Hoping to raise sufficient funds to defend the vast new American territories won from the French in the Seven Years’ War, the British government passes the notorious Stamp Act on this day in 1765. The legislation levied a direct tax on all materials printed for commercial and legal use in the colonies, including everything from broadsides and insurance policies to playing cards and dice.
Though the Stamp Act employed a strategy that was a common fundraising vehicle in England, it stirred a storm of protest in the colonies. The colonists argued that, as British subjects, Parliament could not impose taxes upon them without their consent, as given through the various colonial representative assemblies. Believing this right to be in peril, the colonists rioted and intimidated all the stamp agents responsible for enforcing the act into resignation.
Not ready to put down the rioters with military force, Parliament eventually repealed the legislation. However, the fracas over the Stamp Act helped plant seeds for a far larger movement against the British government and the eventual battle for independence.
Three critical political forces came into being during the Stamp Act crisis that would serve to advance the cause of rebellion ten years later. First, the Sons of Liberty—a group of tradesmen who led the riots in Boston and other seaboard cities—was established. Second, the formation of the Stamp Act Congress united politically active gentlemen across colonial boundaries, as the Continental Congress would again do in 1774. Finally, the non-importation agreements developed in response to the Stamp Act gave the colonial population a sense of power as consumers of British goods. Although Parliament repealed the act before they learned of the colonial non-importation pacts, the colonists believed that the Britons had acted out of fear of their own economic collapse. During the coming revolution, non-importation would again serve as a means by which average men and, in particular, women could express their patriotism.