In 1764, American Colonists learned that Great Britain's military assistance in the French and Indian War came with a high price. Great Britain decided that a stronger hold on the Colonies was in order and believed the Colonies needed to share a greater responsibility for the war debt. Parliament enacted several measures in 1764 and 1765 designed to increase revenue from the Colonies and assert governance over the Colonists. The Colonists resented these measures, but none more than the Stamp Act of 1765. Its passage fanned the already growing flames of defiance towards Great Britain.
Shouldering the Colonial Burden
Great Britain's treasury was depleted by the Seven Years War with France that ended in 1763. The end of the war, however, did not mean the end of maintaining a standing army in the Colonies. Conflicts with Native Americans continued throughout the Colonies and with settlement now forbidden to colonists west of the Allegheny Mountains, soldiers were needed to maintain the border. In addition, Great Britain was aware the Colonies had continued trading with French colonies during the war. Parliament decided to hold the Colonies responsible for funding their own defense and to strongly enforce navigational and trade restrictions already in place.
Seeds of Opposition Planted
The Sugar Act of 1764 decreased the amount of tax on molasses from the British West Indies, but called for higher taxes on sugar, wine and coffee. It also tightened regulations on colonial exports such as flour, cheese and lumber. An increased British naval presence effectively cut down on smuggling. The subsequent Currency Act prohibited issuing colonial currency and required payment in sterling coin for British goods. These acts disrupted colonial trade with foreign ports such as the French West Indies and stirred up resentment among Colonists. Colonists began boycotting British goods in retaliation to these measures.
Stamp or Stand Trial
The duties on sugar and other imported goods were collected in Colonial ports and traders often found ways to avoid paying the duties. Moreover, as an indirect tax, the cost was passed along to Colonists within the item's price. The Stamp Act, however, which was passed by Parliament in March of 1765, imposed a direct tax visible to Colonists. Moreover, it was a British tax placed on colonial-produced goods. Documents of any significance, including broadsides, marriage licenses, wills, deeds and insurance policies, and entertainment items such as dice and playing cards, required a stamp. Anyone violating the Stamp Act would be tried without a jury in a British vice-admiralty court.
No Say, No Stamp
Passage of the Stamp Act enraged the Colonists. They argued that the tax was being levied by a governing body in which they had no direct representation. Moreover, the Stamp Act, like the Quartering Act -- which required Colonists to provide food and shelter to British troops -- was passed without approval of Colonial legislatures. Accepting Great Britain's right to enact this type of legislation was, in the Colonist's view, setting a bad precedent. Colonial protest of the Stamp Act manifested itself through violent harassment of stamp distributors, organization of the Sons of Liberty and formation of The Stamp Act Congress. Although the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766, the Colonists discovered their ability to make themselves heard and to unite, if necessary, against British rule.
- U.S. Department of State: Office of The Historian: Milestones: 1750 to 1775
- History.org: Historical Background of Politics in Colonial Williamsburg: Stamp Act Crisis
- Library of Congress: The American Revolution: 1763 to 1783
- Massachusetts Historical Society: The Coming of The American Revolution: 1764 to 1776: The Sugar Act
- USHistory.org: The Stamp Act Controversy
- The Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History: The Stamp Act, 1765
Laura Leddy Turner began her writing career in 1976. She has worked in the newspaper industry as an illustrator, columnist, staff writer and copy editor, including with Gannett and the Asbury Park Press. Turner holds a B.A. in literature and English from Ramapo College of New Jersey, with postgraduate coursework in business law.