Stamp Act Repealed - History

Stamp Act Repealed - History

The opposition to the Stamp Act caught the British by surprise. After debate they decided to repeal the act while restating their right to tax the colonies.

The British were surprised by the level of the opposition to the Stamp tax. They were faced with two options, repress the opposition with force or repeal the Stamp Tax. The many in Britain supported repeal of the tax, feeling it was not possible to enforce it. British merchants also supported the repeal, believing that the tax was bad for their business.

There was a heated debate in the British parliament. William Pitt one of the greatest orators in the parliament rose from his sickbed to argue for the repeal of the tax. He said “ This Kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies. They are the subjects of the kingdom equally entitled with yourselves to all the natural rights of mankind and the peculiar privileges of Englishmen. The Americans are the sons not the bastards of England. ” Later in his speech he stated- “Some have the idea that the colonies are virtually represented in this house. I would fain to know by an American is represented here? ” Prime Minister Grenville responded to Pitts speech defending the taxes. The debate went on, and the parliament decided to add a Declaratory Act that stated that the parliament had the right to impose the taxes. Finally, after the King indicated that he supported the repeal, the Stamp Tax was repealed by a margin of 200 votes.


Stamp Act Repealed - History

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Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1700s

Wars amongst colonial powers from Queen Anne to French and Indian led to growing unrest within the colonies themselves as taxes were levied without representation, which would lead to the next decade to come and revolution. American leaders began to emerge in a variety of ways, including George Washington trying to become a British General and Ben Franklin beginning his publishing career and flying a kite.

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Above: Engraving of Faneuil Hall in Boston. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Political cartoon, "A New Way to Pay the National-Debt" of King George III, Queen Charlotte, William Pitt and others, 1786, James Gillroy. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1700s

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1766 Detail

March 18, 1766 - Stamp Act is repealed.


By the time of the end of the Stamp Act Congress and the issue of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances on October 19, 1765, the British Government knew that the American colonists were serious in their dislike for the Stamp Act. However, they were not yet ready to capitulate to their demands. They needed the revenue and wanted to show to fractious colonists who was in charge. The Stamp Act went into effect in November, causing many printers in the colonies to cease publication. However, that only lasted for a few editions they, the printers against the Stamp Act, began to print again, defying the order to print without the stamp.

The Sons of Liberty continued pressuring for repeal, meeting on November 6, 1865 in New York City to coordinate efforts for factions in various parts of the colonies. By December, the effort included New York and Connecticut by March, it extended from New Hampshire to North Carolina, with the issue under discussion in South Carolina and Georgia as well. At this time, the Sons of Liberty still professed support for the British government and King. They thought that the British Parliment would eventually do the right thing and repeal the tax. They did hold out the possibility that military action might become necessary if their demands were not met.

British Response

Reports of the colonial violence against the Stamp Act reached Great Britain by October with newly installed Prime Minister, Charles Watson-Wentworth, Lord Rockingham, in July 1866, replacing George Grenville, whose administration had been responsible for its passage. King George III fired Grenville. The King wanted a partial repeal to avoid a costly war with colonies and keep some of the revenue, but not a total repeal. Beyond the King, sentiments to a response were mixed, but beginning to change. There were some willing to take a hard line stance, thinking that capitulation would set a bad precedent to who was in charge. Others were worried about the economic consequences that could impact other taxes. Two hundred New York City merchants had vowed not to import any goods from Britain until the tax was repealed.

Grenville attempted to keep his act in place, offering a resolution in Parliament condemning the violence in December 1765. It was rejected. On January 14, 1766, Rockingham and his supporters proposed total repeal, which the King did not like. He would eventually agree under Rockingham's threat of resignation. Various resolutions were proposed over the next two months, both economic and constitutional in argument. British Parliament wanted to protect its rights to control the colonies, but also wished to repeal. On February 21, the final resolutiom was introduced. It passed 276 to 168. The King gave his royal approval on March 18, 1766.

But the repeal of the Stamp Act was not a sign that the British government did not wish to retain its rights to tax and control the colonies. The Declaratory Act was passed at the same time. It stated that "they" the British had the full right to impose laws and statutes on the colonies. The text, however, did steer away from using the word taxes. There was still the argument of whether taxing the colonies without representation, with the argument split into taxation within the idea of trade (external and therefore appropriate)versus internal measures, such as the Stamp Act (inappropriate), Of course, not all agreed with the distinction at all.

Full Text, Resolution to Repeal the Stamp Act

Great Britain: Parliament - An Act Repealing the Stamp Act March 18, 1766

Whereas an Act was passed in the last session of Parliament entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same and for amending such parts of the several Acts of Parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned and whereas the continuance of the said Act would be attended with many inconveniencies, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms may it therefore please your most excellent Majesty that it may be enacted and be it enacted by the king's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six, the above-mentioned Act, and the several matters and things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.

Various Quotes Against the Stamp Act

Thomas Hutchinson, 1865, Loyalist former governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. "It cannot be good to tax the Americans. You will lose more tax than you gain."

George Washington, 1865. "The Stamp Act imposed on the colonies by the Parliament of Great Britain is an ill-judged measure. Parliament has no right to put its hands into our pockets without our consent."

Christopher Gadsden, South Carolina patriot and member of the Continental Congress. "My sentiments for the American cause, from the stamp Act downward, have never changed . I am still of opinion that it is the cause of liberty and of human nature."


Stamp Act Repealed - History

The Stamp Act Congress met in the Federal Hall building in New York City between October 7 and 25, 1765. It was the first colonial action against a British measure and was formed to protest the issued by British Parliament on March 1765. The Stamp Act Congress was attended by of nine of the thirteen colonies. Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia were prevented from attending because their loyal governors refused to convene the assemblies to elect delegates. New Hampshire did not attend but approved the resolutions once Congress was over.

British Taxation in Colonial America »

The Navigation Acts were trade rules that governed commerce between Britain and its colonies. The first of the Navigation Acts existed for almost two centuries and was repealed in 1849. The laws were designed to protect British economic interests in colonial trade and to protect its industry against the rapidly growing Dutch navigation trade.

The purpose of the Molasses Act was to protect British West Indies exports to the American colonies from the more fertile French and Spanish islands of Martinique and Santo Domingo. It was not designed to raise revenue …

British Taxation in Colonial America »

During the first eight years of King George III reign the British government had six ministries. British politics was in a state of chaos and political infighting between Whig groups disrupted colonial policy.
In the last years of King George II, Britain was unified under the leadership of William Pitt who had led Britain to war against the French in North America and India. The war had been costly and Britain was highly indebted however Pitt wanted to declare war on Spain before Spain attacked Britain. Not finding support among George …

Stamp Act »

Representatives from nine colonies attended the Stamp Act Congress.
From Massachusetts: James Otis, Samuel Adams, Oliver Partridge and Timothy Ruggles.
From Rhode Island: Henry Ward and Metcalf Bowler
From Connecticut: William Johnson, Eliphalet Dyer and David Rowland.
From New York: Phillip Livingston, William Bayard, John Cruger, Robert Livingston and Leonard Lispinard.
From Pennsylvania: John Morton, George Bryan and John Dickinson.
From New Jersey: Hendrick Fisher, Robert Ogden and Joseph Gordon.
From Delaware: Caesar Rodney and Thomas McKean.
From Maryland: Edward Tilghman, Thomas Ringgold and William Murdock.
From South Carolina: John Rutledge, Thomas Lynch and Christopher Gadsden.
Secretary: John Cotton
President: Timothy …

Stamp Act »

Samuel Adams (1722-1803)
A graduate from Harvard College, unsuccessful businessman and tax collector, entered politics to coordinate efforts against as a leader of . The Sons of Liberty were responsible for the , he was portrayed as a master of propaganda. He was an official of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and one of the founding fathers of the United States. He was a cousin of President John Adams.

James Otis (1725-1783)
James Otis graduated from Harvard College. He was a top lawyer in Boston and became known as an opponent …

Stamp Act »

The was nullified before it went into effect and was repealed by parliament on March 18, 1766 under the Marquis of Rockingham.
In the summer of 1765 King George III fired George Grenville and replaced him with Charles Watson-Wentworth, Marquis of Rockingham. For the new Prime Minister the only alternative to repealing the tax was a long and costly civil war with the American colonies. Britain, as the world greatest power, could not give up on the decision to uphold the tax and give in to mobs and activist in its …

Stamp Act, Timeline of British Acts on America »

What was the Stamp Act?
The Stamp Act was a tax imposed by the British government on the American colonies. British taxpayers already paid a stamp tax and Massachusetts briefly experimented with a similar law, but the Stamp Act imposed on colonial residents went further than the existing ones. The primary goal was to raise money needed for military defenses of the colonies.
This legislative act was initiated by the British prime minister and adopted by the British Parliament. The decision was taken on March 1765 but did not take effect until …

Declaratory Act, Documents »

AN ACT for the better securing the dependency of his Majesty’s dominions in America upon the crown and parliament of Great Britain.
WHEREAS several of the houses of representatives in his Majesty’s colonies and plantations in America, have of late, against law, claimed to themselves, or to the general assemblies of the same, the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon his Majesty’s subjects in the said colonies and plantations and have, in pursuance of such claim, passed certain votes, resolutions, and orders, derogatory to the legislative authority …

Declaratory Act, Timeline of British Acts on America »

What was the Declaratory Act?
The Declaratory Act was a measure issued by British Parliament asserting its authority to make laws binding the colonists “in all cases whatsoever” including the right to tax. The Declaratory Act was a reaction of British Parliament to the failure of the as they did not want to give up on the principle of imperial taxation asserting its legal right to tax colonies.
When Parliament it concurrently approved the Declaratory Act to justify its repeal. It also declared all resolution issued by the null and void. This …


CRISIS

Q. If the act is not repealed, what do you think will be the consequences?

A. A total loss of the respect and affection the people of America bear to this country, and of all the commerce that depends on that respect and affection.

Benjamin Franklin, testimony to Parliament on the Stamp Act, February 1766

One month after Benjamin Franklin's testimony to Parliament, the Stamp Act was repealed. Exultant Americans celebrated across the colonies&mdashchurch bells were rung, days of public rejoicing were held, thanksgiving sermons were delivered and widely published. Just three years earlier Americans were celebrating victory with Britain, not against Britain. Although their opposition to the Sugar and Currency Acts in 1764 had been sincere, the Stamp Act sparked the first widespread eruption of anti-British resistance. What had happened? Why had Parliament passed the tax? Why did so many Americans vociferously oppose it? How did opponents of American resistance state their positions? Where was America headed?

"Until the British began to tighten the empire in the 1760s," states historian Alan Taylor, "the colonists had a very good deal&mdashand they knew it. They resisted the new taxes in the hope that the British would back down, preserving their loose relationship with the mother country. But, of course, the British would not back down, which brought on a long and bloody war that no one really wanted." 1 In these readings we view the colonists' first widespread resistance to British authority, and how they responded to their first "victory" in the revolutionary era. Why did they fail to object as sternly to the Declaratory Act, passed the same day as the Stamp Act's repeal, that reasserted Parliament's authority to "make laws . . . to bind the colonies and people of America . . . in all cases whatsoever"?

Parliamentary debate on the Stamp Act, 1765, selections. In early 1765 Parliament was struggling to meet the cost of defending its empire in North America&mdashvastly expanded after the French and Indian War. The task required a standing army (fulltime soldiers maintained during peacetime) since the new territories lacked enough Englishmen to constitute local defense forces. Prime Minister George Grenville stated the matter in its simplest terms: "The money for these expenses must be raised somewhere." To the British it was perfectly logical to raise the money in the colonies they, after all, were the chief beneficiaries of Britain's military exertions. Parliament settled on a simple way to obtain the needed funds, an easy-to-collect tax on documents, i.e., the paper on which they would be printed. These selections from the Parliamentary debate on the Stamp Act illuminate how British politicians viewed the issue of colonial taxation&mdashespecially the question of taxation without representation. Written in the clipped, abbreviated style of notes taken in haste, they record remarks made on February 6, 1765, eight days before the Stamp Act was passed. How did the supporters and opponents of the Stamp Act frame their arguments? "We are the mother country," warned Isaac Barré, "let us be cautious not to get the name of stepmother." (6 pp.)

Colonists respond to the Stamp Act, 1765-1766. This compilation, one of a series in this Theme CRISIS, reflects an often underemphasized aspect of the revolutionary period, pointed out by literary historian Robert Ferguson: "Conventional documentaries of the period assume a gradual exasperation with British policy, one that builds from slow objection and reluctant protest to outrage and, only then, to retaliation and rupture. For all of that, violent anger, mob behavior, broad civil disobedience, and clashes between the colonials and British troops are part of the Revolution from at least 1766. . . . the conception of a slowly evolving opposition misses the spontaneity and original power of early protest writings." Keep this in mind as you study these documents for and against the authority of Parliament to enact the tax. They include town resolutions and nonimportation agreements, newspaper accounts of public protests by Sons (and Daughters) of Liberty, a Loyalist's condemnation of the "frenzy of anarchy" against the Act, the Declaration of Rights and Grievances by the Stamp Act Congress, the perspectives of three Founding Fathers (Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington), and the retrospective views of the Patriot historian David Ramsay. As there is ample material for group study and presentation, the selections are designed to be divided among students and not assigned in their entirety. See Discussion Questions below and Suggestions for Classroom Use of the compilations. (16 pp.)

"A Poetical Dream concerning Stamped Papers," poem (anonymous), 1765. An anonymous poem published in Connecticut in late 1765, suggests how deeply the Stamp Act intruded into the lives of the colonists. It gives life to the official documents that will require stamps. In the narrator's dream, four types of documents proclaim their usefulness and make a case against the Act. While not great literature, the poem does illustrate how in the eighteenth century poetry was deployed in the service of political persuasion. What satiric and stylistic techniques are used to achieve this end? Characterize the positions and "voices" of the four types of documents. (4 pp.)

Colonists respond to the Stamp Act's repeal, 1766. This second compilation displays the Americans' jubilant celebration of the Stamp Act's repeal in March 1766 through a selection of news reports, handbills, sermons, a poem, Paul Revere's engraving A View of the Obelisk under Liberty-Tree in Boston, and the retrospective views of the Patriot historian David Ramsay. To what factors did Americans ascribe their victory? Did they think the crisis with Britain was over? Did they take notice of the Declaratory Act, passed the same day that the Stamp Act was repealed? As there is ample material for group study and presentation, the selections are designed to be divided among students and not assigned in their entirety. See Discussion Questions below and Suggestions for Classroom Use of the compilations. (12 pp.)


CONTRIBUTOR

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.


The Stamp Act Protests and Riots:

Many of the colonies protested the Stamp Act by forming a Stamp Act Congress, according to the book Conceived in Liberty:

“The major effort of official protest was the Stamp Act Congress, called in June by the Massachusetts House at the behest of James Otis and the Boston Town Meeting. The congress, which met in New York City on October 7, consisted of delegates from each of the colonial assemblies – with the exception of those of Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, whose governors prevented the assembles from meeting, and of New Hampshire, which declined to attend. Delaware and New Jersey met the same obstruction from their governors, but their assemblymen defied the governor by meeting informally and selecting delegates anyway. All in all, twenty-seven delegates from nine colonies attended this early example of united intercolonial resistance.”

The names of these Stamp Act Congress delegates are as follows:
Massachusetts:
James Otis Jr
Timothy Ruggles
Oliver Partridge

Rhode Island:
Henry Ward
Metcalf Bowler

Connecticut:
Eliphalet Dyer
William Samuel Johnson
David Rowland

New York:
Robert R. Livingston
Philip Livingston
William Bayard
John Cruger
Leonard Lispenard

New Jersey:
Robert Ogden
Joseph Gordon
Hendrick Fisher

Pennsylvania:
John Dickinson
George Bryan
John Morton

Delaware:
Thomas McKean
Caesar Rodney

Maryland:
Edward Tilghman
Thomas Ringgold
William Murdock

South Carolina:
Christopher Gadsden
Thomas Lynch
John Rutledge

The Stamp Act Congress passed a declaration deeming the Stamp Act a violation of their rights as citizens. Although he didn’t attend the congressional meetings, Virginia lawmaker Patrick Henry spoke out publicly against the law and King George III in the Virginia House of Burgesses, reportedly declaring:

“Caesar had his Brutus Charles the First his Cromwell and George the Third ….may he profit by their example. If this be treason, make the most of it!”

Political groups, such as the Sons of Liberty, held public protests that often turned violent and destructive. Riots occurred in New Hampshire, Maine, New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Massachusetts.

The Stamp Act Riots in Boston, illustration published in The youths’ history of the United States from the discovery of America, circa 1886

In August of 1765, a number of particularly destructive riots took place in Boston, during which mobs threatened to tar and feathered tax collectors, hung an effigy of tax commissioner Andrew Oliver from the Liberty tree on Boston common, looted Oliver’s home and office, burned down his stable along with his coach and chaise, and looted and damaged the mansion of the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, as well as the homes of a number of other customs officials.

As a result of the Sons of Liberty’s activities, all of the tax collectors resigned their positions before the act even became law on November 1st of that year, according to the book The United States of America: 1765-1865:

“November 1st arrived, the day on which the act was to come into force. Not a stamp could be bought. There was no one in America authorized either to open the packages of stamped paper or to sell stamps. In the condition of temper then prevailing among the people, no royal official seemed disposed to stretch a point to get the stamps into circulation. Soon the royal officials were themselves obliged to violate the act and to clear vessels without using stamped paper – though such clearances were plainly illegal. A few clearances on stamped paper issued by the collector at Savannah, Georgia, were the only instances in which the act was observed. The judges were obliged, after a brief period of waiting, to open the courts regardless of the law. In one case, a clerk of the court, who refused to use unstamped paper, was threatened by the judge with confinement for contempt of court if he persisted in his refusal. The newspapers appeared with a death’s head or some ingenious device in the corner were the stamp should have been.”

“The Repeal, or the Funeral Procession, of Miss America Stamp,” cartoon depicting the repeal of the Stamp Act, circa 1766. The coffin is carried by George Grenville, who is followed by Bute, the Duke of Bedford, Temple, Halifax, Sandwich, and two bishops.

American merchants joined in on the cause by organizing nonimportation associations to pressure British exporters to rally against the Stamp Act.

Since one-quarter of all British exports were sold in the colonies, they reasoned that a boycott of their goods would hurt British merchants financially and force them to join the cause.


All of the colonists were mad because they thought the British Parliament shouldn’t have the right to tax them. The colonists believed that the only people that should tax them should be their own legislature. And the taxes of the Stamps were only allowed to be paid in silver.

On March 18, 1766, exactly 250 years ago, after four months of widespread protest in America, the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, a taxation measure enacted to raise revenues for a standing British army in America.


The Stamp Act Repealed, March 18, 1766

Today in 1766, King George III of Britain agreed to the repeal of the Stamp Act. This ended the highly contentious provisions of the bill, which was instituted in the American colonies in order to help pay back the costs of the Seven Years War that had ended 2 years earlier. The Americans' reaction to the bill was just a precursor to what the next decade would bring.

The Stamp Act was ratified without much deliberation on March 22, 1765 by the British Parliament. It levied taxes on the American colonies in the form of duties paid on every piece of paper that the colonists purchased. This included legal documents, newspapers, printed publications, and ships’ papers. The general purpose of the Stamp Act was to pay back the massive debt Britain incurred through its participation in the Seven Years, and to raise around £ 60,000 annually in order to support the cost of quartering English troops in the colonies.

Parliament had successfully used stamp acts throughout Britain in previous years. It produced over 𧴜,000 in revenue, with low enforcement costs. The provisions were easy to implement because only documents with an official stamp were valid. Moreover, Prime Minister George Grenville was extremely supportive of imposing a new tax, even after passing The Sugar Act only a year before. Official colonial protests to the Stamp Act were ignored in Parliamentary debates, and it passed 259-49 in the House of Commons, and unanimously in the House of Lords.

The colonies’ response to the Stamp Act was one of anger and disbelief. Although the overall cost of paying for the Bill was rather low in monetary terms, it only added to the burden the Crown was imposing on the colonists as it sought to expand its sphere of influence. Britain had already put into effect the Molasses Act, The Navigation Acts, and Sugar Act, which were severely hampering colonial economic affairs by regulating commerce and economic transactions. Furthermore, colonists were hostile to the Stamp Act because it had been passed without any form of colonial representation in Parliament. Taxation without representation would become the main issue surrounding the Stamp Act, and colonists were up in arms about the infringement on their rights as British citizens. They felt that Parliament, which was thousands of miles away in England, was out of touch with the colonies and arbitrarily issuing taxes with no limitations to its power.

Protests in the streets occurred throughout the colonies, but most notably in Boston, Massachusetts. On August 14 1765, a large crowd opposed Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson’s order to take an effigy down that mocked the distributor of stamps in Massachusetts and Prime Minister Grenville for role in approving the Stamp Act. They ransacked the stamp distributor’s home and called for his resignation, which he ultimately agreed to the following day. On August 26th, a crowd looted Hutchinson’s home of valuables in their fury over the Stamp Act and its negative aspects on society.

A soon-to-be famous group, the Sons of Liberty, was also established around this time. Although they had been around since early 1765, this brotherhood of American patriots did not form into an organized group until November of the same year. They spread their influence to each of the 13 colonies by forming correspondence links with major cities and recruiting at large public demonstrations. The Sons of Liberty were instrumental in the eventual repeal of the Stamp Act by shaping Colonial resistance and coordinating boycotts of British goods.

Parliament became well aware of the protests and boycotts by early 1766. British manufacturers were being hit hard by them and losing a great deal of money from lack of business. In the end, Parliament had no choice but to begin debate on the merits of the Stamp Act. On January 14, 1766, they convened and Prime Minister Lord Rockingham, successor to Grenville, proposed a repeal of the Stamp Act. He felt that any changes to it would be fruitless and much too late to do any good. William Pitt, British hero of the Seven Years, made an impassioned speech to Parliament defending the rights of the Colonists. He said in part: “It is my opinion that this Kingdom has no right to lay a tax upon the colonies. They are subjects of this kingdom equally entitled with yourselves to all the natural rights of mankind and the peculiar privileges of Englishmen equally bound by its laws, and equally participating in the constitution of this free country.  The Americans are the sons, not the bastards of England.” When Grenville, still a member of Parliament, responded with a denouncement of the Colonies and their failure to contribute their share of burdening the debt, Pitt proclaimed, “I rejoice that America has resisted. Three millions of people, so dead to all the feelings of liberty as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.”

Following Parliamentary debate on February 21st, a resolution was drafted for the repeal of the Stamp Act. It passed in the House of Commons by a vote of 276-168. One month later, on March 18, 1766, the Stamp Act was officially and completely repealed by King George III.


An Act Repealing the Stamp Act March 18, 1766

2016 Postage Stamp Repeal of the Stamp Act

Whereas an Act was passed in the last session of Parliament entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same and for amending such parts of the several Acts of Parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned and whereas the continuance of the said Act would be attended with many inconveniencies, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms may it therefore please your most excellent Majesty that it may be enacted and be it enacted by the king's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six, the above-mentioned Act, and the several matters and things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.


Stamping Out the Stamp Act

The history of the Stamp Act as it celebrates its 250th anniversary.

The Stamp Act of 1765 celebrates its inglorious 250th anniversary this year. The Act of the British Parliament was supposed to tax virtually all transactions in the “British colonies and plantations in America” by decreeing that paper needed to be embossed with a revenue stamp. It received the King’s assent on April 22, 1765 and was to go into effect on November 1 of that year, by which time it was utterly unenforceable in the colonies. The crisis generated by the Stamp Act was the lighting of the fuse of the American Revolution.

This month, the Library of America is publishing a two-volume set documenting the impassioned pamphlet debate on both sides of the Atlantic over taxation without representation. Pamphlets were the social media of the day this rich collection of primary documents goes hand-in-hand with the broad spectrum of analyses found in the JSTOR archives

Mack Thompson, for one, thinks the British were encouraged by the Massachusetts (1755) and New York (1756) stamp acts, earlier efforts to raise revenue in those colonies. Printers and newspapers disliked these taxes, for obvious reasons, but, in general, most people disliked the excise tax on liquor even more. Thompson argues that there wasn’t much popular protest against these stamp acts, which were soon ended anyway. The British took note and assumed what was past was prologue.

Todd Thompson explores Benjamin Franklin’s use of irony and “satiric nationalism” while representing the colonies in London. Franklin wrote to the papers while posing as an Englishman to make the case that English nationalism threatened the mutual British-ness of both home country and colonies. It was, interestingly, the colonialists’ enemies who first defined the “Americans” as others. Franklin would ultimately stand in Parliament to speak for the repeal of the act — it was finally repealed in March of 1766, but the damage had been done.

The resistance to the Stamp Act came in many forms. Thomas W. Ramsbey views one of these, the revolutionary conspiracy known as the Sons of Liberty, through a sociological prism. The Sons, the only major pan-colonial organization, was highly efficient in forcing all officials charged with implementing the Act in the colonies to resign. Ramsey’s Revolution 101: “Opposition alone, however, is not adequate to explain resistance. The organizational component is missing.” A lesson that remains timeless.


Watch the video: 1765 Stamp Act Protest Reenactment