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This Day in History: The Stamp Act is repealed

On this day in 1766, the Stamp Act is repealed. That Act levied taxes upon American colonists despite our lack of representation in Parliament. It had been approved just one year earlier, on March 22, 1765.

That March approval date left a lot of time before its November implementation date. The colonists had 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?!

A political cartoon depicting the death of the Stamp Act.

Needless to say, the colonists were 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 weave 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.

At about this time, future President John Adams would write in his diary: “The People, even to the lowest Ranks, have become more attentive to their Liberties, more inquisitive about them, and more determined to defend them, than they were ever before known or had occasion to be.”

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 ended up buckling under the pressure. Well, sort of. It repealed the Stamp Act, but it simultaneously issued a statement that it had “full power and authority” to make laws “to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”

The colonists at first seemed not to notice that Parliament had reserved the right to tax them again. Instead, the boycotts were dropped and the colonists celebrated their victory. Perhaps they wanted to believe that the problem was over? At the time, they were still dedicated to restoring their relationship with Britain and the King. A declaration of independence was still very far off in the future.

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