Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Towards Revolution: Stamp Act

News bearing the passing of the
Stamp Act
In the vast tracts of land in the west of the Atlantic, different activities were bustling. From religious, to scientific, to economic activities, the New World had become a flourishing colony of Europe. The Spaniards, the French, the Dutch, and more importantly, the British had established stakes within the new continent. The British in particular were keen in maintaining and benefiting from its holdings in the Americas.  Through taxation and as a market for British goods, British Imperial Policy would bring the American colonies into revolution. A year after the passing of the Sugar Act in 1764, the British Parliament once again imposed another tax to the American colonies, the Stamp Act. This tax would engulf the colonies in fury against those in London.

After the arduous Seven Years’ War in Europe and the French and Indian War in the Americas, Great Britain was in a dire situation. The war had drowned the Kingdom in debt, amounting to about £130 million. In addition, the burden in maintaining an army in the Americas were also becoming a burden. £350,000 were required in order to maintain an army of 10,000 in the American colonies. Great Britain was in a huge financial constraint. Its citizens were the second highest tax rates in Europe. Each Britons paid 26 shillings.

In desperation, the government of Prime Minister George Grenville had to look for new sources of income. They saw in form of the American colonies who were taxed lower than those in Britain, just a half to one and a half shillings per American colonial. In 1764, the Sugar Act was the first tax imposed after the French and Indian War. It was meant to improve tax collection of molasses. It also imposed strict compliance and a new style of judging smugglers, from a jury to a judge in a vice-admiralty courts in Nova Scotia.

The tax sent shock waves to the colonies. Politicians and merchants alike protested against the taxation of American colonist without them being represented in London. Also, they were furious of the change in the system of due process. Trial by vice-admiralty was expensive and troublesome because of the travel.

Following the Sugar Act, in the following year, Grenville’s government imposed a new tax to the colonist. If the Sugar Act was meant to strike on imports, the new tax was aimed on items used by the colonials in the colonies. It required payment of taxes for stamps in papers that would be use for newspapers, customs documents, licenses, diplomas. Also, it required stamps on land titles, land transfer documents, wills, playing cards. Moreover, almanacs and pamphlets were mandated by the act to have stamps. The government expected that it would answer almost 20% of the cost of maintain a British force in the Americas.

Great Britain would be surprise of the huge outcry about the taxes. In Britain, since 1695, Stamp Act was already in place. And so they thought that the Americas would not made so much fuss. To their disappointment, colonials from all walks of life were angry. Lawyers were furious as they have to pay for papers that they will need for their practice. Traders were equally in raged for the additional cost they had to pay for their customs duty. Farmers were also in rage as they too must pay extra to have their titles or land transfer. Intellectuals were also infuriated as taxes were imposed in their books, pamphlets, newspapers, and almanacs. Because of the taxes many colonials showed disgust and contempt to those in London.

Many forms of resistance to the taxes were formed from 1765 to 1766. Politicians in their colonial legislature push for condemnation of the Stamp Act. In the House of Burgesses in Virginia, Patrick Henry pushed for a resolution in opposition against the Stamp Act. Following Virginia’s call, eight other legislature also condemned the Stamp Act.

Resistance group also were formed against the Stamp Act. Some of them were militant and even violent. For example, in Boston a grouping of middle class businessmen and artisans called the Loyal Nine was formed. Their activities were aimed against tax collectors assigned by London to enforce the law. They thought that before the act took effect in November 1, if all tax collectors and stamp distributors resigned, then the law would not take effect. Among the most notorious victim of the Loyal Nine was Andrew Oliver. Oliver’s house was attacked, ransacked, and burned by the militants. Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson tried to control the situation, restore order, and helped and protect the tax collectors. Although personally against the taxes, Hutchinson’s house was attacked by the Loyal Nine and burned. Protest, effigy burnings, harassment, and coercion became the major activities of the Loyal Nine.

In the fall of 1765, another group emerged and became popular across the colonies. They were called the Sons of Liberty. They opposed the Stamp Act and wanted tax collectors to resign. However, unlike the Loyal Nine, the Sons of Liberty showed discipline and order in their protest. They made sure that no riots or house burning or any violent activities would happened with their rallies.

Boycott also became common activities. Merchants and students called for a boycott of any goods made from Britain. They realized that much of British export earnings came from them. And so, they planned to bring Britain into recession to repeal the Stamp Act.

In October of 1765, another major political protest underwent. A Stamp Act Congress was convened in New York. It was comprised of representatives from other colonies. Nine colonies attended the Congress. The Congress made clear that the Parliament in London that believed in virtual representation had no right to impose any taxes and only the body directly representing the colonials, in form of legislature in the colonies had the only right to tax those living in the New World. The Congress called for the repeal of the Stamp Act.

Before the end of 1765, tension continued. Most of the tax collectors and distributors of stamp had already left their post. Officials loyal to London refused to work without the specially stamp papers. Customs was the most affected. The strike of officials did not last long when they were faced with no pay and with lawsuit from merchants who threatened them to be legally responsible for any loses they would incur.  

But what brought down the Stamp Act was not caused directly by colonial reaction. In July 1765, King George III lost faith to George Grenville. Grenville was forced to resign. The Marquis of Rockingham then became Prime Minister. By early 1766, opposition against the Stamp act became louder both in the colonies and in London. Former Prime Minister William Pitt voiced his criticism of the Stamp Act. Petitions were filled to repeal the Stamp Act in London. With pressure mounting, the British economy close into recession, in March 1766, the Stamp Act was formally repealed.

The Stamp Act was another scheme by the Parliament to benefit from the colonies. This, however, failed as a result of the tenacity and loudness of the American colonies led finally to the repeal of the law. It caused a humiliating defeat for the British Parliament. But the Parliament would not back down to tax the colonials. A year later, the Parliament would once again attempt to impose a tax to the American colonies. It would lead to further tensions and later would turn bloody.

See also:
Sugar Act
Tea Act
Townshend Act

Brinkley, A. American History: A Survey. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1995.

Boyer, P. et. al. The Enduring Vision: A History of the American People. Boston: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning, 2010.

Clack, George (ed.). Outline of US History. Washington DC: Bureau of International Information Program, 2005.

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