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This Day in History: “No taxation without representation!”

On this day in 1765, the Stamp Act goes into effect. That Act was one of the first controversial taxation measures to create a rift between Great Britain and her American colonies in the years before the American Revolution.

You’ve heard the battle cry born during those days: “No taxation without representation!”

The Stamp Act had been approved in March, long before its November implementation date. This left the colonists with many months in which to stew over the injustice: Only the colonial legislatures should have the authority to levy taxes in America! Why should Parliament get to take money out of Americans’ pockets when the colonists had no representation in that body?!

Needless to say, the attempt at taxation left the colonists irate. How would they respond to this encroachment upon their rights?

Americans aimed many of their protests at the stamp collectors. If the collectors could be persuaded to resign from their positions, then how would the King collect his taxes? You’ve doubtless heard of many of these more fiery events. Mobs burned the effigies of stamp collectors and Royal Governors, and they attacked the homes of these Loyalists.

There were other, less violent means of protest, though. The Daughters of Liberty organized groups that would spin cloth, freeing the colonists from dependency upon Great Britain for their clothes. Some merchants committed to boycotts of British goods. A Stamp Act Congress was convened, and it approved a petition to Parliament and the King.

Parliament refused to so much as consider this Declaration of Rights and Grievances.

On November 1, 1765, when it was time to begin collecting the tax, no stamps were sold, outside of a few in Georgia. A broadside was published, expressing the general sentiment of the people: “IF you comply with the Act by using Stamped Papers, you fix, you rivet perpetual Chains upon your unhappy Country . . . . THE Stamp Act, therefore, is to be regarded only as an EXPERIMENT OF YOUR DISPOSITION. If you quietly bend your Necks to that Yoke, you prove yourselves ready to receive any Bondage to which your Lords and Masters shall please to subject you.”

Parliamentary debates were soon held on the matter. On January 14, William Pitt declared to Parliament: “I rejoice that America has resisted. Three million of people so dead to all feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest.” He argued for repeal of the Act: “[W]e may bind their trade, confine their manufactures, and exercise every power whatsoever—except that of taking money out of their pockets without their consent.”

Parliament repealed the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766. Americans had won a battle. The longer war, of course, was still to follow.

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