Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Stamp Act

The Stamp Act of 1765-1766 was an act of the British Parliament to tax activities in their American colonies. The Act was passed by the parliament on March 22, 1765 and was to be effective November 1. The act met with great resistance in the colonies, was never effectively enforced, and was finally repealed on March 18, 1766. It increased American concerns about the intent of parliament, and added to the growing separatist movement that later resulted in the American Revolution.

Table of contents
1 Background
2 Protests and Repeal
3 Later Affects


The Treaty of Paris (1763) at the end of the Seven Years' War left Britain with control of Canada and the entire east coast of America. But it was the fourth war in the last seventy years between the European powers. While successful, the wars had left the government with a total debt of 136,000,000. The unsettled frontier, so necessary to the fur trade acquired from the French, also required the British to maintain a standing army for its defense. This opinion was reinforced by the rebellion of Chief Pontiac. Ten regiments, or about 6,000 troops, would be permanently stationed in North America and represented a ongoing expense.

Stamp taxes had been in use in England for a number of years, and were viewed as an equitable source of income. Taxes applied to all forms of legal documents. Rates in this act ranged from a half penny on a pamphlet or one-page newspaper to fifty pounds on a major commercial contract. The delay in the effective data was to allow stamps to be printed, and agents to be secured for their sale.

Protests and Repeal

The American colonists didn't view the act as equitable at all, and in some ways it wasn't. To be admitted to the bar or enrolled as a notary required a tax of 10 in America, but only 2 in England. The tax on newspapers raised considerable opposition, especially in the newspapers.

Colonists also didn't see the advantage of a standing army. Yes, it would man posts such as Fort Detroit and Fort Pitt, but not to protect settlers, only the fur trade. Indeed, the Quebec Act of 1763 had limited western settlement. For seventy years the European Wars had spilled into North America. Coastal properties and towns had been attacked by the French, Spanish, and Dutch at various times, and they had been protected only by colonial militia, not the regular army. The militia had even been even assigned to support actions in Canada and the west, with limited compensation from the crown.

Some related acts that parliament viewed as benefiting the colonies were just as unwelcome. The British government would directly pay colonial officials, judges, and sheriffs. The Americans saw this as removing their influence. Before, when an official's performance was not satisfactory, the colonial assembly could vote to withhold their pay. The stamps were generally ignored, and often were not available. Protest and discussion gave way to open violence in a number of instances.

In Boston, the stamp agent, Andrew Oliver was hung and then burned in effigy. His home was broken into, his office and the stamps were burned. The mob even went on to break things at Lt. Governor Hutchinson's home, destroying records and forcing him and his family to seek refuge at Fort William. (The elm tree Oliver was hung from later became known as the "Liberty Tree".) Organizations of protest sprang up throughout the colonies, later becoming known as the Sons of Liberty. Oliver resigned as stamp agent, and no one could be found to take the job.

Similar events occurred on other colonies, particularly New York City and Charleston, South Carolina. Stamps were seized and destroyed, and stamp agents harassed. Committees of correspondence sprang up to unite in opposition, and a general boycott of British merchandise spread through all the colonies. When Massachusetts asked for a general meeting, nine colonies sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress held in New York in October.

That congress produced a petition and declaration of rights which was sent to the king, and petitions to both houses of parliament. Faced with an inability to enforce the act parliament repealed it in the spring. The pressure from British manufacturers and merchants over the boycott was of more influence than the petitions. Parliament, in enacting the repeal said: "...whereas the continuance of the said act would be attended with many inconveniences, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms..."

Later Affects

Some aspects of the resistance to the act provided a sort of rehearsal for the American Revolution a decade later. The Committees of Correspondence reappeared on a more formal basis. The boycott would also grow more formal, as the colonies entered into a Non Importation Agreement in 1774. While the Sons of Liberty faded after the repeal, they were never again entirely absent. The ability of the colonies to act in concert would also reappear in the Continental Congress.

The colonies also came to believe that they could nullify an Act of Parliament by generally peaceful means. The issue of no taxation without representation was raised, but not resolved. The determination of and inclination parliament to raise revenue in America remained.