Stamp Act

The Stamp Act of 1765 was the first internal tax levied directly on American colonists by the British government. The act imposed a tax on all paper documents in the colonies, and came at time when the British Empire was deep in debt from the Seven Year’s War (1756-63) and looking to its North American colonies as a revenue source.

Raising Revenue: Victory in the Seven Year’s War left the British with huge debt and they decided colonists should share in the cost. The British proposed the Stamp Act in 1765. The Stamp Act imposed a direct tax on the colonists. The act required legal documents and printed materials to bear a tax stamp provided by commissioned distributors who would collect the tax in exchange for the stamp. Violators of the Stamp Act could be tried and convicted without juries.

The Roots of Colonial Resistance: Most colonists continued to accept Parliament’s authority to regulate their trade, but insisted that only their representative assemblies could levy direct, internal taxes. They rejected the argument that all British subjects enjoyed virtual representation in Parliament, even if they could not vote for members of Parliament.

The colonists also took exception with denying offenders trials by jury.

Uproar in The Colonies: Parliament pushed forward with the Stamp Act in spite of the colonists’ objections. The Stamp Act Congress, with delegates from nine colonies, met in October 1765 and wrote petitions to the king affirming their loyalty and the conviction that only colonial assemblies had the constitutional authority to tax the colonists.

By the beginning of 1766, most of the stamp distributors had resigned their commissions. Mobs in seaport towns turned away ships carrying the stamp papers from England without allowing them to discharge their cargoes. Determined colonial resistance made it impossible for the British government to bring the Stamp Act into effect. In 1766, Parliament repealed it.

Unresolved Issues: The end of the Stamp Act did not end Parliament’s conviction that it had the authority to impose taxes on the colonists. The British government imposed the Declaratory Act, a reaffirmation of 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. The issues raised by the Stamp Act gave rise to the Revolutionary War and, ultimately, American independence.

Source: Stamp Act
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