The city of Boston observes the 11th anniversary of the popular resistance that prevented the execution of the Stamp Act there on this day in 1776. The celebration included the erection of a pole at the site of the original “Liberty Tree.”
The Stamp Act, passed on March 22, 1765, by the British Parliament, caused uproar in the colonies over an issue that was to be a major cause of the American Revolution: taxation without representation. Enacted in November 1765, the controversial act forced colonists to buy a British stamp for every official document they obtained. The stamp displayed an image of a Tudor rose framed by the word “America” and the French phrase Honi soit qui mal y pense–“Shame to him who thinks evil of it.”
The colonists, who had convened the Stamp Act Congress in October 1765 to vocalize their opposition to the impending enactment of the act, greeted the arrival of the stamps with outrage and violence. Colonial merchants called for a boycott of British goods; some went further, organizing attacks on customs houses and the homes of tax collectors. A group of Bostonians calling themselves the “Sons of Liberty” hanged an effigy of stamp distributor Andrew Oliver from a gallows they dubbed the “Liberty Tree.” They beheaded and burned the effigy, burned a building they thought to be the “Stamp Office” and invaded Oliver’s home, threatening to kill him. Oliver had already fled the premises and resigned his post rather than face further attacks. In every state except Georgia, the “stamp master” resigned under duress, making the Stamp Act impossible to implement.
Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766, but at the same time passed the Declaratory Act, which asserted that the British government had free and total legislative power over the colonies. The Declaratory Act, though, carefully omitted any assertion of Parliament’s right to tax colonists. At the same time, Parliament passed the Revenue Act of 1766, which was intended to make up Britain’s loss of income from the stamp tax with taxes on molasses. The colonists paid this tax without complaint, although it too was imposed without their consent, as molasses was a critical ingredient in the making of rum.