The Stamp Act 1765 (short title Duties in American Colonies Act 1765; 5 George III, c. 12) was a direct tax imposed by the British Parliament specifically on the colonies of British America. The act required that many printed materials in the colonies be produced on stamped paper produced in London, carrying an embossed revenue stamp. These printed materials were legal documents, magazines, newspapers and many other types of paper used throughout the colonies. Like previous taxes, the stamp tax had to be paid in valid British currency, not in colonial paper money. The purpose of the tax was to help pay for troops stationed in North America after the British victory in the Seven Years' War. The British government felt that the colonies were the primary beneficiaries of this military presence, and should pay at least a portion of the expense.
The Stamp Act met great resistance in the colonies. The colonies sent no representatives to Parliament, and therefore had no influence over what taxes were raised, how they were levied, or how they would be spent. Many colonists considered it a violation of their rights as Englishmen to be taxed without their consent—consent that only the colonial legislatures could grant. Colonial assemblies sent petitions and protests. The Stamp Act Congress held in New York City, reflecting the first significant joint colonial response to any British measure, also petitioned Parliament and the King. Local protest groups, led by colonial merchants and landowners, established connections through correspondence that created a loose coalition that extended from New England to Georgia. Protests and demonstrations initiated by the Sons of Liberty often turned violent and destructive as the masses became involved. Very soon all stamp tax distributors were intimidated into resigning their commissions, and the tax was never effectively collected.
Opposition to the Stamp Act was not limited to the colonies. British merchants and manufacturers, whose exports to the colonies were threatened by colonial economic problems exacerbated by the tax, also pressured Parliament. The Act was repealed on March 18, 1766 as a matter of expedience, but Parliament affirmed its power to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever” by also passing the Declaratory Act. There followed a series of new taxes and regulations, likewise opposed by the colonists.
The episode played a major role in defining the grievances and enabling the organized colonial resistance that led to the American Revolution in 1775.
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