Back To CourseAP US History: Homework Help Resource
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In the mid-1700s, the British found themselves in the French and Indian War, a bloody and expensive conflict which ultimately secured the American colonies for Britain. It ensured that Britain would retain possession of New England as well as other land along the Atlantic coastline.
Following the war, there was a difficult debate in British society and within parliament, the governing body of Britain. Who should pay for both the empire's defense and maintenance of newly-won territories? Citizens in England were already heavily taxed, so the answer seemed obvious--as long as British troops would have to guard the new frontier, and as long as North America was untaxed, it was apparent that colonists would now have to pay their 'fair' share. What constituted 'fair' depended on who you asked.
The larger question, beyond the actual amount of taxes paid, was whether or not Parliament even had the right to pass taxes on the colonies. The issue was one of representation. Today, we all have members of the U.S. Congress who represent us. But in 1765, Americans had no representatives in their governing body who they would trust to protect their interests. Before 1765, no one had thought to make this an the issue. But now, with possible taxes looming on the horizon, it became a much bigger concern.
Parliament and its supporters asserted that representation was not actually that big of a deal. They claimed that the colonies were beneficiaries of virtual representation, the idea that Parliament represented all British subjects, regardless of where they lived. Colonists were alarmed by this in theory, and most would've said that they wanted someone in Parliament, elected by them, and representing them, in deliberation and in voting.
Despite the fight over representation, the revenue question was still looming large. The British solution was the Stamp Act, enacted in 1765. The Stamp Act required the addition of a stamp to printed material in the colonies. The subject-material included newspapers, legal documents, and playing cards, among many others. These stamps could only be purchased from the British government, effectively making the Act a tax on any of these documents. The stamps carried a Latin phrase--'honi soit qui mal y pense,' or 'Evil unto him who thinks evil of it.'
The Stamp Act quickly drew the anger of entire segments of American society. The elite, most of whom were literate, relied more heavily on printed documents than other classes. Lawyers, of course, used legal documents regularly, all of which were now subject to stamping. Lawyers were also the most ready and able to challenge the Act in the courts.
Lower classes, especially sailors and workingmen who used playing cards and dice were more likely to engage in physical protest than other classes. To make matters worse, the Act passed during a postwar depression in the colonies. Altogether, it was a recipe for disaster.
Members of the Virginia's legislative body, the House of Burgesses, gathered together to protest the Act and to figure out what to do next. Led by Patrick Henry, the legislative body produced a response, called the Stamp Act Resolves. The document claimed the rights of British citizens for colonists, including the right to consent to taxation, which was being denied to them by the Stamp Act. The phrase 'No Taxation Without Representation' became a rallying cry across the colonies. Keep in mind, that at this point no one in the American colonies was claiming independence or even saying it might be a good idea. The Stamp Act Resolves only asserted rights to the same protections as British citizens.
But Parliament had set their course, and had committed to the idea that the colonies could and should be taxed. Once that bridge was crossed, it was clear that coming back would be difficult.
Across the colonies, Americans reacted to the Stamp Act with street protests, anger and violence. In Massachusetts, particularly in Boston, there were burnings of effigies in which crowds would hang mock versions of Crown authorities and set fire to them. A frequent target was Andrew Oliver, colony's stamp distributor. They would lead marches, loot, and stone officials' homes.
Over time, it got worse. Crowd leaders, particularly Ebenezer MacIntosh, who would become notorious as the leader of Boston's rowdy anti-colonial mob, forced Oliver to parade through the streets of Boston and resign his post. News of this caused violent actions to spread throughout the colonies. It was still worse in Massachusetts, where protesters attacked the mansion of the lieutenant governor, Thomas Hutchinson, and almost totally destroyed it. Soon, the street demonstrations were a nearly constant affair. This violent time would give rise to a militant group, later to be known as The Sons of Liberty, a group which would be the main source of resistance to British authority during the revolutionary period to come.
In October 1765, 27 delegates from nine different colonies met in New York to determine a mass course of action. They produced a document, the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, which protested the Stamp Act, as well as asserting that, without proper representation in Parliament, any taxes passed against them were invalid and an abuse of power.
By the time news of mob violence reached England, there was debate about the necessity for the Stamp Act--some held that enforcing the Act was vital, to show the supremacy of the Crown, while others pointed out that Great Britain produced a great deal of revenue through trade with the colonies, and additional taxes were a burden that didn't produce enough wealth to make the annoyances worthwhile.
In February 1766, Parliament voted for repeal of the Stamp Act, a seeming victory for the colonies. At practically the same time, however, the British government voted for another Act--the Declaratory Act, which granted Parliament the right to tax the colonies for any reason at any time. The official text of the Act stated that Britain had the authority to impose laws upon the colonies in all cases whatsoever. Parliament believed this would provide the legal justification for future taxes.
All in all, The Stamp Act could hardly have gone worse for Great Britain. It produced no serious revenue, and it provoked widespread resistance and even violence. Meanwhile the the quick repeal seemed to convince American colonists that Parliament might be sympathetic to their arguments, or at a least willing to concede if the resistance was strong enough. For Parliament, the Declaratory Act's passage signaled a new shift in tone: Great Britain would tax the colonies, whether they liked it or not. The next taxes were soon to come and having learned that defiance was a worthwhile tool the Americans were intent on fighting even more. It would soon become clear that revolution was on the horizon.
In 1765, Britain was struggling to recover from the violent and expensive French and Indian War, whose victory ensured that Britain would retain control of its American colonies. In an effort to raise money from the fledgling colonies, Britain's Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required a government stamp placed on all printed materials, from legal documents to playing cards. The colonies were outraged, particularly because they considered the Stamp Act to be taxation without representation in Parliament that would protect the colonists' interests. The first colonial response was The Stamp Act Resolves, a document protesting the Stamp Act by claiming the rights of British citizens for the colonists, including representation. The Resolves didn't stop the passage of the Act and soon protests and violence erupted in the colonies. In less than a year, the violence had reached a fever-pitch and Parliament voted for repeal of the Stamp Act, in 1766. Shortly thereafter, though, they passed the Declaratory Act, which declared that Britain had the right to impose laws and taxes upon the Colonies at any time and for any reason. It would be the British justification for future taxes, leading up to the Revolutionary War.
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Back To CourseAP US History: Homework Help Resource
29 chapters | 332 lessons
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