Tag Archives: Stamp Act

Remembering History: Repeal of the Stamp Act (18 March 1766)

On 18 March 1766 the British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act to end a major uproar with the colonists in America.

Benjamin Franklin, 1783 attributed to Joseph-Siffred Duplessis (1725-1802)
National Portrait Gallery, London
Public Domain (via Wikimedia Commons)

The controversial act was passed on 22 March 1765 and required that every official document produced in the colonies have a British stamp on it. Official documents included legal documents but was expanded to include newspapers and even playing cards. The purpose of the act was to use the money to raise revenues for a standing army. In reaction to it, the Stamp Act Congress was created in the colonies to oppose it in October 1765. Opposition to the impending Stamp Act caused not only outrage but violence as well.  Calls to boycott British goods were made and attacks on customhouses and even homes of tax collectors occurred. Benjamin Franklin made a personal appeal to the House of Commons to repeal the act.

Faced with opposition to the Stamp Act, it was repealed but on the same day Parliament passed the Declaratory Act which stated the government had free and total legislative power over the colonies. This set in motion conflict with the colonists who began to assert they ought to have a voice in laws passed by Parliament. The famous phrase “No Taxation Without Representation” would become an important part of the revolt that was coming.

Sources:

Remembering History: Boston Tea Party (16 Dec 1773)

Destruction of tea at Boston Harbor
Published: N. Currier, 1846.
U.S. Library of Congress, Control Number 91795889
Public Domain

In 1773, the British Parliament enacted the Tea Act to protect the East India Company, a company that though private had become important in Britain’s imperial designs in India. Not only did the act impose a monopoly for the company, but it could only be sold in the American colonies by those commissioned by the company. And that cut out the colonial merchants who had made money previously selling the tea. Since their ships no longer had to dock in England and be taxed, they came straight to America to be sold by the authorized agents at higher prices than before. The British had assumed the colonists, who liked tea, would pay the price. They were wrong.

Considerable resentment had built up in the colonies owing to the Sugar Tax (1764) followed by the Stamp Act (1765). The Sugar Act put duties on various items including tea while the Stamp Act required payment of fee for a stamp on official documents. Both laws were unpopular and seen as an attempt by the British Parliament to recoup the losses in the recent war between France and England. The colonists protested strongly about how bad these acts were and how, being distant from London, they seemed to have little representation. Demonstrations took place, some peaceful and some not, against the British. The Stamp Act was repealed but replaced with a new Townshend Acts (1767) that put import duties on essential goods. This caused even more resentment and anger in the American colonies as well.

When the Tea Act was passed on May 10, 1773, it angered people in England and America. British citizens now had to pay more for the East India Company tea. This led to the growth of smuggled tea (mostly Dutch) in both countries. Many made a small fortune with smuggled tea (like John Hancock). Protests and smuggling led the British to send troops to Boston. Rather than calming things down, the presence of the British troops made things worse. The Boston Massacre of 1770 was still in the minds of many. Adding to it was the feeling that the British were trying to undermine the col0nies. Many stopped drinking tea (although many drank the smuggled Dutch) which meant sales of the East India Company tea went down in the colonies. Attempts at curtailing the smuggling had not been wholly successful either by the British. The Townshend Acts, which imposed duties on many imported items, was rescinded in 1772 but not the duties on tea. The British dropped the price of the tea so that the smuggled tea was more expensive. Smuggling continued but as a protest for the citizen’s right not the be taxed without representation. Ships bearing tea to New York and Philadelphia were turned away by the colonists. Tensions had really reached a boiling point.

When a shipment of tea reached Boston on 29 November 1773, they were unable to unload the tea as the dock workers refused to unload. Thomas Hutchinson, the royal governor, refused to send the ships back and demanded the workers unload the tea and duties paid. After a meeting with the governor failed to take place on 16 December, many decided to take it into their own hands. Although the numbers vary, it is believed 100 men (mostly of the Sons of Liberty group but there were others) dressed in Indian garb (not as Indians as some suggest but rather garb worn during the French and Indian War that soldiers wore that were ponchos and soot streaks) boarded the three ships. They were armed with hatchets, axes, and pistols. And their outfits helped conceal their identities. They had formed into three groups, boarded the ships, and demanded the key to the hatch. Tea chests were then torn open and most of their contents dumped into Boston harbor. In total about 100,000 pounds of tea was dumped, worth about 9,000 pounds sterling making it one of the most expensive tea dumps in history.

Aftermath

The British government was enraged and responded with the Coercive Acts of 1774. They would become known by the colonists as the Intolerable Acts. It created a series of measures that resulted in the closing of Boston harbor until the cost of the destroyed tea was made. Other things such as repealing the colonial charter of Massachusetts occurred. General Thomas Gage was sent in to command the British forces in North America. Up until the imposition of the Coercive Acts, many had stayed neutral or on the sidelines waiting to see what would happen next. This action made many moderates realize that something was very wrong and looked like Britain was usurping their rights as British subjects. It became about sovereignty, that they had a right to have a voice on whether to tax themselves or not. It became clear to many the British were becoming a tyranny they had to oppose. Colonial resistance was made stronger leading to the American Revolution.

Sources

The Boston Tea Party: Why Did It Occur and Who Was Involved? (Revolutionary-war.net)
The Boston Tea Party (History.com)
Tea Act (History.com)


Remembering History: Boston Massacre (5 March 1770)

19th-century lithograph by Henry Pelham is a variation on Revere’s engraving and emphasizes Crispus Attucks, the African-American in the center, who became an important symbol for abolitionists. Circa 1856
Public Domain/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (via Wikipedia)

It was a cold snowy night on 5 March 1770 when a mob of American colonists gathered at the Customs House in Boston. The protestors were objecting to the occupation of Boston by British troops. The troops had been sent in 1768 after resentment grew at unpopular taxation measures (Stamp Act and Townshend Act) passed by the British parliament. Since no one from the colonies was represented in parliament, it led to a backlash back in Boston.

Tensions had been running high for a while. Skirmishes between soldiers and colonists, and between patriot colonists and loyalists (colonists loyal to Britain) had been going on for a while. Loyalist stores were vandalized and customers intimidated. One such attack on a loyalist store on 22 Feb 1770 ended tragically. A Customs officer (Ebenezer Richardson ) tried to break up the rock throwing crowd by firing his gun through the window of his home. He ended up killing an 11 year old boy named Christopher Seider. This enraged the Patriots and tensions between Patriots and British soldiers were raised.

The one guard outside the Customs House was facing a mob and called for assistance. The commanding officer of the Customs House, Captain Thomas Preston, ordered his soldiers to fix their bayonets and join the guard outside. The colonists began throwing snowballs, which hit some of the troops. One of the troops, Private Hugh Montgomery, was hit and fired back. Others fired as well. When the smoke cleared, five were dead or dying and three more were injured. The five that were killed were Crispus Attucks (African American), Patrick Carr, Samuel Gray, Samuel Maverick and James Caldwell. Many consider them the first casualties of the American Revolution.

Aftermath

The British soldiers were put on trial and were defended by John Adams and Josiah Quincy. Two soldiers were convicted of manslaughter in December 1770. The two soldiers had their thumbs branded with an M for murder as punishment.The incident would be used by the patriot group Sons of Liberty (formed in 1765) who advertised this as a just cause for removal of British troops.

Paul Revere made an engraving that was widely distributed showing the British soldiers lining up to shoot the patriots. Though not accurate, it helped convey an anti-British message to many in the colonies. Tension decreased for a while but many were unhappy at the lack of representation in British parliament. The hated Stamp Act had already been repealed by this time (in 1766) but the Declaratory Act passed at the same time said parliament had the right to pass any colonial legislation it saw fit. Rather that quell the tension, it was made worse. Patriot colonists were outraged that as citizens of the British colonies they had no voice in government on any of these major issues like taxes or how justice was to be administered. It would lead to growing tension until the revolt would break out in earnest in 1775.

Sources:

Britannica.com
History.com