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The Stamp Act

With victory in their pockets and billions of dollars of debt making holes in their purses, the British decided to tax the colonists directly for the first time and took these legal actions, presented in chronological order:

- The prime minister ordered the British navy to start strictly enforcing the Navigation Laws to end the colonies' profitable side trade.

- London enacted the Sugar Act (1764), the first law for raising revenue for Britain in the New World. The Sugar Act taxed the sweet stuff Americans were just as addicted to as everybody else. When the colonists screamed, the government lowered the duties, and the outcry died down.

- The Quartering Act (1765) attempted to give the 10,000 British soldiers in the New World places to stay: with the colonists. Nobody wanted soldiers crowding into the house and bothering their families. Colonial legislatures dragged their feet and refused to cooperate.

- Parliament passed the Stamp Act (1765). People in Britain had already been paying stamp taxes for almost 100 years, but to the colonists, shelling out a few cents to the king for every newspaper, playing card, lease, will, and marriage license seemed to be a major insult.

Colonial legislatures had passed plenty of taxes without trouble, but in those cases, the colonists were taxing themselves. Now a bunch of snooty big shots an ocean away were reaching into the colonists' pockets without permission. Chanting "No taxation without representation," the colonists were fighting mad.

Tip

To remember all the legislation in order, consider this scene: You navigate to the store (Navigation Laws) to buy some candy (Sugar Act), but a soldier stops you (Quartering Act) and stamps your hand (Stamp Act). This analogy is silly, but it works.

With years of experience in self-government and the precedent of the Albany Congress setting them up for cooperation, nine colonies quickly assembled the Stamp Act Congress (1765) in New York City. The congress mostly just talked and passed some resolutions, but it did get 9 of the 13 colonies working together.

More to the point of protest were the unofficial nonimportation agreements (1765). Americans agreed among themselves not to buy products from England. These local agreements were enforced by a gang called the Sons of Liberty, which wasn't above applying tar and feathers to the bodies of people who tried to break the strike by buying imported goods. The British were hit hard by the boycott; one quarter of their exports had gone to the colonies, and now almost nothing was selling.

The Stamp Act was never effective. Under mob persuasion, all the stamp sellers had been forced to resign before the act took effect. Because the law wasn't working anyway, Parliament revoked the Stamp Act in 1766. Although this repeal could have been an occasion to make nice, the British government instead petulantly enacted a resolution called the Declaratory Act (1766), which declared that although it may be cutting some slack now, Parliament had the power "to bind" the colonies "in all cases whatsoever." It wasn't long before Parliament tried a little more binding.

Example

Question: What was the purpose of the Stamp Act?

Answer: The purpose of the Stamp Act of 1765 was to raise money to support British troops in America.

 
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