Monday, December 12, 2011

The Stamp Act

Newspaper announcement of the Stamp act
The Stamp Act was a law passed by Parliament in March of 1765 taxing all paper used to print materials in the colonies. The act required that all printed materials be printed on paper embossed with an official revenue stamp. These materials included magazines, newsletters, legal documents and newspapers.

The tax was intended to raise money for troops stationed along the Canadian border after the British victory in the French and Indian War. The government decided to keep troops in the area after the war to prevent having an idle standing army at home. Parliament felt that since colonists would benefit the most from the protective presence of the soldiers, they should pay for the cost.

The colonists strongly opposed the stamp act. Many felt it was a blatant attempt to make money off the colony. Since they had no legal representation in Parliament at the time the act was passed, the colonists argued that the act violated their rights as English citizens by taxing them without their consent. Although the price of the stamps was actually very little, the colonists worried that if they allowed this law to happen, there would be plenty more to follow.

Reaction against the Stamp Act
Many of the colonies, including Massachusetts, New York and Virginia, protested the act. Colonial assemblies formed a Stamp Act Congress, passing a declaration deeming the stamp act a violation of their rights as citizens. Virginia lawmaker Patrick Henry, in a blatant act of treason, spoke out publicly against the law and King George III in the Virginia House of Burgesses, reportedly declaring: "Caesar had his Brutus; Charles the First his Cromwell; and George the Third ....may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!"

Political groups, such as the Sons of Liberty, held protests that often turned violent and destructive. That summer, the Boston Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, looted the office and home of tax commissioner Andrew Oliver, burned down his stable along with his coach and chaise, hung an effigy of Oliver from the Liberty tree on Boston common, looted the mansion of the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, and tarred and feathered tax collectors.

As a result of the Sons of Liberty's activities, many of the tax collectors resigned their positions before the act even became law on November 1st of that year. The tax was officially repealed on March 18, 1766 but at the same time Parliament passed the accompanying Declaratory Act. This act defended the government's authority to pass laws on the colonies and paved the way for Parliament to pass more laws such as the Townshend Act.


Sam Adams: Pioneer in Propaganda; John C. Miller; 1936

PBS: The Stamp Act Riots & Tar and Feathering Colonial Williamsburg

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