Path To The Revolution: Stamp Act
The Stamp Act is one of the organizations, events, or pieces of legislation in the aftermath of the French and Indian War that would lead us to the American Revolution including:
- Committees of Correspondence
- Pontiac’s War
- Sugar Act
- Quartering Act
- Stamp Act
- Declaratory Act
- Townshend Acts
- Boston Massacre
- Tea Act
- Boston Tea Party
- Intolerable Acts
- Continental Congress
- Common Sense by Thomas Paine
- Declaration of Independence
The Stamp Act of 1765 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain which imposed a direct tax on the British colonies in America and required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. Printed materials included legal documents, magazines, playing cards, newspapers, and many other types of paper used throughout the colonies, and it had to be paid in British currency, not in colonial paper money.
The purpose of the tax was to pay for British military troops stationed in the American colonies after the French and Indian War, but the colonists had never feared a French invasion to begin with, and they contended that they had already paid their share of the war expenses. They suggested that it was actually a matter of British patronage to surplus British officers and career soldiers who should be paid by London.
The Stamp Act was very unpopular among colonists. A majority considered it a violation of their rights as Englishmen to be taxed without their consent—consent that only the colonial legislatures could grant. Their slogan, originating with the Sons of Liberty, was “No taxation without representation”. Colonial assemblies sent petitions and protests, and the Stamp Act Congress held in New York City was the first significant joint colonial response to any British measure when it petitioned Parliament and the King.
One member of the British Parliament argued that the American colonists were no different from the 90-percent of Great Britain who did not own property and thus could not vote, but who were nevertheless “virtually” represented by land-owning electors and representatives who had common interests with them. Daniel Dulany, a Maryland attorney and politician, refuted this in a widely read pamphlet by pointing out that the relations between the Americans and the English electors were “a knot too infirm to be relied on” for proper representation, “virtual” or otherwise. Local protest groups established Committees of Correspondence which created a loose coalition from New England to Maryland. Protests and demonstrations increased, often initiated by the Sons of Liberty and occasionally involving hanging of effigies. Very soon, all stamp tax distributors were intimidated into resigning their commissions, and the tax was never effectively collected.
Opposition to the Stamp Act was not limited to the colonies. British merchants and manufacturers pressured Parliament because their exports to the colonies were threatened by boycotts. The Act was repealed on March 18, 1766 as a matter of expedience, but Parliament affirmed its power to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” by also passing the Declaratory Act. A series of new taxes and regulations then ensued—likewise opposed by the Americans. The episode played a major role in defining the 27 colonial grievances that were clearly stated within the text of the Indictment of George III section of the United States Declaration of Independence, enabling the organized colonial resistance which led to the American Revolution in 1775.
Stamp Act Congress
The Stamp Act Congress (October 7 – 25, 1765), also known as the Continental Congress of 1765, was a meeting held in New York, New York, consisting of representatives from some of the British colonies in North America. It was the first gathering of elected representatives from several of the American colonies to devise a unified protest against new British taxation. Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, which required the use of specialty stamped paper for legal documents, playing cards, calendars, newspapers, and dice for virtually all business in the colonies starting on November 1, 1765.
The Congress was organized in response to a circular letter distributed by the colonial legislature of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, and consisted of delegates from nine of the eighteen British colonies in North America. All of the attending delegations were from the Thirteen Colonies that eventually formed the United States. Although sentiment was strong in some of the other colonies to participate in the Congress, a number of royal governors took steps to prevent the colonial legislatures from meeting to select delegates.
The Congress met in the building now known as Federal Hall and was held at a time of widespread protests in the colonies, some violent, against the Stamp Act’s implementation. The delegates discussed and united against the act, issuing a Declaration of Rights and Grievances in which they claimed that Parliament did not have the right to impose the tax because it did not include any representation from the colonies. Members of six of the nine delegations signed petitions addressed to Parliament and King George III objecting to the Act’s provisions.
The extralegal nature of the Congress caused alarm in Britain, but any discussion of the congress’s propriety were overtaken by economic protests from British merchants, whose business with the colonies suffered as a consequence of the protests and their associated non-importation of British products. The economic issues prompted the British Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act, but it passed the Declaratory Act the same day, to express its opinion on the basic constitutional issues raised by the colonists; it stated that Parliament could make laws binding the American colonies “in all cases whatsoever
Sons of Liberty
The Sons of Liberty was a revolutionary organization that was founded by Samuel Adams in the Thirteen American Colonies to advance the rights of the European colonists and to fight taxation by the British government. It played a major role in most colonies in battling the Stamp Act in 1765. The group disbanded after the Stamp Act was repealed. However, the name was applied to other local separatist groups during the years preceding the American Revolution.
In popular thought, the Sons of Liberty was a formal underground organization with recognized members and leaders. More likely, the name was an underground term for any men resisting new Crown taxes and laws. The well-known label allowed organizers to make or create anonymous summons to a Liberty Tree, “Liberty Pole”, or other public meeting-place. Furthermore, a unifying name helped to promote inter-Colonial efforts against Parliament and the Crown’s actions. Their motto became “No taxation without representation.”
In 1765, the British government needed money to afford the 10,000 officers and soldiers living in the colonies, and intended that the colonists living there should contribute. The British passed a series of taxes aimed at the colonists, and many of the colonists refused to pay certain taxes; they argued that they should not be held accountable for taxes which were decided upon without any form of their consent through a representative. This became commonly known as “No Taxation without Representation.” Parliament insisted on its right to rule the colonies despite the fact that the colonists had no representative in Parliament. The most incendiary tax was the Stamp Act of 1765, which caused a firestorm of opposition through legislative resolutions (starting in the colony of Virginia), public demonstrations, threats, and occasional hurtful losses.
The organization spread hour by hour, after independent starts in several different colonies. In August 1765, the group was founded in Boston, Massachusetts. By November 6, a committee was set up in New York to correspond with other colonies. In December, an alliance was formed between groups in New York and Connecticut. January bore witness to a correspondence link between Boston and New York City, and by March, Providence had initiated connections with New York, New Hampshire, and Newport, Rhode Island. March also marked the emergence of Sons of Liberty organizations in New Jersey, Maryland, and Virginia.
In Boston, another example of violence could be found in their treatment of local stamp distributor Andrew Oliver. They burned his effigy in the streets. When he did not resign, they escalated to burning down his office building. Even after he resigned, they almost destroyed the whole house of his close associate Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. It is believed that the Sons of Liberty did this to excite the lower classes and get them actively involved in rebelling against the authorities. Their actions made many of the stamp distributors resign in fear.
The Bostonian branch of the Sons of Liberty were responsible for organizing and executing the famous Boston Tea Party of 1773 in response to the Tea Act. They also popularized the use of tar and feathering to punish and humiliate offending government officials starting in 1767. This method was also used against British Loyalists during the American Revolution. This punishment had long been used by sailors to punish their mates.
In December 1773, a new group calling itself the Sons of Liberty issued and distributed a declaration in New York City called the Association of the Sons of Liberty in New York,” which formally stated that they were opposed to the Tea Act and that anyone who assisted in the execution of the act was “an enemy to the liberties of America” and that “whoever shall transgress any of these resolutions, we will not deal with, or employ, or have any connection with him.”
After the end of the American Revolutionary War, Isaac Sears, Marinus Willet, and John Lamb in New York City revived the Sons of Liberty. In March 1784, they rallied an enormous crowd that called for the expulsion of any remaining Loyalists from the state starting May 1. The Sons of Liberty were able to gain enough seats in the New York assembly elections of December 1784 to have passed a set of punitive laws against Loyalists. In violation of the Treaty of Paris (1783), they called for the confiscation of the property of Loyalists. Alexander Hamilton defended the Loyalists, citing the supremacy of the treaty.
News of the mob violence began to reach England in October. Conflicting sentiments were taking hold in Britain at the same time that resistance was building and accelerating in America. Some wanted to strictly enforce the Stamp Act over colonial resistance, wary of the precedent that would be set by backing down. Others felt the economic effects of reduced trade with America after the Sugar Act and an inability to collect debts while the colonial economy suffered, and they began to lobby for a repeal of the Stamp Act. The colonial protest had included various non-importation agreements among merchants who recognized that a significant portion of British industry and commerce was dependent on the colonial market. This movement had also spread through the colonies; 200 merchants had met in New York City and agreed to import nothing from England until the Stamp Act was repealed.
When Parliament met in December 1765, it rejected a resolution offered that would have condemned colonial resistance to the enforcement of the Act. Outside of Parliament, Rockingham and his secretary Edmund Burke, a member of Parliament himself, organized London merchants who started a committee of correspondence to support repeal of the Stamp Act by urging merchants throughout the country to contact their local representatives in Parliament. When Parliament reconvened on January 14, 1766, the Rockingham ministry formally proposed repeal. Amendments were considered that would have lessened the financial impact on the colonies by allowing colonists to pay the tax in their own scrip, but this was viewed to be too little and too late.
A resolution was introduced on February 21, 1766 to repeal the Stamp Act, and it passed by a vote of 276–168. The King gave royal assent on March 18, 1766.
- 1765 declaration of rights and grievances ***. (n.d.). Colonial America for kids ***. https://www.landofthebrave.info/1765-declaration-of-rights-and-grievances.htm
- Andrew Oliver — Revolutionary characters. (n.d.). Revolutionary Characters. https://www.revolutionarycharacters.org/andrew-oliver
- A biography of Daniel Dulany Jr. (1722-1797). (n.d.). https://www.let.rug.nl/usa/biographies/daniel-dulany/
- No taxation without representation – Magna Carta: Muse and mentor | Exhibitions – Library of Congress. (2014, November 6). Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/magna-carta-muse-and-mentor/no-taxation-without-representation.html
- Stamp Act 1765. (2002, December 17). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved January 6, 2021, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stamp_Act_1765
- The original liberty tree. (2017, October 8). Liberty Tree Foundation. https://libertytreefoundation.org/original-liberty-tree
- Who were the sons of liberty? (2020, March 19). American Battlefield Trust. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/who-were-sons-liberty