BOSTON (MARCH 23, 1765) — The British government levied a new tax yesterday on the North American colonies in the wake of the territories won from the French in the Seven Years’ War.
Parliament passed the Stamp Act without any debate. The act, proposed by Prime Minister George Grenville, a Whig, will impose a tax on all American colonists, requiring them to pay an additional fee for every piece of paper purchased.
The tax will apply to all ship’s papers, legal documents, licenses, newspapers, and other publications. Playing cards are subject to taxation, too.
This new policy is particularly noteworthy, given it is the first tax levied directly on American colonists by British lawmakers.
The purpose of the tax is twofold, according to Dr. Samuel Smith, chair of Liberty University’s history department. He told TheBlaze the tax is a show of force by Britain, reminding the colonies where the authority lies. In addition, it will help the motherland pay down the debt incurred during the Seven Years’ War, which lasted from 1756 to 1763.
“This stamp is a visible reminder of royal presence,” Smith said. “From the British perspective, it is a way to remind Americans who is in charge.”
He went on to predict the Stamp Act would evoke “a very emotional response.”
The new tax comes on the heels of the controversial Sugar Act, which was passed by the British Parliament just one year prior. The Sugar Act, a renewal of the Sugar and Molasses Act of 1733, added a three-penny import tax on refined sugar and molasses brought into the colonies from non-British sources, significantly shrinking the trade market for the colonists.
“Now, all of the sudden, Parliament is saying, ‘We virtually represent the colonies. Even though you didn’t vote for us, we virtually represent you because we’re the top-tier legislative body,’” Smith said.
Part of the money raised by the Stamp Act will also be used to maintain several regiments of British troops in North America — an effort to quell conflicts between the colonists and Native Americans.
Those who violate the Stamp Act, refusing the pay the fees associated with the policy, could be tried — and even convicted — without a jury of their peers in Britain’s vice-admiralty courts.
Many American colonists, though, do not believe Britain has authority over them, according to Smith, who noted the frustration brewing over the tax. Though they respect Parliament, the professor noted, the settlers are convinced British lawmakers “do not have jurisdiction to tax the colonists because the colonists had not voted for them.”
Colonists are becoming increasingly frustrated with Britain, and this latest tax isn’t improving the relationship. The North American settlers are frustrated not only with the added cost, but also with the fact that they are being taxed by a legislative body that does not represent them.
In response to the Stamp Act, some colonists are beginning to shun the British market, opting instead to create and sell products within their own colonies.