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The Stamp Act

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tax stamps - required to be on paper

Further Reading

The Stamp Act: Prologue to Revolution 
by Edmund Sears Morgan

cover

Benjamin Franklin:
An American Life

by Walter Isaacson

cover
 more Info

a great bestselling biography of the "founding father" that winks at you

On March 22,1765 Parliament passed the first internal tax on the colonists, known as the Stamp Act.

Sponsored by George Grenville, it was the first directtax imposed by Britain on the colonies. The law required colonists to pay a tax on every piece of printed paper they used. Such stamps had been required on legal documents and publications in England for 100 years. The funds raised by the tax were intended to help pay the costs of defending and protecting the American frontier. They planned to place 10,000 troops near the Appalachian Mountains.

Most colonists were outraged by the tax because they saw it as an unjust attempt to raise money in the colonies without the consent of the colonists. They did not elect members of Parliament and there was no approval required by the various colonial legislatures. Although the Stamp Act itself was not a harsh measure, colonists feared the standard this new type of legislation would set. "No taxation without representation" became the rallying cry.

The Americans drew a distinction between an internal tax on the colonists (the stamp act) and an external tax on  the trade of the colonies. Patrick Henry offered several anti-stamp act resolutions in the House of Burgesses in Virginia, most of which were passed. Virginia declared that it would not pay taxes which had not been approved by its legislature. The royal governor of Virginia, appointed by the King of Britain, did not approve the resolutions and dissolved the House of Burgesses, precipitating a crisis.

Newspapers attempted to avoid the requirements of the act by issuing sheets without the masthead and other characteristics of a newspaper. In this way they were able to continue publishiing without risk of prosecution for their resistance to the act. One such paper was the Pennsylvania Gazette. On October 31, 1765 the publishers announced the suspension of the Gazette in opposition to the provisions of the Stamp Act which required that it be printed on imported, stamped paper.

In addition to rhetoric, the colonists waged a campaign which included evasion and tarring and feathering to fight the tax and intimidate the tax collectors. No stamp commissioner or tax collector was actually tarred and feathered but by November 1, 1765, the day the Stamp Act tax went into effect, there were no stamp commissioners left in the colonies to collect it.

Benjamin Franklin was a colonial agent in London at the time and testified before Parliament about the colonies' attitude toward the tax. They were trying to understand the colonists' strong feeling against the tax. Franklin testified:

I never heard any objection to the right of laying duties to regulate
commerce; but a right to lay internal taxes was never supposed to be in
Parliament, as we are not represented there. . . . 

The tax was repealed in 1766 after Franklin's testimony, but it was not the end of the taxation issue.


Repeal of the Stamp Act Cartoon - Primary Source

The Stamp Act Repeal Act - Primary Source

Part of These United Colonies: The American War of Independence exhibit

The American Revolution

American Revolution Primary Sources

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