On November 1, 1765, the British Parliament enacted the Stamp Act.  The Act required the British colonists in North America to pay a tax on paper documents including licenses, legal documents, newspapers, and playing cards in order to pay for the expenses incurred during the French and Indian War.

Stamp Act Congress

In October 1765, nine of the 13 colonies rallied together in New York at the Stamp Act Congress and approved a fourteen-point Declaration of Rights and Grievances.  In the document, the Stamp Act Congress asserted “only representatives of the people of these colonies are persons chosen therein, by themselves; and that no taxes ever have been or can be constitutionally imposed on them but by their respective legislatures.”  They also argued that “subjects in these colonies are entitled to all the inherent rights and privileges of his natural born subjects within the kingdom of Great Britain.”

Adams and Hancock

Many of the colonies vigorously protested the Stamp Act.  In Massachusetts, Samuel Adams and fellow Sons of Liberty John Hancock and James Otis took the lead in opposing the Act.  Adams argued in “Resolutions of the Boston Town Meeting” that the law of nature dictated that “no law of the society can be binding on any individual without his consent, given by himself in person, or by his representative of his own free election.”  The Sons of Liberty were largely funded by fellow Bostonian John Hancock.  Both Adams and Hancock were later delegates to the Second Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence.

The Stamp Act was eventually repealed by Parliament in 1766, but more extreme taxation policies were yet to come.  The Stamp Act controversy opened the “taxation without representation” battle that American colonists would fight for the next decade and would ultimately lead to the American Revolution.

See our curriculum Founders and the Constitution, Volume 2 for complete lessons on Samuel Adams and John Hancock.

Posted in The Constitution Throughout History


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