The Stamp Act and the American colonies 1763-67

Relations between the American colonists and the British government came to a head after the British success against France in the Seven Years War of 1756-63.

Change in policy

It was an expensive war and the French lost all their North American possessions including Quebec in what is now Canada, and all the land they claimed between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.

The British needed to station a large army in North America as a consequence and on 22 March 1765 the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which sought to raise money to pay for this army through a tax on all legal and official papers and publications circulating in the colonies.

No Taxation without Representation

The Act resulted in violent protests in America and the colonists argued that there should be "No Taxation without Representation" and that it went against the British constitution to be forced to pay a tax to which they had not agreed through representation in Parliament.

The British government argued instead that the colonists enjoyed virtual representation, that they were represented in Parliament in the same way as the thousands of British subjects who did not have the vote, or towns not represented in Parliament, such as Birmingham and Manchester. MPs in the Commons, it said, legislated for all British subjects everywhere.

To this the colonists replied that they were already represented in their own colonial assemblies, elected law-making bodies which had been voting the laws and taxes for each colony from the time of their foundations.

To the colonists these assemblies were the equivalent of Parliament, where they were represented and whose taxes they paid. They did not feel they should pay another unrepresentative tax on top.

Repeal

The Stamp Act became one of the most controversial laws ever passed by Parliament, and after several months of protests and boycotts which damaged British trade, it was repealed on 18 March 1766.

The Act's repeal, however, was followed that same day with the Declaratory Act, which maintained that the British Parliament had the right and authority to legislate for the colonies in all cases whatsoever.  The dispute was far from over.

Related information

Did you know?

The American statesman Benjamin Franklin, in Britain to represent the interests of Pennsylvania, in January 1766, had to answer 174 questions over four hours before a Committee of the House of Commons examining the American reaction to the Stamp Act.

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