The Stamp Act and Townshend Act
The Stamp Act and Townshend Act
The Stamp Act was a law passed by the British government in 1765 that required the payment of a tax to Britain on a great variety of papers and documents, including newspapers, that were produced in the American colonies. Special stamps were to be attached to the papers and documents as proof that the tax had been paid. The stamp tax was the first direct tax ever levied by Britain on the Americans, who rioted in opposition. The American colonists petitioned King George III to repeal the act, which he did in 1766.That year, Parliament passed the Stamp Act, which required all legal documents, licenses, commercial contracts, newspapers, pamphlets, dice, and playing cards to carry a tax stamp. The Stamp Tax raised revenue from thousands of daily transactions in all of the colonies. In addition, those accused of violating the act would be tried in Vice–Admiralty Courts—royal tribunals without juries that formerly heard only cases involving maritime law. The colonial assemblies petitioned the British, insisting that only they could tax Americans. The assemblies also sent delegates to a Stamp Act Congress, which adopted a moderate petition of protest and sent it to England. Other Americans took more forceful measures. Before the Act went into effect, in every large colonial town, mobs of artisans and laborers, sometimes including blacks and women, attacked men who accepted appointments as Stamp Act commissioners, usually forcing them to resign. American merchants also organized non-importation agreements, which put pressure on English merchants, who in turn pressured the British government.
In spring 1766 a newly elected Parliament repealed the Stamp Tax, believing it had been unwise. Parliament did not, however, doubt its right to tax the colonies. When it repealed the Stamp Act, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which reaffirmed Parliament’s right to legislate for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”
The Townshend Acts were a series of acts passed, beginning in June 1767, by the Parliament of Great Britain relating to the British colonies in North America. The acts are named after Charles Townshend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who proposed the program.
In 1767 a new ministry led by chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend addressed the North American situation. Townshend drew up new taxes on imports (tea, lead, paper, glass, paint) that Americans could receive only from Britain. More ominously, he earmarked the revenue from these duties for the salaries of colonial governors and judges, thus making them independent of the colonial assemblies. He also strengthened the organization responsible for enforcing customs duties and located its headquarters in Boston, the center of opposition to the Stamp Act. Finally, he moved many units of the British army away from the frontier and nearer the centers of white population.
Clearly, the Townshend Acts were meant not only to tax the colonies but also to exert British authority. When colonial assemblies protested the duties, Townshend dissolved the assemblies. Americans rioted. They also agreed to boycott all imported British goods—particularly tea. The British responded by landing troops at Boston (the center of resistance) in October 1768. Tensions between townspeople and soldiers were constant for the next year and a half. On March 5, 1770, tensions exploded into the Boston Massacre, when British soldiers fired into a mob of Americans, killing five men.