What Is a Stamp Act?


Quick Answer

The British 1765 Stamp Act, a law that taxed all printed papers and stamped them "paid," was a major trigger for the American Revolution, according to the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. Colonists found this tax to be unfair because, for the first time, the British government was taxing them to raise money instead of as a form of commercial regulation.

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What Is a Stamp Act?
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Full Answer

The Seven Years' War, which was fought largely by colonial militia in North America, left Britain deeply in debt, explains the U.S. State Department's Department of the Historian. Prime Minister George Grenville addressed this indebtedness by lowering duty taxes on molasses and sugar, both critical colonial trade goods, but enforcing these taxes strictly. Because the colonists engaged heavily in smuggling to avoid duty taxes, this resulted in higher overall tax expenses, and New York and Massachusetts colonial legislatures both protested. In addition, Parliament passed laws against colonial scrip, insisting that all debts be paid in British pounds sterling.

In this already tense atmosphere, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. This was the first British law that directly taxed colonists, and it was passed without their input. The Virginia House of Burgesses passed Patrick Henry's Stamp Act Resolves, which were the source of the common colonial revolutionary phrase "no taxation without representation." Rioters in Boston destroyed the stamp distributor's house. Tensions rose, protests continued, and the British, finding profitable enforcement of the Stamp Act impossible, repealed the law and sought other means to raise revenue.

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