March 22, 1765 – The Stamp Act is passed by Parliament
The Stamp Act was an attempt on the part of England to replenish funds spent on the French and Indian War. Parliament incurred large debts to beat the French and looked to the colonies to help pay those debts, since the war had been fought for the benefit of them. It taxed all use of paper in the colonies: letters, diplomas, licenses, printed materials, legal and business documents, ship manifests, etc. The paper would be made in England and sent here for use in the colonies, putting colonial paper producers out of work.
Franklin, in London as the colonial agent from Pennsylvania, warned MPs not to pass it, that the colonies would unite against them. He was nearly laughed out of the room! The colonies, they said, couldn’t agree on anything and were so busy fighting among themselves that they would never unite.
In NY, the Livingston brothers, William (lawyer) and Philip (merchant), took a good look at the act and found that it wasn’t meant to pay for the war but to raise a general revenue tax for the Crown. Philip commented “…we can only be taxed for revenue with our consent. Since we elect no one to Parliament we cannot give or deny consent in this matter. The tax, therefore, is illegal and we in NY will not issue business writs or legal documents when it goes into effect.”
Lawyers, merchants, printers and ship captains from Maine to Georgia formed Committees of Correspondence to coordinate opposition to the Stamp Act. The stamps would not arrive for eight months and in that time, the colonies united and protested: NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. The protests grew to be so violent that no stamped paper was ever distributed. The colonies united in a “Non Importation Non Exportation Agreement” (boycott) against England and the Act was repealed March 18, 1766. (See my post from 3/18 on the repeal.)
It was the first in a series of calamitous mistakes on the part of Parliament and the King.
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