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The Stamp Act Riots

The Stamp Act Riots

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Andrew Oliver could have been excused if he didn’t feel very welcome in his hometown of Boston. After awaking on August 14, 1765, the wealthy 59-year-old merchant and provincial official learned that his effigy was hanging from a century-old elm tree in front of Deacon Elliot’s house. After dusk, angry Bostonians paraded Oliver’s likeness through the streets and destroyed the brick building he had recently built along the waterfront. In case Oliver still hadn’t received the hint, the mob beheaded his effigy in front of his finely appointed home before throwing stones through his windows, demolishing his carriage house and imbibing the contents of his wine cellar.

Oliver had become the public’s enemy after news arrived from England weeks earlier that he would be responsible for the local implementation of a reviled law imposed by the British government—the Stamp Act. Approved by Parliament on March 22, 1765, the measure imposed a tax on all printed materials for commercial and legal use—including wills and deeds, newspapers, pamphlets and even playing cards—as a means to pay for the deep debt Great Britain had incurred protecting the American colonies from French and Native American forces during the Seven Years’ War, which ended in 1763. The Stamp Act also denied offenders a trial by jury because colonists had a habitual tendency to find their smuggling peers not guilty.

The Stamp Act was the first direct tax on internal commerce, rather than a duty on external trade goods, imposed on the American colonies, and it had colonists who believed that only their own representative assemblies could levy direct taxes in an uproar. When news of the Stamp Act arrived in May, newly elected Patrick Henry railed against the law in the Virginia House of Burgesses and led the adoption of the radical Virginia Resolves, which denied the right of an unrepresentative Parliament to tax the colonies. In Boston, opposition moved from fiery rhetoric to inflamed violence, fanned by a secret organization known as the Loyall Nine. The clandestine group of artisans and shopkeepers printed pamphlets and signs protesting the tax and incited the mob that ransacked Oliver’s house.

The Stamp Act commissioned colonial distributors to collect a tax in exchange for handing out the stamps to be affixed to documents, and Oliver, without his knowledge, had been appointed the distributor for Massachusetts. The day after his property had been destroyed, Oliver resigned a position he never asked for and one he never held, since the Stamp Act wasn’t due to take effect until November 1.

The resignation, however, didn’t douse the violent protests in Boston. On August 26, another mob attacked the home of Oliver’s brother-in-law—Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson. The rioters stripped the mansion, one of the finest in Boston, of its doors, furniture, paintings, silverware and even the slate from its roof.

Similar riots broke out in seaports from Portsmouth, New Hampshire, to Savannah, Georgia, and forced the resignations of crown-appointed officials. Mobs turned away ships arriving from Great Britain with stamp papers. The Loyall Nine expanded and became known as the Sons of Liberty, which formed local committees of correspondence to keep abreast of protests throughout the colonies. In October, delegates from nine colonies traveled to New York to attend the Stamp Act Congress, which drafted a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” that affirmed that only colonial assemblies had the constitutional authority to tax the colonists. Merchants in seaports such as Boston, New York and Philadelphia united to boycott British imports, which prodded British merchants to lobby for the Stamp Act’s repeal.

The intimidation campaigns and boycotts worked. When November 1 arrived, the mass resignations of the stamp distributors impeded the administration of the tax. In many parts of the colonies, printers proceeded with business as usual. When it proved impossible to implement the Stamp Act, Parliament repealed it almost a year to the day after it had approved it. However, it also passed the Declaratory Act to reaffirm its authority to pass any legislation impacting the colonies.

When news of the Stamp Act’s repeal reached Boston in May, the Sons of Liberty returned to the elm tree from which they had dangled Oliver’s likeness, this time to hang celebratory lanterns, not effigies, from its mighty boughs. Every year on August 14, the Sons of Liberty gathered under the shade of the elm, which they christened the “Liberty Tree,” to commemorate the 1765 protest.

The issue of taxation without representation continued to fray the relations between the American colonies and the mother country over the next decade until war broke out in 1775. During that summer, British soldiers and Loyalists under siege in Boston took axes to the Liberty Tree and chopped it into firewood. Although the tree was missing when the patriots returned to Boston after the British evacuation, they still gathered around its stump on August 14, 1776, to commemorate the protest from 11 years earlier that was one of the first rebellious steps on the path to revolution.

The Sons of Liberty also never forgot Andrew Oliver, whose reputation improved little among Boston’s patriots after becoming lieutenant governor in 1770. When Oliver passed away four years later, a Sons of Liberty delegation was at his graveside to give three cheers as his coffin was lowered into the ground.

The Stamp Act Riots - HISTORY

Contrary to popular impression, taxes in America existed throughout the colonial period prior to the American Revolution. Colonial governments relied on a variety of taxes to support themselves including poll, property and excise taxes. The great Boston patriot, Samuel Adams, was himself a tax collector, though not a very good one. His accounts were [sterling]8,000 in arrears at the time The Stamp Act was implemented.

What outraged colonists was not so much the tax as the fact that it was being imposeed from England. Reaction to the Stamp Act in the colonies was swift and, on occasion, riotous.

In Virginia, Patrick Henry made a reputation for himself in a bold speech before the House of Burgesses. "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his Cromwell," he said. "May George III profit from their example."

Threatening or attacking the Crown-appointed office-holders became a popular tactic against the act throughout the colonies. Though no stamp commissioner was actually tarred and feathered, this Medieval brutality was a popular form of 18th century mob violence in Great Britain, particularly against tax collectors.

Tarring and feathering dated back to the days of the Crusades and King Richard the Lionhearted. It began to appear in New England seaports in the 1760s and was most often used by patriot mobs against loyalists. Tar was readily available in shipyards and feathers came from any handy pillow. Though the cruelty invariably stopped short of murder, the tar needed to be burning hot for application.

By November 1, 1765, the day the Stamp Act was to officially go into effect, there was not a single stamp commissioner left in the colonies to collect the tax.

The Stamp Act Riots - HISTORY

Scholars In Action presents case studies that demonstrate how scholars
interpret different kinds of historical evidence. This newspaper article was published in the Patriot press in 1775 and describes a political demonstration in Providence, Rhode Island, where protesters burned tea and loyalist newspapers. As opposition to British rule grew in the years leading up to the American Revolution, many people in the colonies were forced to take sides. Popular movements such as the "Sons of Liberty" attracted artisans and laborers who sought broad social and political change. Street actions against the British and their economic interests brought ordinary citizens, including women and youth, into the political arena and often spurred greater militancy and radicalism. By 1775, a number of major political protests and clashes with the British had occurred, including the Stamp Act riots, the Boston Massacre, and the Boston Tea Party.

Before you move to the next page, read this newspaper article. How does the article describe the event? Can you tell who participated in the protest? Are the political issues and tensions clear? What is puzzling or unclear?

Stamp Act

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Stamp Act, (1765), in U.S. colonial history, first British parliamentary attempt to raise revenue through direct taxation of all colonial commercial and legal papers, newspapers, pamphlets, cards, almanacs, and dice. The devastating effect of Pontiac’s War (1763–64) on colonial frontier settlements added to the enormous new defense burdens resulting from Great Britain’s victory (1763) in the French and Indian War. The British chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir George Grenville, hoped to meet at least half of these costs by the combined revenues of the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act, a common revenue device in England.

Completely unexpected was the avalanche of protest from the colonists, who effectively nullified the Stamp Act by outright refusal to use the stamps as well as by riots, stamp burning, and intimidation of colonial stamp distributors. The Sons of Liberty formed in the summer of 1765 to oppose the act and destroyed the stamps wherever they encountered them. In addition to tarring and feathering stamp agents, the Sons of Liberty sacked homes and warehouses of the wealthy, whom they presumed were favourites of the royal governors. Colonists passionately upheld their rights as Englishmen to be taxed only by their own consent through their own representative assemblies, as had been the practice for a century and a half. In the set of resolutions against the act that he created for the town of Braintree, Massachusetts, John Adams wrote

We have called this a burdensome tax, because the duties are so numerous and so high, and the embarrassments to business in this infant, sparsely settled country so great, that it would be totally impossible for the people to subsist under it, if we had no controversy at all about the right and authority of imposing it…We further apprehend this tax to be unconstitutional. We have always understood it to be a grand and fundamental principle of the constitution that no freeman should be subject to any tax to which he has not given his own consent, in person or by proxy.

In addition to nonimportation agreements among colonial merchants, the Stamp Act Congress was convened in New York (October 1765) by moderate representatives of nine colonies to frame resolutions of “rights and grievances” and to petition the king and Parliament for repeal of the objectionable measures. Because they were more conservative in their response to the act than colonial legislatures had been, some of the delegates to the congress refused to sign even the moderate petitions that resulted from their gathering, which was the first intercolonial congress to meet in America. In spite of the petitions’ mildness, Parliament rejected them.

Bowing chiefly to pressure (in the form of a flood of petitions to repeal) from British merchants and manufacturers whose colonial exports had been curtailed, Parliament, largely against the wishes of the House of Lords, repealed the act in early 1766. Simultaneously, however, Parliament issued the Declaratory Act, which reasserted its right of direct taxation anywhere within the empire, “in all cases whatsoever.” The protest throughout the colonies against the Stamp Act contributed much to the spirit and organization of unity that was a necessary prelude to the struggle for independence a decade later.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica This article was most recently revised and updated by Jeff Wallenfeldt, Manager, Geography and History.

Related Information

What was the Stamp Act?

The Stamp Act was a tax imposed by the British government on the American colonies. The primary goal was to raise money needed for military defenses of the colonies. Stamps were required for all official documents, licenses, contract, newspapers and a long list of other paper items.

Facts about the Stamp Act

Interesting known and unknown facts about the Stamp Act.

Repeal of the Stamp Act

The boycott of English goods by the colonies forced the British Parliament to repeal the original Stamp Act on March 18, 1766.

Original text of the Stamp Act

Text of the original document of the act as enacted by the British Parliament.

Back to Stamp Act History Homepage

Stamp Act Video from PBS



1651 - Navigation Acts
1733 - Molasses Act
1754-1763 - French and Indian War
1754 - Albany Congress
1763 - Proclamation of 1763
1764 - Sugar Act
1764 - Currency Act
1765 - Stamp Act
1765 - Quartering Act Congress
1766 - Declaratory Act
1767 - Townshend Revenue Act
1770 - Boston Massacre
1773 - Tea Act
1773 - Boston Tea Party
1774 - Intolerable or Coercive Acts
1774 - First Continental Congress
1775-1783 - War of Independence

My Adventures in Genealogy

Today marks the 250th anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act Riot, or as one of the blog posts I’ve read today more delicately phrases it, “the 250th anniversary of the Liberty Tree protests in Boston.” Here in what were then colonies, this is considered one of the major events in the lead-up to the American Revolution. At HistoryCamp 2014, I attended a talk on the Boston bankruptcies of 1765 by J. L. Bell of the blog Boston 1775, wherein he said that in his opinion, the bankruptcy crisis occurring in Boston at the time the Stamp Act was passed probably contributed towards local hostility towards the Stamp Act, since it included court fees and so many people here in Boston were interacting with local courts at the time. I found this helpful in understanding why events occurred as they did, and as those of us with the benefit of hindsight know, it was part of a string of events that would lead to rebellion.

While some members of my own family had been early colonists in the Boston area, they had moved away by the time of the Stamp Act Riots and my folks still in New England at the time formed a crescent-moon shape around eastern Massachusetts, with families in western Connecticut and central and western Massachusetts, shortly to be joined by folks who moved up to western Vermont in the time between the Stamp Act Riots and the beginning of fighting in the Revolution. There weren’t too many newspapers yet, and some of these New Englanders likely read Boston papers, on a time delay that is probably unimaginable to many today. Perhaps they bought the papers themselves perhaps their neighbors passed it on at one of their homes or in the local tavern. It is hard to imagine that the reactions flamed by many newspapers, such as this reprint of the New-York Gazette in the Boston Post-Boy & Advertiser, went unremarked in these locations. With New England’s literacy rate so much higher at the time than in most of the American colonies, a large percentage of people could read and many of those could also write. But only with specific records can a researcher know for sure whether any particular person was literate, much less whether they read a newspaper article or what they thought of the contents or of the events that were occurring around them.

This, I think, has been one of the key differences historically between practicing historians and practicing genealogists – historians, by the nature of their work, have tended to focus on larger trends and on people for whom a decent number of records are known to be extant and available to view, while genealogists, by the nature of their work, have tended to focus on individual people, families, social networks, and communities, regardless of how many records there are for these smaller units. This has understandably led to historians sometimes expressing the opinion that genealogists are missing the forest for the trees and genealogists sometimes expressing the opinion that by focusing on the forest, an historian who wrote an overview work may have missed important information to be found by studying the individual trees. In my own opinion, anyone who wants to practice solid genealogical research will reach the point where they realize they need to look at more than the individual or the family – hence my including social networks and communities in the above list – and will look at the location in general and at scholarly works about that location and about topics that influenced the location and the lives of the people in it. However, the perception still persists amongst many outside of the genealogical community that American genealogists are all retirees from the ‘upper crust’ who are ‘just’ dabbling in their family’s history, and are probably doing so in the hopes of finding a famous relative or noble ancestor.

Earlier this year I attended the New England Historic Genealogical Society’s 2015 Annual Seminar, which was on “The Who, What, and Why of Early New England.” In one of the lectures, Robert Charles Anderson, director of the Great Migration Study Project, mentioned that he had come to decide on his master’s thesis topic over 30 years ago because he had noticed in his research that people in western Vermont tended to side with the revolutionaries while people in eastern Vermont tended to side with the Crown, and he wondered why. Having personally researched in western Vermont of that era but not eastern Vermont, I had not realized there was a strong geographical predictor of one’s likely overt sympathies until he mentioned it. I had used historical records to construct much of the lives and Revolution activities of my folks who were living in western Vermont at the time, and knew that according to surviving records, they were ardent supporters of the Revolution, including many of the men fighting in it. How much their geographic location influenced their actions, or whether it influenced them at all, is not clear from these records. As John Colletta said in his 2015 National Genealogical Society Conference lecture on researching the reasons why people did things, historians’ works are a great place to learn the reasons why a person, family, or small group may have done something, but any researcher of specific individuals, whether the research’s main focus is genealogical or historical, needs to utilize specific records to try to determine the reason(s) why people actually did something. This is how writing about any kind of research into the past moves from qualifiers like “may have” or “possibly” to qualifiers like “almost certainly” or “according to X’s diary, they…”

One of my posts on this blog, over four years ago now, was on using records to investigate a Revolution-era local history story on my own ancestor Gideon Ormsby of Manchester, Vermont. A few years before Boston’s Stamp Act Riots, Gideon and his family had moved from the disputed part of the Rhode Island/Massachusetts border to Amenia, Dutchess County, New York, as had Gideon’s relative Jonathan Ormsby and Jonathan’s family. I find it almost impossible to imagine that they did not hear about, and probably discuss, the Stamp Act Riots in Boston and in Newport, Rhode Island. But I do not know whether the Stamp Act Riots influenced their behavior, beliefs, or decisions.

Speculators had become proprietors of the area of land in Vermont that later became Manchester, but colonists had not yet moved there. The two Ormsby families’ move to Amenia would prove fortuitous for the family, as a group of travelers from Amenia were exploring this area of Vermont in 1761, saw the land, and expressed interest in it, leading them to become the new proprietors. Gideon and Jonathan were two of these new proprietors, and Jonathan was chosen proprietor’s clerk at their first meeting in Amenia in February 1764. At the same meeting, Samuel Rose was chosen moderator. The proprietors started laying out the lots shortly thereafter, and Gideon was one of the people appointed to lay out the highway. While local histories state that it is not clear whether families spent the first winter in Vermont, the births of Gideon and his wife Mercy’s children indicate that at least some of the families stayed in Amenia or returned to it over the first couple of winters.

The ripples sent out by events like the Stamp Act Riots would reverberate down the years and eventually tear apart cohesive groups like the proprietors of Manchester. That local history story I investigated in records was about the Rose family. The Roses had been the first white family to settle permanently in Manchester, but – bucking the geographic trend – Samuel Rose was believed to side with the Crown in the Revolution, and as part of Gideon Orsmby’s responsibilities as one of the higher-up Revolution-era militiamen in the area, Gideon was tasked with capturing Samuel and coordinating the guarding of him. Samuel was arrested and taken to Northampton’s gaol (jail), and his lands were confiscated by the Vermont government. Whatever Gideon and the other early colonists of the area may have thought, they showed no visible sentiment in this capture and confiscation, and some of them went on to buy Samuel’s lands at auction. When I first discovered this, it seemed like a conflict of interest I have since discovered that this was rather common in many areas where land was confiscated, though it still seems like a rather dubious chain of events to me. When I wrote my previous post, I had not yet realized that Samuel Rose had been instrumental in the founding of Manchester, and to me it adds depth to the story. It is possible to write a local history without the details of this Revolution-era conflict – and indeed, many have already been written – and genealogical research that doesn’t include this level of detail could certainly be considered adequate. But to me, both historical and genealogical works really come to life when they go in depth about both the area and the people in it.

Over the time I have been doing research, I have come to believe that there is likely no such thing as an ‘average person’ or ‘ordinary person’ in any time period or place, and that conclusions to that effect are probably due more to a lack of extant records that flesh them out as people than because of any one person themselves. However, one’s loved ones, one’s social network, and one’s community at large greatly shaped one’s choices and the personas that one presented to others, and news events of a nearby town or a distant one often influenced people then as well as today, although of course news typically took much longer then to spread very far. Wherever your research subjects were living – whether they be your own families or your biographical subjects as an historian or biographer – it is interesting to contemplate what effect news of the Stamp Act Riots may have had on them, and perhaps to read newspaper coverage of how it was presented in the colony or country you are researching, if it was covered at all.

For those that live in this area today, there are several events this weekend commemorating the 250th anniversary of Boston’s first Stamp Act Riot. If you are interested in history, please consider attending one or more of them, regardless of whether you had any family in Boston (or in the colonies at all) at the time, to help keep alive the collective memory of these events that were (literally and figuratively) so formative to this country.

The Stamp Act Riots - HISTORY

The Times are Dreadful, Dismal, Doleful, Dolorous and Dollar-less!

Today, March 22, is the anniversary of the Stamp Act. It was a tax on the use of paper in the colonies and passed by Parliament in 1765. England was in debt from the French and Indian War (Seven Years War to our friends in the UK) fought in the colonies from 1756-1763. The decision was made that it was time for the colonies to contribute to their defense. The Stamp Act was due to go into effect later that year, on November 1. Perfectly reasonable, they thought, in London. Not so here, where it was considered an OUTRAGE!

Colonial Reaction

The Stamp Act didn’t just tax paper, it replaced locally manufactured paper with British made paper that bore a “stamp” or imprint like a watermark. (If your livelihood was manufacturing paper you would be out of business.) So if you wrote a letter, needed a business or legal document, license, diploma or ship manifest you were required to use the imported paper. Printers would have to use the paper for everything they printed and even the paper for playing cards was taxed. Also included were glass and other odds and ends!

But the really BIG problem with the Stamp Tax was that it was a general revenue tax, to raise money for the Crown to be used in any way needed. Although the argument for it was the war debt, the tax would not necessarily be used to pay the debt.

No Taxation Without Representation

The lawyers (or, the damn lawyers as they were known in London) and merchants in New York attacked the tax as illegal right away. Merchant Philip Livingston (signer of the Declaration of Independence) pointed out that the people of the colonies could only be taxed for revenue with their consent, as a right granted them under the Common Law. And since the colonies elected no one to the Parliament, the Parliament was not able to tax them for revenue. The tax, therefore, was illegal and New York would not recognize it. They wrote to their colleagues in the other colonies and the Committees of Correspondence were born.

For the first time, thirteen American colonies that had no love whatsoever for each other, found something they disliked even more and united! It was so uprecedented that when Benjamin Franklin warned the Parliament not to pass the Stamp Act as it would unite them, he was laghed at. I guess they should have listened to wise old Ben.

O! The Fatal Stamp

Printers in the colonies used all kinds of hyperbole to describe the tax. The more extreme the better! Sculls and crossbones, tombstones and other woeful exaggerations were common.

The stamp on the left has a scull and crossbones. The newspaper masthead above shows a tombstone with the subtitle “Expiring: In Hopes of a Resurrection to Live again.”

The Protests Begin

I took eight months for the stamped paper to arrive in America. During that time protests broke out in the port cities. They declared the tax to be theft and slavery. In New York, a ballad called “An Excellent New Song for the Sons of Liberty in America” became popular in the taverns. Written by “A Gentleman of the City of New York” (Benjamin Prime) it went like this:

In story we’re told, How our fathers of old,
Brav’d the rage of the wind and the waves,
And cross’d the deep o’er, To this desolate shore,
All because they were loth to be slaves, brave boys,
All because they were loth to be slaves.

Yet a strange scheme of late, Has been formed in this state,
By a knot of political knaves,
Who in secret rejoice, that the Parliament’s voice,
Has condemned us by law to be slaves, brave boys,
Has condemned us by law to be slaves.

With the beasts of the wood, We will ramble for food,
And lodge in wild deserts and caves,
And live poor as Job, on the skirts of the globe,
Before we’ll submit to be slaves, brave boys,
Before we’ll submit to be slaves.

The birthright we hold, Shall never be sold,
But sacred maintained to our gaves,
Nay, and ere will comply, We will gallantly die,
For we must not and will not be slaves, brave boys,
For we must not and will not be slaves.

Printed by John Holt

You can imagine that after singing this and a few rounds of rum in the tavern, the protesters were ready for mischief. They headed out in the colonial port towns to find the stamp agents, the men appointed to sign for and distribute the stamped paper.

Our stamp agent was James McEvers who, fearing his safety, fled to the safety of Fort George, where he resigned his position. McEvers warned the governor not to even try to bring the paper into New York and returned home. There he found NINETY men waiting for him. When he announced his resignation he was greeted with three rounds of Hip Hip Huzza! McEvers became a local hero and his resignation was printed in the newspapers.

Every stamp agent resigned in 1765, leaving no one to receive the paper!

Stamp Act Begins

Even though there was no stamped paper to be distributed, the act went into effect November 1, 1765. New Yorkers held a funeral march the night before which culminated in the all night Stamp Act Riots.

Economic Leverage

Protesting alone wouldn’t be enough to defeat the Stamp Act. The colonies needed something better, more powerful and effective. They needed economic leverage.

Incredibly, the same colonies who had never been able to agree on anything before, agreed to refuse any trade with England. A boycott! They would not receive any goods in their ports or ship any raw materials for use in English manufacturing. To demonstrate their determination they made their own clothes that they called “homespun” and wore them everywhere. They learned to communicate and trade with each other. And some got the radical idea that maybe they didn’t need England as much as they thought.

On the English side of the Atlantic the results of the “Non-Importation Non-Exportation Agreement”, as it was called, was disastrous. Without raw materials from the colonies to stock England’s factories, and no markets for her goods, the economy headed downhill. The Parliament and King George III repealed the Stamp Act on March 19,1766.

The colonies had a taste of their economic power. They would eventually use it to unite against the Crown and fight for their independence.

The Current Tax Payment Act of 1943

In 1943 Americans agreed to the Withholding Tax, where federal taxes would be deducted from our paychecks. It replaced the tradition of paying a tax bill every March. Imagine if such a thing had been suggested in 1765!

We have a great time discussing the Stamp Act on our Revolutionary War Era Tour!

Main body

For the prevention of further conflicts with Indians, the government of Great Britain restricted the colonies’ expansion to the west by the Proclamation of 1763. Nevertheless, in 1763, the Pontiac’s War took place. The purpose of the war was the liberation of Indians from dependence on the Anglo-Americans. After an epidemic caused by the distribution of blankets contaminated with smallpox in the settlements of the western nations, the British restored peace and accepted the influence of the French in the region of Great Lakes.

During the war with France, The British economic situation worsened. Thus, changes in the policy were required. The Molasses Act was adopted in 1733. This act regulated the trade relationship between France and Britain it also controlled smuggling by requiring extra paperwork. The Sugar Act induced the adoption of the Currency Act and the Stamp Act. The Currency Act made the paper money a legal tender, and the Stamp Act made the stamp taxes on the documents and publications necessary. All the acts concerned about the legitimacy of trade and tax regulations. The Stamp Act was profitable for the government’s revenue, but it was disastrous for the merchants’ incomes.

The Stamp Act wasn’t accepted by the colonists well. The Stamp Act Congress took place in New York in 1765. The delegates from the colonies considered the act unconstitutional and were against it. The street riots occurred. The Sons of Liberty fought for freedom and violently demolished institutional buildings. By the end of 1765, the Stamp Act was nullified mostly because of street violence.

The Parliament’s attempts to impose its rule on the colonies usually failed. The acts caused resistance and provoked street protests. In Boston, there were protests with the participation of the military forces. The newspapers reported about fights between civilians and soldiers. The Boston Massacre took place in 1770 Boston when five people were killed by the soldiers who fired into the crowd.

On This Day in History -August 26, 1765

On this day in history, August 26, 1765, a Boston mob destroys the home of Thomas Hutchinson, the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, for his support of the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act was passed by Parliament on March 22, 1765 to raise revenue for the British treasury. The act required that all paper transactions and goods be made on "stamped" or embossed paper. Common everyday items such as contracts, marriage certificates, newspapers, legal documents, and many others were subject to the tax.

Many colonists in America rejected the tax for several reasons. First, they believed it was illegal for Parliament to tax them at all since they had no representatives in Parliament. Second, Parliament had never taxed activities within the colonies themselves. Its previous taxes had only been related to trade on items coming in and out of the colonies.

Many cities, colonial legislatures and civic groups lodged complaints with Parliament about the Stamp Act, but Parliament refused their complaints. This caused a spate of physical violence to break out against stamp distributors and other officials across the colonies. The first act of violence occurred in Boston on August 14 when a mob burned an effigy of Andrew Oliver, the Massachusetts stamp distributor, and then destroyed his office and ransacked his house. Oliver resigned the next day.

Two weeks later, after a fiery sermon from the Reverend Jonathan Mayhew of Boston's West Church, another mob was riled up to attack the homes of more officials. On the 26th, a mob attacked the home of Lieutenant Governor Thomas Hutchinson for his public support of the Stamp Act. Hutchinson was personally against the tax, but he felt it was his job to enforce it as a public official. Hutchinson had been involved in Massachusetts politics for 30 years as a member of the Governor's Council, as Lieutenant Governor and as Chief Justice of the Superior Court.

As the mob approached Hutchinson's house, his daughter begged him and persuaded him to leave the house, fearing for his life, even though he had intended to stay and fight. When the crowd reached the house, they broke the doors down and looted everything. Every stick of furniture was destroyed, pictures were torn from the walls, windows were broken, walls were torn down and everything of worth burned, including Hutchinson's priceless book collection and a trove of historical papers about the early history of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Violence spread across the colonies and all the stamp distributors were eventually forced to resign. Many merchants refused to sell British goods until the Stamp Act was repealed. Even London merchants began to request that Parliament repeal the Act because they were losing so much business from America. Parliament finally conceded and repealed the hated Stamp Act on March 18, 1766. Of course, the violence of the Stamp Act riots was only a sign of things to come. The American Revolution would break out almost exactly ten years later over the same issues that Parliament refused to resolve.

3. The Founding Fathers Were Appalled By Mob Violence

Much of the citation to the Boston Tea Party and the Stamp Act Riots is, more or less, an effort to troll conservatives who like to cite the Founding Fathers. But the men who established the government we have today were, most of them, appalled by mob violence. Ben Franklin, whose wife had to turn away Stamp Act rioters with the family firearm, did everything he could in London to distance himself and other peaceful protesters of the Stamp Act from the charge of complicity with the rioters. John Adams, who had defended British troops charged with firing into the crowd at the Boston Massacre in 1770, supported the Tea Party but was horrified by more violent steps taken against merchants the HBO series made from David McCullough’s wonderful book uses a fictionalized event to dramatize this, but Adams himself wrote in 1774:

These private Mobs, I do and will detest…These Tarrings and Featherings, these breaking open Houses by rude and insolent Rabbles, in Resentment for private Wrongs or in pursuance of private Prejudices and Passions, must be discountenanced.

This horror of the works of the mob was evident in Adams’ subsequent design of the separation of powers in the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 (“to the end it may be a government of laws and not of men”), and after the unrest of Shays’ Rebellion in 1786, fear of the mob was one of the direct triggers for calling a Constitutional Convention. Our system of divided government, checks and balances, and staggered elections—all of them frequent targets of scorn by progressives these days—was purposely designed in good part to ensure that government by popular sovereignty would be deliberate and not ruled by mob passions and mob violence.

President Washington himself rode out in 1791 to crush the Whiskey Rebellion in Pennsylvania, and ever since, the usual pattern in American history—especially when riots are directed against local government—has more often than not been a backlash that puts down the rioters by force, as happened in the Draft Riots in New York in 1863. And contra Coates and Bouie, that has not been the pattern only when the rioters are black. Unrest among predominantly white college students, for example, was—just as much as urban African-American rioting in that era—a factor in the rise of Ronald Reagan to be California governor in 1966 and Richard Nixon to the presidency in 1968. When riots and lynchings have been effective, as they were in establishing Jim Crow in the 1870s, it was usually because they had local government on their side, and a weary and distant federal government (which under President Grant had originally reacted with blunt force against the KKK) was no longer on hand to respond. But the Klan of the 1870s is a poor role model for anyone looking for any kind of positive social change.

On March 22, 1765, the British Parliament passed the "Stamp Act" to help pay for British troops stationed in the colonies during the Seven Years’ War. It required the colonists to pay a tax, represented by a stamp, on various papers, documents, and playing cards. It was a direct tax imposed by the British government without the approval of the colonial legislatures and was payable in hard-to-obtain British sterling, rather than colonial currency. Further, those accused of violating the Stamp Act could be prosecuted in Vice-Admiralty Courts, which had no juries and could be held anywhere in the British Empire.

Adverse colonial reaction to the Stamp Act ranged from boycotts of British goods to riots and attacks on the tax collectors. In this letter, Archibald Hinshelwood, merchant and rising politician from Nova Scotia, described his impressions of the Stamp Act and of the resulting colonial unrest: "There is a violent spirit of opposition raised on the Continent against the execution of the Stamp Act, the mob in Boston have carried it very high against Mr. Oliver the Secry (a Town born child) for his acceptance of an office in consequence of that act. They have even proceeded to some violence, and burnt him in effigy &c." Despite the evidence of hostility in the colonies to the south, Hinshelwood was hoping to be appointed a tax collector in Halifax. Although the Stamp Act occurred eleven years before the Declaration of Independence, it defined the central issue that provoked the American Revolution: no taxation without representation.

A full transcript is available.


There is a violent spirit of opposition raised on the Continent against the execution of the Stamp Act, the mob in Boston have carried it very high against Mr. Oliver the Secry (a Town born child) for his acceptance of an office in consequence of that act. They have even proceeded to some violence, and burnt him in Effigy &c. They threaten to pull down & burn the Stamp Office now building, and that they will hold every man as Infamous that shall presume to carry the Stamp Act into Execution so that it is thought M r . Oliver will resign. I don’t find any such turbulent spirit to prevail among us, if it should, the means are in our Hands to prevent any tumults or Insults what the consequences may be in the Colonies who have no military force to keep the rabble in order, I cannot pretend to say.

Watch the video: 250TH ANNIVERSARY STAMP ACT RIOT (May 2022).