AP®︎/College US History
- The Townshend Acts and the committees of correspondence
- Uproar over the Stamp Act
- The Boston Massacre
- The Boston Tea Party
- The Intolerable Acts and the First Continental Congress
- Taxation without representation: lesson overview
- Taxation without representation
Uproar over the Stamp Act
In 1765, British Parliament passed the Stamp Act to raise revenues by taxing American colonists. The colonists were not pleased.
- The Stamp Act was enacted in 1765 by British Parliament. It imposed a direct tax on all printed material in the North American colonies.
- The most politically active segments of colonial society—printers, publishers, and lawyers—were the most negatively affected by the act.
- The Stamp Act intensified colonial hostility toward the British and was a pivotal development on the road to the American Revolution.
The Seven Years’ War and British debt
Between 1754 and 1763, Britain and France—and their respective allies—fought the Seven Years’ War. Though the war was triggered by competing colonial claims to the Ohio territory of North America, the European allies of both Britain and France quickly became involved and the scope of the war widened dramatically to include every European great power except the Ottoman Empire.
The Seven Years' War was a world war that ended with France surrendering all claims to Canada and to territories east of the Mississippi River and Spain ceding Florida to Britain. Although the Treaty of Paris—signed in 1763 formally concluding hostilities—was favorable to Britain, much blood and treasure had been sacrificed in waging the war. After its termination, Britain sought to ease its financial difficulties by taxing the North American colonies.
The Stamp Act
The first measure undertaken for this purpose in the colonies was the Stamp Act. In March 1765, British Prime Minister George Grenville authored the act, which required that all newspapers and documents—including official court documents—in the North American colonies be printed on stamped paper from London. Additionally, the stamped paper had to be purchased in British hard currency, which was much more rare than the abundant colonial paper currency.
A newspaper posting of the text of the Stamp Act, which reads "An Act for granting and applying Stamp Duties, and other Duties, in the British Colonies and Plantations in America, towards further defraying the Expences 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."
The only opposition to the act in Parliament came from William Pitt, Grenville’s brother-in-law turned political rival. Pitt challenged Parliament’s right to tax the colonists. The British Constitution prohibited the taxation of British subjects without their consent, which was provided through representation in Parliament. Though the British had imposed restrictions and duties on colonial trade, the passage of the Stamp Act was the first time they had sought to tax the colonists for the explicit purpose of raising revenue.
Prelude to revolution
The Stamp Act was greeted with widespread and unconcealed hostility in the colonies. Unfortunately for Parliament, the segments of colonial society that were most detrimentally affected by the act—newspaper printers, students, attorneys, and judges—were also among the most politically active. They mobilized popular opposition to the act, which frequently took the form of street protests that sometimes turned violent. Newspapers ominously predicted the demise of the journalistic profession.
While townspeople rioted, colonial assemblies debated. Samuel Adams and Benjamin Franklin were among the most influential voices arguing that since the American colonies were not represented in the British Parliament, that body had no right to tax them. The slogan “No taxation without representation!” arose from colonial opposition to the Stamp Act and proved enduring. The British countered with the theory of virtual representation, which held that members of Parliament were obligated to defend the interests of British subjects and colonists alike.
In October 1765, delegates from the colonies convened in New York City at the Stamp Act Congress, where they drew up formal petitions to the British Parliament and to King George III to repeal the act. It was the first unified colonial response to British policy and it provided the British a taste of what would come soon thereafter.
The British had been receiving reports of mob violence in the colonies, and Prime Minister Grenville had been replaced by Lord Rockingham, who proved more sympathetic than his predecessor to the colonists’ demands.
Political cartoon showing a mock funeral procession for the Stamp Act
In March 1766, the Stamp Act was repealed. But the stage for the American Revolution had already been set.
What do you think?
What does the phrase “no taxation without representation” mean? Is it still relevant today?
Explain the theory of virtual representation in your own words. Was it valid?
Why did the colonists react so vehemently to the passage of the Stamp Act? How important do you think the Stamp Act was in the eventual outbreak of the American Revolution?
Want to join the conversation?
- What does the phrase “no taxation without representation” mean?(13 votes)
- It means that the people of the colonies don't want to be taxed without people to represent them in Parliament. If no one in Parliament is there to represent the colonies, their interests are not being heard or voiced at all; all of things in Parliament are at the hands of people with primarily the mainland's priorities in mind!(48 votes)
- How does the stamp act connect to the French and Indian War?(10 votes)
- Between 1754 and 1763, Britain and France—and their respective allies—fought the Seven Years’ War. Though the war was triggered by competing colonial claims to the Ohio territory of North America, the European allies of both Britain and France quickly became involved and the scope of the war widened dramatically to include every European great power except the Ottoman Empire.
The Seven Years' War was a world war that ended with France surrendering all claims to Canada and to territories east of the Mississippi River and Spain ceding Florida to Britain. Although the Treaty of Paris—signed in 1763 formally concluding hostilities—was favorable to Britain, much blood and treasure had been sacrificed in waging the war. Britain's financial debt had almost doubled, from 70 million pounds to 130 million pounds. Britain sought to ease its financial difficulties by taxing the North American colonies. Hence, the Stamp Act was introduced, which was the first direct tax on the American colonists[the Sugar Act was an external tax].
Hope this helps :)(15 votes)
- Wasn't William Pitt the prime minister during the French and Indian war who poured money into the British forces and created the debt? (I thought I learned that in the video!) Then why would he be opposed to taxation?(16 votes)
- It was written that "Pitt challenged Parliament’s right to tax the colonists. The British Constitution prohibited the taxation of British subjects without their consent", so maybe it was the method of taxation that he opposed instead of taxation itself.(13 votes)
- In the first paragraph, you mentioned that all European powers played a role in the Seven Years War except for the Ottoman Empire. Why weren't they involved in the colonization of the New World? They seem to be the only European power not to have a vested stake, particularly given their accessibility to the actual Indies and the wealth provided from the Silk Road.(8 votes)
- Regardless the use of violence and hostility, did the colonies ever cut trade with England?(5 votes)
- The Stamp Act was based on Actual and virtual representation.
The delegates of the Stamp Act Congress drew up a "Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonists." In this document they declared that:
As subjects of the British king, had the same rights as British subjects living in Britain
Only the colonial assemblies had a right to tax the colonies. (no taxation without representation)
They were free from taxes except those to which they had given their consent
They had the right of trial by jury
The phrase, “taxation without representation is tyranny” was coined by James Otis in response to the Stamp Act.(6 votes)
- Why was the stamp act such a big deal?(4 votes)
- Mostly because it paved a path towards the American revolution. It was an important event that leads the colonists to protest any British control in their colonies.(6 votes)
- The meaning for that means the British shouldn't tax America if they don't represent them. The theory of virtual representation was that Britain should be there representing instead over being overseas representing them. They reacted that way because they were overtaxing America for the goods they needed from Britain.(5 votes)
- who taught the stamp act was fair(2 votes)
- Some people had beliefs and religions that lead them to believe that making the stamp act was good because it was helping their country or helping to keep the colonies in line. Some just saw it as a right and good thing. People do thing from their upbringing and their beliefs. I hope this answer your question!(5 votes)
- What about the Sugar Act of 1765 and the Proclamation Line of 1763?(4 votes)
- the sugar act was a tax on sugar, they enacted to to try and stop smuggling of rums and sugars but it didn't really work(1 vote)
- amongus is sus(3 votes)