The French and Indian War had been enormously expensive and left Great Britain with a heavy debt. And, the expense of protecting the English possessions in America seemed likely to increase rather than diminish.
The war and the British government’s attempts to impose taxes on colonists to help cover these expenses resulted in increasing colonial resentment of British attempts to expand imperial authority in the colonies.
One of the early taxes to be imposed was the Stamp Act. Its title and text noted it was, 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 …
Then, a long list of items related to “every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which shall be ingrossed, written or printed within such British Colonies .. [shall pay] a stamp duty …”
Effectively, the Act required the colonists to pay a tax, represented by a stamp. Included under the act were bonds, licenses, certificates, and other official documents as well as more mundane items such as plain parchment and playing cards. It imposed a tax on all papers and official documents in the American colonies, though not in England.
It was a direct tax imposed by the British government without the approval of the colonial legislatures and was payable in hard-to-obtain British sterling, rather than colonial currency.
Further, those accused of violating the Stamp Act could be prosecuted in Vice-Admiralty Courts, which had no juries and could be held anywhere in the British Empire. (Gilder-Lehrman Institute of American History)
With the passing of the Stamp Act, the colonists’ grumbling finally became an articulated response to what they saw as the mother country’s attempt to undermine their economic strength and independence.
They raised the issue of taxation without representation, and formed societies throughout the colonies to rally against the British government and nobles who sought to exploit the colonies as a source of revenue and raw materials.
In October 1765, delegates from the colonies convened in New York City at the Stamp Act Congress, where they drew up formal petitions to the British Parliament and to King George III to repeal the act. It was the first unified colonial response to British policy and it provided the British a taste of what would come soon thereafter.
The British had been receiving reports of mob violence in the colonies, and Prime Minister Grenville had been replaced by Lord Rockingham, who proved more sympathetic than his predecessor to the colonists’ demands. (Khan Academy)
The colonists also took exception with the provision denying offenders trials by jury. A vocal minority hinted at dark designs behind the Stamp Act. These radical voices warned that the tax was part of a gradual plot to deprive the colonists of their freedoms and to enslave them beneath a tyrannical regime.
By October of that year, nine of the 13 colonies sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress, at which the colonists drafted the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances,” a document that railed against the autocratic policies of the mercantilist British empire.
Realizing that it actually cost more to enforce the Stamp Act in the protesting colonies than it did to abolish it, the British government repealed the tax the following year. (History-com)
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