Digital Paxton: Digital Collection, Critical Edition, and Teaching Platform

Democracy and Dispossession: The Legacy of the Paxton Crisis

The Paxton crisis unfolded on the eve of the American Revolution. Relative to other northern colonial assemblies, Pennsylvania’s borderlands settlers possessed less representation in the legislature. The 1764 election, however, was a turning point, and Paxton supporters gained greater representation in the assembly.

The Stamp Act crisis of 1765 manifested a similar crisis of representation in the British empire. Colonists argued that colonial assemblies, not parliament, had the right to impose direct taxes. Although parliament repealed the Stamp Act, the crisis continued with the Townshend and Tea Acts, and helped to precipitate the American revolution.

The Northwest Ordinance (1787) resolved the tension between democratic representation and westward colonization, in favor of both, but at the expense of native sovereignty.

The Paxton crisis foreshadowed this resolution. The territory was carved out of the trans-Appalachian west, including territories contested by the Paxtons. As those territories secured statehood, they were admitted with equal representation, on the same constitutional footing as the original colonies. By the same token, the Northwest Ordinance formalized the dispossession of native peoples residing in those territories and provided a template for subsequent colonization.

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