On March 22, 1765, the British government passed the Stamp Act on the American colonies.
Coming on the heels of three other major tax increases (the Sugar Act, the Currency Act and the Quartering Act), the Stamp Act more than any other gave impetus to the growing independence movement in the Colonies. It created an easily articulated grievance against what the colonists saw as Great Britain’s efforts to undermine their economic strength and independence.
The Act — which required colonists to buy a stamp for every American newspaper, legal document, license, bond, pamphlet, almanac, college diploma, deck of cards or pair of dice they purchased — didn’t become law until Nov. 1, 1765. But opposition to it grew from the moment colonists learned of its passage.
During Parliamentary debate for the Act, Colonel Isaac Barré — who knew the colonies well, having served in the French and Indian War and returned to England with a disfiguring facial wound and high admiration for the Americans’ fighting spirit — argued the Colonies didn’t owe England a debt. Rather, he said, the behavior of Britain’s officials toward Americans “on many occasions has caused the blood of those sons of liberty to recoil within them.” When colonists read about Barré’s speech, they gladly co-opted the phrase “Sons of Liberty.”
During the months between the Act’s passage and its becoming law, the Sons of Liberty led protests that included burning in effigy the stamp collectors and that sometimes turned into riots. The aggressive nature of the protests caused most of the collectors to either refuse to enforce the Act or resign in fear. In addition to the protests, colonists began boycotting all English goods.
The Act was repealed on March 17, 1766, but the liberty genie couldn’t be put back into the bottle. A new spirit of independence had been created by the Act that could not be repealed by Parliament.