Duties in American Colonies Act 1765, which was the official title of the Stamp Act, was a direct tax imposed by Great Britain on the colonies of the New World, i.e., America and parts of the newly acquired territory from Spain and Canada.
The Proclamation of 1763 made by the British Crown to make some administrative changes in the Colonies of America is considered a precursor to the act. The Stamp Act is considered a follow-up to these administrative changes.
The Seven Years War, which involved a majority of the European colonies in North America, proved to be an expensive deal. In the process, Great Britain realized the need to keep a large infantry corps stationed at the colonies, so as to protect its interests in these colonies and newly acquired territories from France and Spain.
A decision to station about 10,000 troops in the colonies, at the cost of £225,000 per year, was taken. In addition to that, the Crown and the British Commonwealth had experienced a substantial rise in the volume of national debt, which was £130,000,000 in 1764, the primary reason being war expenditures.
The objective of the Stamp Act was two-fold: to finance the troops stationed in America, and reduce the national debt through taxation.
What was the Stamp Act Crisis?
Trade duties and some basic taxes were prevalent in the trade that was carried out between the colonies and Great Britain. However, two new Acts, the Stamp Act and the preceding Sugar Act were imposed by the Parliament. Colonial militia was prevalent in the time preceding the Seven Years War.
However, differences soon arose in the militia and the commanding British officers, which led to a drop in the number of enlisted militia. Thus, in such a case the contribution of colonies to the commonwealth was quite negligible, and thus the initiative to tax such colonies was put into motion by the Parliament.
The Sugar Act was levied on all foreign molasses entering Great Britain at 3 pence a gallon. This act was actually a modification of the Molasses Act of 1733, which levied 6 pence per gallon. The Sugar Act also was protested against. This gave the British monopoly on the import of molasses from the West Indies.
The Sugar Act did not work; it was either evaded, or the import opportunity was lost, and the Parliament initiated the Stamp Act.
Summary of the Stamp Act
Prior to the Stamp Act, there was no duty on transfer of documents. This act gave the government authority to collect tax on several types of documents. For example, a £10 tax was placed on attorney licenses, land transfers were taxed exorbitantly, and a tax was even placed on newspapers, playing cards, dice, etc.
Some clauses within the act granted British courts and the legislature greater authority than American courts and legislature. Another problem was that the tax was to be paid in British currency rather than Colonial. There is no concrete and specific definition of the Act, but the act was not fair, and was a definite hindrance to the people and economy.
After the Act was enforced, protests broke out in streets of every colony, and petitions to the Parliament and publications criticizing and denouncing the act became common. The statement 'no taxation without representation' was probably adopted during this period.
The Sons of Liberty also came into picture as an important organization of activists. Another notable feature was that the Stamp Act Congress 1765, a congress of all the colonies and their representatives, met for the first time. This was the first time an American Congress had been formed.