The Stamp Act, also known as the Duties in American Colonies Act, was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which imposed a direct tax on the British colonies in America. The act was highly unpopular in the colonies and became a catalyst for the American Revolution.
After the Seven Years’ War (1756-63), Great Britain found itself in a difficult financial position. Even though it led to the end of the long dispute between France and Britain over the control of North America and the concession of Canada to Britain, the war had been costly, and the British Empire was deeply in debt. As the victory of the British had benefited the American colonists, who had suffered 80 years of intermittent warfare with their French neighbours, the British government argued that they should contribute to paying for their own defence during the conflict.
Consequently, the Parliament passed the Sugar Act in 1764, which imposed new duties on imported goods like sugar, molasses, and coffee, with the aim of tightening its reins on the colonies. However, this act was widely evaded, and the British government decided to look for a more effective way to raise revenue. Shortly afterwards, prime minister George Grenville proposed the Stamp Act, which was passed without opposition on March 22, 1765.
The Stamp Act
The Stamp Act imposed a direct tax on American colonies, requiring them to affix a stamp to a wide range of legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets, almanacs, and playing cards. These were required to be purchased from government agents, and the prices ranged from a few pennies to several pounds. The revenue raised from the stamps was to be used to support British troops stationed in the American colonies.
The Stamp Act was highly controversial in the colonies and met with widespread resistance. The colonists believed that the act was a violation of their rights as Englishmen and that they should not be taxed without their consent. They argued that only their own elected representatives had the right to impose taxes on them and that they had no representation in Parliament. Despite their objections, the British government pushed forward with it.
As the date of its implementation drew near, resistance grew stronger, leading to the proclamation of the Stamp Act Congress, an extra-legal convention composed of delegates from nine colonies that met in October 1765. The Congress wrote petitions to king George III reaffirming both their loyalty to him and the conviction that only the colonial assemblies had the constitutional authority to tax them. Moreover, it called for a boycott of British goods and urged the colonies to refuse to use stamped paper.
In the meanwhile, protests and demonstrations took place throughout the colonies. The most famous popular resistance happened in Boston, where the mob paraded through the streets with an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the city's stamp distributor. After numerous threats and humiliations, Oliver had no choice but to resign. Similar events transpired in other colonial towns and by the beginning of 1766, most of the stamp distributors had resigned from their commissions. Moreover, mobs in seaport towns turned away ships carrying stamp papers from England without allowing them to discharge their cargo. All of these resistance acts made it impossible for the British government to bring the Stamp Act into effect. In 1766, Parliament repealed it, less than a year after it had been passed.
Consequences and Legacy
The Stamp Act had profound consequences for both the British Empire and the American colonies, as it deeply divided the colonies and undermined the authority of the British government in America. Its repeal was coupled with the Declaratory Act, by which the Parliament tried to reaffirm its power to pass any laws over the colonists that it saw fit. However, the colonists held firm to their view that Parliament could not tax them and opposed its implementation.
The issues raised by the Stamp Act played a major role in defining the 27 colonial grievances included in the text of the Indictment of George III section of the Declaration of Independence of the United States, which would give rise to the Revolutionary War and, ultimately, American independence.
- great britain
- british empire
- george iii
- american colonies
- american independence
- american revolution