On March 18, 1766, the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, a law that levied taxes on almost every piece of paper used by American colonists. Then, colonists saw the legislation as an attempt by the U.K. government to continue controlling the colonies. Now, 250 years later, historians see it as one of the early causes of the American Revolution.
“It is impossible to express the Joy the Inhabitants in general were in, on receiving the above great and glorious News — the Bells were immediately set a Ringing, and the Cannon fired under Liberty Tree and many other Parts of the Town,” the Boston Gazette wrote of the repeal. “Colors were displayed from the Merchants’ Vessels in the Harbor and the Tops of many Houses. Almost every Countenance discovered an unaffected Gaiety on the Establishment of that Liberty which we were in the utmost Hazard of losing.”
Imposed in 1765, the Stamp Act taxed everything from wills to newspapers to cards. It came after King George III’s Sugar Act and immediately inspired protests that at one point included a group of Bostonians hanging an effigy of tax official Andrew Oliver. The Sons of Liberty boycotted British goods and rallied around the motto, “No taxation without representation,” according to the National Constitution Center.
The upset eventually inspired the British Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act. But its members weren’t done yet. On this day 250 years ago, the U.K. government also passed the Declaratory Act, which stated that it had the “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”
The colonists didn’t bow, and the reasons they were concerned by the Stamp Act “festered for 10 years before giving rise to the Revolutionary War and, ultimately, American independence,” according to the History Channel.
“The question was never the immediate amount of taxation that the British were asking of the colonists. The question was whether the British had the right to do it at all,” historian Pauline Maier told the Public Broadcasting Service. “If you conceded the right to Parliament to tax and if there was no check on it, no limit, it could go on indefinitely. You could be bled white. The power to tax was the power to destroy.”
Here are a number of other interesting facts about the Stamp Act and its repeal:
- The Stamp Act was an internal tax as opposed to a trade tax.
- The goal was to recoup money for Britain after the French and Indian War.
- All the tax collectors in Boston resigned because of disagreement with the act or threats before the law went into effect.
- In February 1766, a group of nearly 30 London merchants sent a letter to Boston asking them to stop the violent protests.
- Patrick Henry, famous for delivering his “Give me liberty, or give me death” line less than a decade later, spoke in the Virginia House of Burgesses against the act — and the king. “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell,” he said. “May George III profit from their example. If this be treason, make the most of it.”
- The Stamp Act repeal inspired a famous satirical comic called “The Funeral of Miss Americ-Stamp” that showed British leaders in a procession as they bury the law.
- Prefaced by the Boston Tea Party, a 1773 protest of another British tax law, the American Revolution was prosecuted from 1775 to 1783.