The Stamp Act

Though the colonists disliked all of these acts, they particularly took offense to the 1765Stamp Act. This tax required certain goods to bear an official stamp showing that the owner had paid his or her tax. Many of these items were paper goods, such as legal documents and licenses, newspapers, leaflets, and even playing cards. Furthermore, the act declared that those who failed to pay the tax would be punished by the vice-admiralty courts without a trial by jury.

Colonists were particularly incensed because the Stamp Act was passed in order to pay for the increased British troop presence in the colonies. Not only did the colonists feel that the troop presence was no longer necessary, they also feared that the troops were there to control them. This military presence, combined with the vice-admiralty courts and Quartering Act, made the Americans very suspicious of Grenville’s intentions.

Taxation Without Representation

In protest, the American public began to cry out against “taxation without representation.” In reality, most colonists weren’t seriously calling for representation in Parliament; a few minor representatives in Parliament likely would have been too politically weak to accomplish anything substantive for the colonies. Rather, the slogan was symbolic and voiced the colonists’ distaste for paying taxes they hadn’t themselves legislated.

Virtual Representation

In defense, Grenville claimed that the colonists were subject to “virtual representation.” He and his supporters argued that all members of Parliament—no matter where they were originally elected—virtually represented all British citizens in England, North America, or anywhere else. To the colonists, the idea of virtual representation was a joke.

The Stamp Act Congress

Unwilling to accept the notion of virtual representation, colonists protested the new taxes—the Stamp Act in particular—using more direct methods. In 1765, delegates from nine colonies met in New York at the Stamp Act Congress, where they drafted a plea to King George III and Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act.

The Sons and Daughters of Liberty

Other colonists took their protests to the streets. In Boston, a patriot group called the Sons of Liberty erected “liberty poles” to hang images of tax collectors and even tarred and feathered one minor royal official. People throughout the colonies also refused to import British goods. Homespun clothing became popular as colonial wives, or Daughters of Liberty, refused to purchase British cloth.

Popular pages: The American Revolution (1754–1781)