The Stamp Act
In 1763, the average Briton paid 26 shillings per annum in taxes whilst a Massachusetts taxpayer contributed one shilling each year to imperial coffers. Americans, British officials concluded, benefited from the protection afforded by the British army and the Royal Navy, and it would only be fair if they contributed to their own defence.
So in 1765 Grenville, acting as prime minister, proposed a far-reaching tax for Americans and Parliament adopted a Stamp Act in March of 1765. Under the terms of the Act, scheduled to take effect on 1 November, almost anything formally written or printed would have to be on special stamped paper for which a tax must be paid. Among the items covered by the tax were wills, deeds, diplomas, almanacs, advertisements, bills, bonds, newspapers, playing cards and even dice. Anyone who was involved in any legal transactions, purchased a newspaper or pamphlet or accepted a government appointment would have to pay the tax. In short, the Stamp Act would affect nearly all Americans. Grenville intended, with the full agreement of Parliament, that the Stamp Act should not only raise revenue, it should clearly demonstrate that the British government through Parliament exercised political sovereignty over the colonies.
Unsurprisingly, Americans responded negatively to the Stamp Act, arguing that they had contributed to their own defence during the late war by providing manpower, money and supplies to the British war effort. They argued that they already paid taxes which were raised locally - each colony had its own assembly which levied local taxes. Colonists in America felt that they discharged their obligations when they paid colonial taxes and they resented being compelled to pay taxes levied by a Parliament in which they were not represented. Moreover, they contended, the distance between America and Britain precluded American representation in Parliament. And so, in the spring and early summer of 1765, most of the colonial assemblies adopted resolutions condemning the Stamp Act.
The government in London was unimpressed by the constitutional arguments made by the colonists or the petitions and resolutions adopted by their assemblies. If the Americans wanted to register their dissatisfaction with the Stamp Act, they would have to resort to less subtle means.