What was the Stamp Act?

The Stamp Act was a law that required all colonial residents to pay a stamp tax on virtually every printed paper including legal documents, bills of sale, contracts, wills, advertising, pamphlets, almanacs, and even playing cards and dice. The tax affected every resident especially lawyers who were increasingly in a position of power.  The act was passed in May and was scheduled to take effect November 1st, 1765. Many colonists thought the tax was unfair and had almost a year to show their discontent through peaceful and violent protests.

Effigy of a tax collector hung in the Liberty Tree in Boston Common during the Stamp Act Crisis.

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Britain fought a long war with the French from 1756 to 1763. The war was known as the French and Indian War because thousands of Native Americans fought alongside France. In Europe it was known as the Seven Year War. The British won the war thanks partly to the Americans while they took over most of France’s northern territory. By the end of the war in 1763 Britain was deeply in debt, by 1764 they had accumulated a national debt of 130 million pounds. Adding to the debt was the cost of maintaining the newly conquered territory and the cost of sending more soldiers to defend the new frontier. British citizens already paid high taxes and it seemed logical to raise revenue from the colonies that benefited from the war.

Prime Minister George Grenville thought that Americans should pay taxes to help Britain relieve its debt and in May 1765 Britain’s Parliament passed a new revenue measure, the Stamp Act. This decision marks a turning point in American history and it is consider the beginning of the struggle for independence.

Colonists reacted fast; as soon as the stamps arrived they were intersected and burned. They attacked the house of the Boston stamp distributor, Andrew Oliver, and burned an effigy of him in Boston Common. They also attacked the house of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson.

During the Stamp Act crisis Americans distinguished between taxation for regulation of trade and taxation for revenue. They argued that Britain had the right to the former but not the latter. Because the Stamp Act affected all colonial residents resistance was widespread, not only was it violent but for the first time they proved their economic power by boycotting British goods and resisting paying their debts to British creditors. Prime Minister Marquis of Rockingham nullified the act before it even went into effect.

 

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