On February 10, 1763, the Treaty of Paris concluded the Seven Years' War between France and Great Britain, the war known in North America as the French and Indian War. France ceded to Britain most of its land in North America east of the Mississippi River. The war left Britain with a large national debt. To raise money Parliament increased taxes on people in Britain and also for the first time placed taxes directly on items used by on the people residing in the colonies.
In 1764 George Grenville, chief minister of the king's government, announced his intention to have Parliament pass an act for the colonies that would require payment of a tax on certain paper goods. The act was called a stamp tax because when the tax was paid a small paper stamp was affixed to the paper. Several colonial legislatures, including the Virginia General Assembly, protested the proposed tax. The colonists declared that only their elected representatives in their own legislatures had the constitutional right to tax them. Because no colonists could vote for members of Parliament, the slogan "no taxation without representation" came to embody colonial attitudes toward the Stamp Act that Parliament passed in 1765. The tax affected a wide variety of paper items, including newspapers, deeds, wills, and other official records, as well as packs of playing cards and dice. The Stamp Act Congress, which met in New York City, protested against the Stamp Act on behalf of the colonies, but because the Virginia General Assembly was not in session when the call for the congress went out, no Virginia representatives attended it.
After the law has been enacted, Patrick Henry on May 29, 1765, introduced resolutions in the House of Burgesses condemning the Stamp Act and asserting that only the General Assembly had the right to tax Virginians. The next day in support of his resolutions, Henry delivered his “Caesar-Brutus” speech, which some members declared treasonous. Henry drafted seven resolutions, each more radical than the last, and four were adopted (the fifth was adopted, but rescinded on May 31). The texts of all seven, however, later appeared in newspapers throughout the colonies.
Colonial pressure on British merchants and on Parliament led to the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766, but when it repealed the act, Parliament also responded to the colonial denials of Parliament's authority to pass the tax. The Declaratory Act of March 18, 1766, stated that Parliament had the right to legislate for the colonies in “all cases whatsoever.” The repeal of the Stamp Act temporarily overshadowed the importance of the Declaratory Act, and when news of the repeal arrived in the colonies there was much celebrating. This broadside was printed in Boston on May 16, 1766, the day the news of the repeal reached Boston from London.
1. Why do you think there was such a violent reaction to the stamp tax?
2. What was the main issue that caused some colonists to oppose the stamp tax?
3. What do you think was the Crown's stand point on the tax?
1. In March 1766 Richard Bland's letter An Inquiry into the Rights of the British Colonies was published in Williamsburg. Bland argued for a revision of British policy that would return it to what it was before the passage of the revenue acts. If you had lived in 1766 what would have been your plan to solve the problems between the American colonies and the British authorities? How would you maintain peace on both sides?
2. The Virginia Charter of 1606 stated that the Jamestown settlers and their children “shall have and enjoy all liberties, franchises, and immunities . . . as if they had been abiding and born within this our Realm of England, or any other of our said Dominions.” Does the stamp tax uphold this part of the charter? Did the colonists receive the same treatment as the British citizens living in England? The Stamp Act was repealed and the Declaratory Act passed at the same time on March 18, 1766. Knowing this information, was the repeal of the Stamp Act actually a time for celebration? Did the repeal fix the real problem?
Morgan, Edmund S. and Helen M. Morgan. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, for the Institute of Early American History and Culture (Williamsburg, Va.), 1953.