Parliament repeals the Stamp Act

Parliament repeals the Stamp Act

After four months of widespread protest in America, the British Parliament repeals the Stamp Act, a taxation measure enacted to raise revenues for a standing British army in America.

The Stamp Act was passed on March 22, 1765, leading to an uproar in the colonies over an issue that was to be a major cause of the Revolution: taxation without representation. Enacted in November 1765, the controversial act forced colonists to buy a British stamp for every official document they obtained. The stamp itself displayed an image of a Tudor rose framed by the word “America” and the French phrase Honi soit qui mal y pense–“Shame to him who thinks evil of it.”

The colonists, who had convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the impending enactment, greeted the arrival of the stamps with outrage and violence. Most Americans called for a boycott of British goods, and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors. After months of protest, and an appeal by Benjamin Franklin before the British House of Commons, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766. However, the same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Acts, asserting that the British government had free and total legislative power over the colonies.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution


Stamp Act Congress

The Stamp Act Congress (October 7 – 25, 1765), also known as the Continental Congress of 1765, was a meeting held in New York, New York, consisting of representatives from some of the British colonies in North America. It was the first gathering of elected representatives from several of the American colonies to devise a unified protest against new British taxation. Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, which required the use of specialty stamped paper for legal documents, playing cards, calendars, newspapers, and dice for virtually all business in the colonies starting on November 1, 1765.

The Congress consisted of delegates from nine of the eighteen British colonies in mainland North America. All of the attending delegations were from the Thirteen Colonies that eventually formed the United States. Although sentiment was strong in some of the other colonies to participate in the Congress, a number of royal governors took steps to prevent the colonial legislatures from meeting to select delegates.

The Congress met in the building now known as Federal Hall and was held at a time of widespread protests in the colonies, some violent, against the Stamp Act's implementation. The delegates discussed and united against the act, issuing a Declaration of Rights and Grievances in which they claimed that Parliament did not have the right to impose the tax because it did not include any representation from the colonies. Members of six of the nine delegations signed petitions addressed to Parliament and King George III objecting to the Act's provisions.

The extralegal nature of the Congress caused alarm in Britain, but any discussion of the congress's propriety were overtaken by economic protests from British merchants, whose business with the colonies suffered as a consequence of the protests and their associated non-importation of British products. The economic issues prompted the British Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act, but it passed the Declaratory Act the same day, to express its opinion on the basic constitutional issues raised by the colonists it stated that Parliament could make laws binding the American colonies "in all cases whatsoever." [1]


How did the colonists react to the Stamp Act?

Henry’s charge against the Stamp Act set other activities in motion. In the fall of 1765, representatives from nine colonies (Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, and New Hampshire did not send a delegation) met at Federal Hall in New York City and adopted a series of resolutions that closely resembled Henry’s Stamp Act Resolves. These were known as the Declaration of Rights and Grievances. They asserted that the colonists had all the rights and privileges of Englishmen, and because they could not be represented in Parliament, taxing power was the sole responsibility of the colonial legislatures.

The Parliament shortly thereafter rescinded the Stamp Act. Colonial leaders seemed satisfied with their success. They did not want a political showdown, merely the ability to keep the power of taxation within the realm of local sovereignty. Few colonists called for violent action against the crown, especially after the repeal of the Stamp Act. Even the famous Sons of Liberty, the most strident defenders of American rights, professed their loyalty to the crown.


Which of the following best explains why Parliament repealed the Stamp Act in 1766? Parliament agreed with the American colonists that the act was unfair. Colonial legislators were threatening to impose their own taxes. Colonists’ boycotts of British goods were hurting British trade. The British passed the Declaratory Act, which replaced it with a heavier tax.

C) Colonists boycotts of British goods were hurting British trade.

The Stamp Act was a tax that was passed by the British government that required a British stamp on all paper documents showing that citizens paid the appropriate tax. Colonists hated this tax, as they felt that it was unfair of the British parliament to pass a tax on the colonists without a colonial representative in the parliament to represent their views.

This resulted in the colonists boycotting British goods to show their displeasure. Ultimately, the British government got rid of this law because it was losing them money.


An Act Repealing the Stamp Act March 18, 1766

2016 Postage Stamp Repeal of the Stamp Act

Whereas an Act was passed in the last session of Parliament entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same and for amending such parts of the several Acts of Parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned and whereas the continuance of the said Act would be attended with many inconveniencies, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms may it therefore please your most excellent Majesty that it may be enacted and be it enacted by the king's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six, the above-mentioned Act, and the several matters and things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.


Celebrating the Stamp Act's Repeal, May 19, 1766 by Mark Boonshoft May 18, 2016

Most Americans understand the coming of the American Revolution just the way Thomas Jefferson hoped they would. Colonists-turned-Americans made the logical and legitimate choice to revolt against Britain after suffering what Jefferson described in the Declaration of Independence as “a long train of abuses and usurpations” during the 1760s and 1770s. All sanctioned by the King, these policies meant “to reduce them [the colonists] under absolute Despotism.” Each parliamentary act and each moment of conflict seemed to precipitate the next, building momentum to a critical breaking point. The Stamp Act of 1765 is often seen as the earliest, major point on this road from resistance to revolution.

The Stamp Act is undoubtedly part of the Revolution’s history, but its repeal in 1766 reminds us also how long and meandering the path toward independence was. The King and Parliament agreed to repeal the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766, and news of their decision reached North America around two months later, and 250 years ago today, on May 19, 1766. Writing that day to a friend, the Philadelphian James Gordon described how the Act’s repeal “fill’d us all with great joy, the Bells are ringing ever since the vessel arrived in the Morning” with the news. The following “Evening the City is to be illuminated and next Day a great Dinner at the State House, where will be all the gentlemen in the Place.”

The news of rapprochement was so well-received because colonists were eager to continue their pleasant and fruitful relationship with the Britain. As Gordon noted, “we are in hopes we shall carry on a greater Trade than ever, e’en in the best of times … which would be greatly to the advantage of us on the Continent and indeed to all the British subjects.” Far from leading inevitably to Revolution, the history of the Stamp Act actually reflects just how attached to the Empire many colonists were.

That is not say the Stamp Act did not shape future resistance to imperial policies. It did. The Act required colonists to use special taxed paper when producing printed materials—including legal documents, newspapers, magazines, and diplomas. It was called the Stamp Act, because a small embossed stamp on paper signified that it was of the proper, taxed variety. Colonists did not take this tax lying down. Especially in urban areas where demand was greatest for the items that the Stamp Act taxed, colonists resisted the implementation of the Act. They intimidated the appointed tax collectors, and making it difficult to implement the policy in many places. Colonists would resurrect these methods of resistance to oppose future policies.

Alongside protests in the streets, some colonists wrote pamphlets laying out constitutional arguments denying Parliament’s right to pass direct taxes on the colonies. Most strikingly, representatives from a number of colonies met in New York for a Stamp Act Congress, where they coordinated opposition to the tax, and wrote a pamphlet explaining their objections. The fourth resolution declared that, as they “are not represented, and from their local and other circumstances cannot be properly represented in the British Parliament,” their local legislatures retained sovereignty “in all cases of taxation and internal polity.” In short, only institutions that represented them could tax of course the inverse of this was that they could not be taxed without representation. The arguments that colonists made in this moment shaped the terms of debate of the dynamic constitutional argument that ran through the American Revolution.

Yet despite Gordon’s optimism, tensions remained. Accompanying the law repealing the Stamp Act was another piece of legislation passed by Parliament, known as the Declaratory Act. It made clear that whatever the Stamp Act repeal might seem to signify, Parliament was not backing down in claiming the power to levy taxes on the colonies. The Declaratory Act proclaimed that “Parliament assembled” retained the “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.” The colonists’ constitutional arguments had not won the day as far as English officials were concerned. That Gordon did not mention the Declaratory Act is telling. Gordon stands in for the many colonists who yearned to maintain their place as subjects of the British Empire.

There is a reason it took eleven years for colonists to decide to write and support the Declaration of Independence. Colonists had not immediately become Americans in 1765, and the Revolution was far from the inevitable outcome of the Stamp Act. Rather, the excitement surrounding the Stamp Act’s repeal anticipated just how long and fraught of a process it would be to move from tension to revolution.

The sources pictured in this post both come from the Thomas Addis Emmet collection.


Contents

The Act raised £5,536 worth of stamps within the first year of operation. [10] This duty would be further increased throughout its lifetime, with the maximum tax of four pence on all newspapers and three shillings and six pence on all advertisements. [2] Publications which were sponsored by the government, or received sponsorship after the act, would be exempted from the tax. [10]

The Newspaper Tax Edit

The newspaper tax would be expanded through the Six Acts to include all publications which sold for less than six pence, contained an opinion about news, or which were published more frequently than every twenty-six days. [11] It was repealed on 1 July 1855. [12]

The tax was implemented with the stated intention of raising funds for the English state lottery, to monitor the circulation of newspapers and other periodicals, and to restrict publication of writing intended to "excite hatred and contempt of the Government and holy religion". [11] All periodicals were already required by law to state the address and name of the owner, making taxation easily enforced on publishers, and allowing the government to see where legally printed publications were coming from. In order to exempt themselves from the tax, periodical authors pledged their patronage to members of the Parliament of Great Britain, leading to publications rising and falling based on the party in power and a general distrust in periodicals of the time. [10]

British essayists were critical of the tax and the effect it had on British literature. According to English writer Samuel Johnson, "A news-writer is a man without virtue who writes lies at home for his own profit. To these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness, but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary." [13] [14] These essayists often saw retribution for their published words Henry Hetherington, a prominent radical, was imprisoned for claiming the tax was a tax on knowledge, and his printing presses were ordered to be destroyed. Many others greeted the arrival of the stamps with outrage and violence. Most called for a boycott and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors.

With regard to the American colonies, after months of protest and an appeal before the British House of Commons, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766. [15]


Today in History: The Stamp Act Repeal, March 18, 1766

With the move from Ellsworth back to campus finally complete, the Clements staff and volunteers grow more excited by the day for the reopening of the reading room. Relocating the collections served as a reminder of how vast and varied the Clements Library holdings are.

A five shilling stamp from the Thomas Gage Papers, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.

American colonial protests began shortly after its passage, escalating into riots in the fall of 1765. Colonists boycotted British goods and attacked the homes of tax collectors and supporters of the Act.

The law became effective in November 1765 and Benjamin Franklin, then residing in London, received sharp criticism in part for his delayed rebuke of the measure. In mid-February 1766, Franklin appeared before the British House of Commons to speak in support of a repeal. A mere four months after its enactment, the Stamp Act was repealed on March 18, 1766. Yet, on the same day, the Declaratory Act passed, setting firmly in place Parliament’s legal authority and supremacy over the colonies.

Nevertheless, an obelisk made of wood was erected on the Boston Common as a celebration candles illuminated it from within. Each side of the obelisk portrayed the colonists’ struggles with the Stamp Act. The obelisk itself became a satirical work of art, and Paul Revere made this famous schematic engraving to preserve it. The bottom of the page reads, “To every Lover of Liberty, this Plate is humbly dedicated, by her true born Sons, in Boston New England.”

Except from a letter to Joseph Galloway, from Benjamin Franklin in November 1766. Benjamin Franklin Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.

Several months after repeal, an exposé essay appeared in a supplement of the Pennsylvania Journal, which attempted to prove that Benjamin Franklin was an author of the Stamp Act, based in part on the knowledge that he had recommended merchant John Hughes, a friend, for the position of stamp distributor in Philadelphia. In an eloquent letter to Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly member/speaker Joseph Galloway, Franklin responded to the accusation.

1766 November 8 . Benjamin Franklin ALS to Joseph Galloway London, [England]. Benjamin Franklin Collection, William L. Clements Library, The University of Michigan.

The letter states: “Dear friend, I received your kind Letter of Sept. the 22d. and from another Friend a Copy of that lying Essay in which I am represented as the Author of the Stamp Act, and you as concern’d in it. The Answer you mention is not yet come to hand. Your Consolation, my Friend, and mine, under these Abuses, must be, that we do not deserve them. But what can console the Writers and Promoters of such infamously false Accusations, if they should ever come themselves to a Sense of that Malice of their Hearts, and that Stupidity of their Heads, which by these Papers they have manifested and exposed to all the World. Dunces often write Satyrs on themselves, when they think all the while that they are mocking their Neighbours. Let us, as we ever have done, uniformly endeavour the Service of our Country, according to the best of our Judgment and Abilities, and Time will do us Justice. Dirt thrown on a Mud-Wall may stick and incorporate but it will not long adhere to polish’d Marble. I can now only add that I am, with Sincerest Esteem and Affection, Yours, B Franklin”


Parliament repeals the Stamp Act - HISTORY

ABH Site Index

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1700s

Wars amongst colonial powers from Queen Anne to French and Indian led to growing unrest within the colonies themselves as taxes were levied without representation, which would lead to the next decade to come and revolution. American leaders began to emerge in a variety of ways, including George Washington trying to become a British General and Ben Franklin beginning his publishing career and flying a kite.

More 1700s

Baseball History

For the history of baseball, check out our friends at Stat Geek Baseball and Baseballevaluation where they put the stats from 1871 to today in context.

Above: Engraving of Faneuil Hall in Boston. Courtesy Library of Congress. Right: Political cartoon, "A New Way to Pay the National-Debt" of King George III, Queen Charlotte, William Pitt and others, 1786, James Gillroy. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Pre-Revolution Timeline - The 1700s

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1766 Detail

March 18, 1766 - Stamp Act is repealed.


By the time of the end of the Stamp Act Congress and the issue of the Declaration of Rights and Grievances on October 19, 1765, the British Government knew that the American colonists were serious in their dislike for the Stamp Act. However, they were not yet ready to capitulate to their demands. They needed the revenue and wanted to show to fractious colonists who was in charge. The Stamp Act went into effect in November, causing many printers in the colonies to cease publication. However, that only lasted for a few editions they, the printers against the Stamp Act, began to print again, defying the order to print without the stamp.

The Sons of Liberty continued pressuring for repeal, meeting on November 6, 1865 in New York City to coordinate efforts for factions in various parts of the colonies. By December, the effort included New York and Connecticut by March, it extended from New Hampshire to North Carolina, with the issue under discussion in South Carolina and Georgia as well. At this time, the Sons of Liberty still professed support for the British government and King. They thought that the British Parliment would eventually do the right thing and repeal the tax. They did hold out the possibility that military action might become necessary if their demands were not met.

British Response

Reports of the colonial violence against the Stamp Act reached Great Britain by October with newly installed Prime Minister, Charles Watson-Wentworth, Lord Rockingham, in July 1866, replacing George Grenville, whose administration had been responsible for its passage. King George III fired Grenville. The King wanted a partial repeal to avoid a costly war with colonies and keep some of the revenue, but not a total repeal. Beyond the King, sentiments to a response were mixed, but beginning to change. There were some willing to take a hard line stance, thinking that capitulation would set a bad precedent to who was in charge. Others were worried about the economic consequences that could impact other taxes. Two hundred New York City merchants had vowed not to import any goods from Britain until the tax was repealed.

Grenville attempted to keep his act in place, offering a resolution in Parliament condemning the violence in December 1765. It was rejected. On January 14, 1766, Rockingham and his supporters proposed total repeal, which the King did not like. He would eventually agree under Rockingham's threat of resignation. Various resolutions were proposed over the next two months, both economic and constitutional in argument. British Parliament wanted to protect its rights to control the colonies, but also wished to repeal. On February 21, the final resolutiom was introduced. It passed 276 to 168. The King gave his royal approval on March 18, 1766.

But the repeal of the Stamp Act was not a sign that the British government did not wish to retain its rights to tax and control the colonies. The Declaratory Act was passed at the same time. It stated that "they" the British had the full right to impose laws and statutes on the colonies. The text, however, did steer away from using the word taxes. There was still the argument of whether taxing the colonies without representation, with the argument split into taxation within the idea of trade (external and therefore appropriate)versus internal measures, such as the Stamp Act (inappropriate), Of course, not all agreed with the distinction at all.

Full Text, Resolution to Repeal the Stamp Act

Great Britain: Parliament - An Act Repealing the Stamp Act March 18, 1766

Whereas an Act was passed in the last session of Parliament entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same and for amending such parts of the several Acts of Parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned and whereas the continuance of the said Act would be attended with many inconveniencies, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms may it therefore please your most excellent Majesty that it may be enacted and be it enacted by the king's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six, the above-mentioned Act, and the several matters and things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.

Various Quotes Against the Stamp Act

Thomas Hutchinson, 1865, Loyalist former governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. "It cannot be good to tax the Americans. You will lose more tax than you gain."

George Washington, 1865. "The Stamp Act imposed on the colonies by the Parliament of Great Britain is an ill-judged measure. Parliament has no right to put its hands into our pockets without our consent."

Christopher Gadsden, South Carolina patriot and member of the Continental Congress. "My sentiments for the American cause, from the stamp Act downward, have never changed . I am still of opinion that it is the cause of liberty and of human nature."


Parliament - An Act Repealing the Stamp Act March 18, 1766

1765 Tax stamps The British Library

Passed on March 22, 1765, the Stamp Act, which required all paper goods to be taxed, caused an uproar in the American Colonies. Many colonists believed this was “Taxation without Representation” since Parliament issued the Act without communication with Colonial Government. The same day that the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, they also passed the Declaratory Act reasserting their control over the American colonies to the colonies’ frustration.

Whereas an Act was passed in the last session of Parliament entitled, An Act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties in the British colonies and plantations in America towards further defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same and for amending such parts of the several Acts of Parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned and whereas the continuance of the said Act would be attended with many inconveniencies, and may be productive of consequences greatly detrimental to the commercial interests of these kingdoms may it therefore please your most excellent Majesty that it may be enacted and be it enacted by the king's most excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and Commons, in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that from and after the first day of May, one thousand seven hundred and sixty-six, the above-mentioned Act, and the several matters and things therein contained, shall be, and is and are hereby repealed and made void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.


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