J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Friday, March 18, 2016

The Stamp Act Meets the Bottom Line

On 18 March 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act for its American colonies. That was one week short of the law’s first anniversary.

Of course, the Stamp Act had already failed. How badly? Alvin Rabushka’s Taxation in Colonial America has a couple of tables that sum up the situation.

The British government shipped £102,050.8s.11d. (plus one more half-pence) worth of paper to the thirteen colonies that would form the U.S. of A. In those colonies the empire’s stamp agents collected a total of:
All in Georgia.

From all of North America and the Caribbean, which included twenty-six British colonies, the Crown collected £3,292. Most of that came from Jamaica, the only colony where the law was really in force for any time at all.

The government also lost a lot of the paper it had bought and had stamped. About £61,000 worth was returned while £41,000 worth was lost or destroyed. Only South Carolina returned its consignment intact. Nearly all of New York’s paper was destroyed, as was most of New Hampshire’s and Rhode Island’s. In Massachusetts, where riots intimidated Andrew Oliver into resigning as stamp agent more than two months before the law was to take effect, about two-thirds of the paper was preserved. But the law had clearly ended up costing the government money, even without accounting for the riots.

At the same time as the repeal, Parliament approved the Declaratory Act, reaffirming its role as the sovereign authority in the British Empire. That law said the legislature “had hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America…in all cases whatsoever.”

King George III granted official assent to the Declaratory Act immediately but didn’t approve the Stamp Act repeal for another four days. That timing didn’t really matter, but it showed his personal commitment to the idea of Parliamentary rule, even when the government no longer consisted of his favorites.

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