- What was the Stamp Act all about?
The Stamp Act of 1765 was imposed on the American colonies by the British government. This Parliamentary tax on American colonies was the first internal tax levied on the colonies and the first time the British government attempted to exert their power and control over the colonial powers. It was enacted to resolve the debt the British government incurred from the 7 Year’s War and was required for virtually all paper documents. The Tax Stamp Act was to be effective on November 1, 1765, however, it was never enforced.
- Who was appointed to collect the tax?
The Stamp Act tax was to be collected by British stamp agents that were appointed by Parliament. They were to collect the tax, in exchange for the appropriate stamp. Without the stamp, documents would be null and void. Offenders that avoided the tax were to be subjected to British admiralty courts, rather than American colonial courts. This angered the colonist, as they believed the British government was attempting to diminish the power of the colonial courts. They believed that any legal issue should be heard within the local juries in the local courts. This belief would later give rise to what would later be the right to rule locally on matters of constitutionality.
- “Give me liberty, or give me death.”
The passage of the Stamp Tax promoted the famous speech by Patrick Henry, where the words “Give me liberty, or give me death” were first uttered in a speech given before the Virginia meeting of the Colonists in 1765. Patrick Henry would later serve as the governor of Virginia (1776-79, 1884-86).
- All printed materials would bear the stamp.
Wills, deeds, newspapers, pamphlets, ship documents, licenses, playing cards and dice were subject to the Stamp Act. Every paper document was required to bear a tax stamp. Even diplomas and degrees from colleges and universities were required to have the stamp! Lawyers and universities were the most heavily taxed as the British feared the rise of professional classes within the colonies.
- Why did the Stamp Act get passed?
The rationale behind the Stamp Act, from the perspective of the British, was to defray the cost of protection of the American frontier and keeping the peace between the colonists and the Native Americans. The British were to station 10,000 troops in the Appalachian Mountains for this purpose. It was purported by the British government that because the American colonies enjoyed the protection by these troops, they were justified in levying the Stamp Act tax.
- Taxation, without representation, is tyranny.
The revolt in response to the Stamp Act, by the American colonists was motivated by the fact that the American colonies were not permitted to vote for their representatives. The British government argued that the American colonies were represented virtually, although they did not have a vote. This law and the Sugar Act of the previous year would be the beginning of the outcry of the Thirteen Colonies, “No taxation, without representation” and “Taxation, without representation is tyranny.”
- Stamp Act Congress
On October 7, 1765, The Stamp Act Congress convened in New York City. 27 delegates from 9 colonies arrived in New York City and drafted a document entitled, “Declaration of Rights and Grievances”. The document outlined 14 assertions, including the assertion that taxes be collected by the American colonial assemblies and could only be levied with the express permission of their own representatives. The article openly criticized the use of admiralty courts, yet ended with the declaration of loyalty to the king. Many conservative delegates refused to sign the Stamp Act Congress declaration. The British Parliament failed to recognize the document and flatly rejected it. The 7th statement in the Stamp Act Congress document, was the assertion of the right to trial by jury.
- Stamp Act Riots
As the effective date of the Stamp Act approached, the opposition within the colonies grew. The Stamp Act Riots were a result of frustration by the colonies of the actions of the British government. American colonial opponents to the act resorted to violence against the British directed tax agents. Opponents used fear and intimidation to convince royally appointed stamp distributors to resign from their posts or face retaliation. Royal officials deployed reinforcements, which further agitated the opposition. In New York City, the stamped paper arrived by ship and coincided with the close of the Stamp Act Congress. The ship was surrounded and the British feared violence would ensue. In an effort to avoid the violence, the ship paper was unloaded under the cover of darkness.
- Sons of Liberty:
“Sons of Liberty” was the name adopted by secret groups in the colonies that opposed the Stamp Act Tax. The phrase was coined by Isaac Barré and the Sons of Liberty groups spread throughout the colonies. Sam Adams and Paul Revere commissioned the Sons of Liberty group in Massachusetts. The Sons of Liberty group in Massachusetts organized demonstrations, implemented boycotts and occasionally resorted to violence to promote their agenda. Although the Sons of Liberty did have influence on the movement to repeal the Stamp Tax Act, other groups were also formed in opposition to this new tax.
- The Importance of the Stamp Act Tax in American History:
While the American Revolution was not a direct result of the Stamp Act Tax, it certainly influenced the unrest within the colonies towards the British government. It would be only 9 years later that the First Continental Congress convened (1774) and 11 years later that the Declaration of Independence was written (1776). The colonies had realized by the time the Stamp Act Tax was drafted that the colonies wanted to be able to have a representative say in how they were governed. On February 26, 1766, a resolution to repeal the Stamp Act was introduced to the British Parliament. In March of the same year, the king conceded to the resolution. This would be the beginning of the road to the American Revolution and later, American independence.