strongly opposed the large army. The crucial debate on the scheme took place in March 1763, when the army budget was submitted to Parliament (somewhat reduced to appease the instinctively liberal country gentry, who tended to oppose expansion of government power and of the budget). The Whigs argued for a huge slash in the army budget and for withdrawal of all troops from America. They thereby echoed American sentiment: the French were now conquered and the Indians controllable by the colonists themselves. Newcastle charged that “such an extensive plan of power, and military influence, was never thought of before in this country.” But the edge of Whig opposition was blunted, as so many times before, by the disruptive influence of Pitt, a maverick out of power whom the Whigs were anxious to bring into unified opposition against the ministry. Pitt, as usual the ultramilitarist and warmonger, attacked the government for not providing a bigger American army. Pitt called for bigger and better military budgets, attacked the “permanent” disarmament desired by Walpole and Newcastle, and looked forward with relish to imminent renewal of war with France, a country displaying the ill grace to continue in existence.

As a partial and immediate means to pay for this extra expense, Bute introduced a domestic excise tax on cider, along with his army budget. The cider tax extended the enforcement of the excise from retail shops to private English homes. Cider was produced by the West Country, the great center of an instinctively liberal country gentry. Here was an issue of basic English liberties—both personal and economic—on which the Whigs could unite with the country gentry in powerful opposition.

William Pitt, though happy enough when in power to impose an excise on beer and general warrants against Dissenters, was now willing to join with the London merchants, Earl Temple, the Whigs, and the West Country gentry in bitter opposition to the tax on cider. The City of London was vehement in opposition, and the lord mayor, the aldermen, and the Common Council of London vigorously and repeatedly instructed their representatives in Parliament to oppose the tax. This pressure was characterized by a contemporary observer as “a proceeding which, though by no means illegal or blamable, has no precedent that we can recollect.”

The tax on cider was able to pass in Parliament despite the opposing coalition. But its lasting significance for America was the depth of the popular and ideological opposition that it engendered in England. Leading the opposition was John Wilkes’ North Briton, which distributed widely and popularized the great slogan “Liberty, Property, and No Excise.” Throughout the West Country, the people rose in virtual rebellion, demonstrating, marching, resisting—and setting a welcome and instructive example eagerly observed by American colonists. Church bells were stilled, thousands marched in bereavement bearing symbols of freedom and mourning, and Lord Bute, throughout the West Country, was hung in effigy. Large bonfires consumed effigies of Bute, and freeholder meetings of protest were held in towns and counties. Above all, the people refused to pay the tax and set upon the hated tax collectors. The government proceeded to send an army to the West Country to subdue the people. But it was finally forced to repeal the provocative tax two years later.

With the West Country in virtual rebellion, Lord Bute was forced to resign as prime minister at the beginning of April [the 11th] 1763.