by Dan Shippey &

Michael Burns

   What do you do when the Government isn’t listening? When the Government is moving with great speed to pass laws that are unconstitutional and threaten personal liberty? In 1765, Americans protested, rioted and broke out the tar and feathers.

    The British Parliament announced the Stamp Act in March of 1765. American Colonists were informed that they would be paying taxes on a variety of items that they used regularly in order to pay for the deployment of British soldiers they didn’t want. This was all roughly like City Hall calling to inform you that they are sending over an Officer who will be living in your house and (by the way) you will be billed for these services. The Stamp Act went on to expand the jurisdiction of already unpopular Admiralty Courts, which denied the colonists their right to a trial by a jury of their peers. To the great shock of England this did not go over well in America.

   The taxes themselves were to be imposed on newspapers, legal documents, licenses, playing cards, dice and pamphlets. These were very convenient taxes for a Parliament that felt that America had too many lawyers, too much free press, and too much untaxed business going on. For American subjects the taxes were offensive, because each colony held a charter with the British Government stating that they would regulate and tax themselves under their own local governments. It was further understood that constitutionally no subject could be taxed by a Parliament in which they had no representation. The loss of jury trial rights was the final straw.

     The Americans responded to the threat against their Rights and Liberty with protests and demonstrations. It started with petitions and refusals to pay the taxes, but quickly escalated to stamp officials being burned in effigy and even physically attacked. It’s not hard to understand the anger Colonists would feel in discovering that one of their own was willing to take a profitable post at the expense of their rights. Soon, the Sons Of Liberty were coordinating group protests that sometimes became violent or destructive.      



    The Massachusetts legislature began looking for a way to address the political injustice coming from England without encouraging the violence in the town. To this end, the legislature sent a circular to all the colonies inviting them to "consult together on the present circumstances of the colonies." This gathering came to be known as The Stamp Act Congress. Representatives from nine of the thirteen Colonies met together in New York. Georgia, Virginia, New Hampshire and North Carolina stayed home.

     The Stamp Act Congress was not a very fruitful event. The representatives adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances, but the delegates could not be convinced to affix their names to the document. During the next few days, the resolutions were redrafted into three petitions--to the King, the Lords, and the Common--that would be rewritten and sent by the individual colonies. Only six of the colonies agreed to write these petitions. As far as productivity goes the Congress was a flop, but it was critically successful in two very important things. First, a majority of the colonies had come together to confront an attack on their Liberties. Second, they established regular communications (Committees of Correspondence) with each other. These two accomplishments led to the success of alarm riders in the Revolution and the formation of the 1st and 2nd Continental Congresses as our Revolutionary Government.

     The Stamp Act was eventually defeated, but not by the action of the Stamp Act Congress. Intimidation led to all the Stamp Tax Distributors resigning their commissions or being completely unable to effectively collect the imposed duties.  Colonial protest had included numerous non-importation agreements among merchants who recognized that a significant portion of British commerce was dependent on the colonial market. In New York City alone, 200 merchants had met and agreed to import nothing from England until the Stamp Act was repealed. With tensions rising, income falling and the Prime Minister being replaced, on March 18, 1766 the decision was made to repeal the stamp act. The people had killed the bill. The British Parliament, however, was not finished.  Just as they repealed the Stamp Act they simultaneously passed the Declaratory Act, which asserted that Parliament had the absolute power to make laws and changes to the colonial government, "in all cases whatsoever," even though the colonists were not represented in the Parliament. One more step pushing the Colonist a little closer to Revolution.

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