Stamp Acts in Britain and America
After England was victorious over France in the Seven Years' War (known in America as the French and Indian War), a small Stamp Act was enacted that covered of all sorts of paperwork from newspapers to legal documents and even playing cards. The British were taxing the colonial population to raise revenue, but the Americans claimed their constitutional rights were violated, since only their own colonial legislatures could levy taxes. Across the American colonies, opposition to the tax took the form of violence and intimidation. A more reasoned approach was taken by some elements. James Otis, Jr. wrote the most influential protest, "The Rights of the British Colonies Asserted and Proved." Otis, the radical leader in Massachusetts, convinced the Massachusetts assembly to send a circular letter to the other colonies, which called for an intercolonial meeting to plan tempered resistance to new tax. The Stamp Act Congress convened in New York City on October 7 with nine colonies in attendance; others would likely have participated if earlier notice had been provided. The delegates approved a 14-point Declaration of Rights and Grievances, formulated largely by John Dickinson of Pennsylvania. The statement echoed the recent resolves of the Virginia House of Burgesses, which argued that colonial taxation could only be carried on by their own assemblies. The delegates singled out the Stamp Act and the use of the vice admiralty courts for special criticism, yet ended their statement with a pledge of loyalty to the king.
The Stamp Act Congress was another step in the process of attempted common problem-solving, which had most recently been tried in the Albany Congress in 1754. That earlier meeting had been held at the urging of royal officials, but the later one was strictly a colonial affair. The congress was a forum for voicing constitutional concerns, not a rallying point for revolution and independence. In fact, the meeting afforded the more conservative critics of British policy some hope of regaining control of events from the unruly mobs in the streets of many cities.
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