March 22: Stamp Act of 1765

This Day in History

On this day, March 22, 1765, the British Parliament passed The Stamp Act of 1765, which imposed a direct tax on the colonies on various printed materials such as official documents, pamphlets, marriage licenses and even playing cards. The colonists were none too happy about what they perceived as governmental overreach.

Following the victorious, yet financially devastating French and Indian War (it was called the Seven Years War everywhere else and fought on five continents involving nearly every European power), Parliament needed a sustainable income to pay for the accumulated war debt together with maintaining the soldiers stationed in North America. The colonists argued that since they were considered British subjects, there was no need to have the militia stationed at extra cost to them, and therefore the tax was redundant. To the colonists, it was their right as British citizens to have the same protection as their fellow nationals “across the pond” without the burden of a new tax. Parliament, however, refused to listen to the Americans.

At once, protests ignited across the colonies; the fires of the revolution had been stirred. Massachusetts attorney James Otis famously declared, “taxation without representation is tyranny,” which soon became the unofficial motto on which the Patriot movement was founded. The colonists responded to the mother country’s overreach by forming the Stamp Act Congress.  

Protests and demonstrations became so violent that many tax collectors were intimidated into resigning their commissions. Thus the revenue that the king and parliament desperately sought was never fully collected. Parliament repealed the Stamp Act a year later but on the very same day passed the Declaratory Act which was more onerous than the Act it replaced.

Many of the colonists came to realized that the only solution for a tyrannical government refusing to listen to her people was to abolish it. What began as a tax on playing cards became the greatest experiment in self-government the world has ever known. King George III and the lords of parliament would soon learned that they had grossly overplayed their hand.

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