A Taxing Situation
Reasoning that the colonies should help pay for their own defense, Parliament passed the Sugar Act in April 1764, a direct tax on foreign molasses designed to assist British sugar planters in the West Indies and to stop American smuggling. Also in 1764, the Currency Act prohibited the use of paper currency, the colonists’ primary medium of exchange, in all colonies south of New York.
Continuing their tax policy, Parliament passed the Stamp Act in March 1765, due to take effect in November of that year. Stamp duties would be required on all legal and court documents, all printed materials, all mercantile transactions, and even playing cards and dice. Also that month, the Quartering Act required that the colonies house British soldiers and provide them with food and other necessities, adding yet another burden.
Colonial resistance to the taxes took several forms. Some protests were legal, but others were not. Riots occurred in Boston and elsewhere, inspired by the Sons of Liberty, men who formed associations within their respective colonies to proclaim their rights and resist Parliamentary taxation. Mobs of angry citizens gathered at the homes of colonial stamp agents, burning and gutting their property and threatening them with force to prevent the distribution of stamps.
The Stamp Act Congress, consisting of delegates from nine states meeting in New York in October 1765, echoed the year-long protests of colonial legislatures. Their message declared that Parliament did not have the authority to tax the colonies because they were not represented within that legislative body, and the slogan “taxation without representation” was born.
Parliament responded in March 1766 by repealing the Stamp Act, not because of formal colonial pressure, but because of the cost that the colonists’ boycotts had on British merchants. Accompanying the repeal, the Declaratory Act claimed Parliament’s authority to legislate the colonies in all cases. Even though the colonists believed they had won a small diplomatic victory against the mother country, some colonial leaders questioned whether the act would result in future taxes. They did not have long to wait for their answer.