By 1760, the American colonies were costing the British Parliament a small fortune. Parliament needed to find a way to raise revenue to help offset the cost of maintaining their tyrannical and military rule over the colonies.
In 1764, Parliament passed the Sugar Act as a way to help raise needed revenue by taxing imported goods such as sugar, wine, coffee, textiles and other goods. They mandated that all shippers fill out forms detailing all cargo being carried, where the cargo came from and what their destinations were.
Many colonists tried smuggling goods in, but the British tasked the navy with patrols along the entire American coast to stop all attempts at smuggling. Any smugglers caught would be tried by specially appointed judges who would rule without the aid of jury.
In addition to the Sugar Act, Parliament also passed the Currency Act in 1764 that banned the colonies from printing their own paper money. Since the British tried to keep a tight control on gold and silver and they banned paper colonial money, bartering became a necessary way of purchasing goods and services.
The Sugar and Currency Acts caused widespread rebellion among the colonists, causing the British to back off somewhat on the Sugar Act, but they still needed funds.
On this day, March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which many historians believe was the impetus that eventually led to the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. The Stamp Act required the American colonists to purchase a stamp or pay a tax for all items using paper. This included newspapers, playing cards, stationary, diplomas, wills, marriage licenses, and all other legal documents.
British citizens were already paying a stamp tax in England so Parliament figured it was only fair to make the colonists, whom they considered to be British subjects, to also pay the stamp tax. What didn’t set right with the colonists wasn’t the fact of having to pay the tax, but that it was imposed on them without their having any representation in Parliament.
Failure to pay the stamp tax would result in violators being tried in the Vice-Admiralty Courts instead of the regular courts with a jury of their peers. Colonists saw this as an attempt to infringe on their right to a trial by jury.
The Stamp Act ignited protests and riots throughout colonies. Many British agents responsible for oversight of the Stamp Act were assaulted, their homes ransacked, looted and burned. Some were tarred and feathered.
A number of colonists formed the Sons of Liberty, who led much of the protests and rioting, especially in the Boston area. They would raid the docks and burn British paper goods as well as some of the merchant shops loyal to the crown that sold stamped goods. Other British agents were frightened when the Sons of Liberty would hang and burn effigies of them in protest.
Even colonial women joined the rebellion by forming the Daughters of Liberty. They worked to produce as much homespun cloth as possible so others would not have to purchase British cloth and pay the tax. They also helped to circulate petitions throughout the area in hopes of collecting enough signatures to present to Parliament.
Later that year, a call went out to all of the colonies, asking for a meeting of all representatives to address the problems surrounding the Stamp Act. In October 1765, only nine of the 13 colonies sent representatives to the meeting held in New York City. That meeting was dubbed the Stamp Act Congress.
One of the most vocal representatives attending the New York City meeting was James Otis from Massachusetts. It was Otis that made the phrase ‘taxation without representation’ popular and the rallying cry for Patriots from that time to the Revolutionary War.
The protests and rioting by the colonists forced the British government to send more troops to colonies in hopes of maintaining peace. It didn’t take long before Parliament realized that it was costing them more to maintain the Stamp Act than the revenue they were reaping from it, so in 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, but the unrest between colonists and the British crown were far from over.
Sources for the above includes: The Stamp Act; Stamp Act imposed on American colonies; British pass Stamp Act; The Stamp Act Crisis; What was the Stamp Act?; The Stamp Act Riots & Tar and Feathering; Stamp Act; No Taxation without Representation; James Otis.