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The Declaration of Independence

Lesson Plan

Events Leading to the Revolution

"The Repeal or the Funeral Procession of Miss America Stamp"
When Britain repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 — only a year after it had been issued — colonists celebrated in the streets, as this satirical cartoon from 1766 depicts.

Something was dreadfully wrong in the American colonies. All of a sudden, after over a century and a half, Britain was imposing direct rule over colonial life. In addition to restricting westward settlement into the Ohio Valley, England was beginning to harshly enforce its trade laws.

Puttin' on the Writs

The British began searching ships going to and from the colonies to prevent smuggling. They granted search warrants called writs of assistance to British customs inspectors working in colonial ports. Even though these inspectors had existed for a long time, they had never been so strict. People who were caught breaking the laws did not receive a trial by jury. Instead, they were sentenced by British military courts. Worst of all, the British began levying taxes against American colonists. What had gone wrong?

A tax stamp
All pieces of paper fell under the Stamp Act of 1765. Legal documents, newspapers, and playing cards were also levied with the tax. Britain had several stamps to mark these documents as official.

From the British point of view, these decisions were necessary. Fighting the Seven Years' War (also known as the French and Indian War) had been terribly costly. As the British saw it, the money raised from taxing the colonies was used to pay for their own defense. The taxes in the American colonies were also lower than those in England and only covered one-third of the cost of keeping British troops in the 13 colonies. To them, these new laws were fair.

Find a link that justifies keeping the troops in the Colonies.

SKILL: Research

The Americans, however, saw things differently. They did not see a purpose in keeping British soldiers in the colonies now that the French threat was gone. Americans thought it was wrong to pay for the maintenance of troops who they felt were there to spy on them. Also, even though England paid more in taxes, they also received the benefits of those taxes in their own country. Americans felt they paid much more in sweat. The colonists had done everything themselves: from clearing and farming land, to fighting the Indians, to fighting and dying to protect the colonies for the British. These factors made the taxes seem like excess and they found this insulting.

The colonists had strong feelings about the hard work they had done, but they also had clear political motives. The tradition of levying taxes existed for hundreds of years in British history, but the colonists had no representation in the British Parliament. The various colonial charters had been granted by a British King and the colonists felt he was their only legitimate connection to Britain. They believed it was unfair to tax them without giving them a voice in the government. They had no rights as English subjects. This could not stand.

A series of “acts” were written to determine how the colonies would be taxed. The Stamp Act of 1765 made a big impact. It was not the first attempt to tax the American colonies, however. Parliament had passed the Sugar Act and Currency Act the year before. But these taxes were collected at ports and were easy to avoid. They didn’t affect individuals, so no one spoke out against them. The Stamp Act was different and it affected more people directly.

The Stamp Act

When Parliament passed the Stamp Act in March 1765, many things changed. It was the first direct tax on the American colonies. Every legal document had to be written on specially stamped paper to show proof that the tax had been paid. Deeds, wills, marriage licenses, and other contracts were not recognized as legal unless they were prepared on this paper. In addition, newspaper, dice, and playing cards also had to bear proof of tax payment. When this began, American activists sprang into action.

Another act of Parliament was also introduced around this time, one that would lower the cost of Britain keeping its troops in the colonies. This was the Quartering Act, which required the American colonies to provide food and shelter for British troops. Both the Stamp Act and the Quartering Act were criticized over and over again in colonial assemblies. Many politicians and other leaders, from Patrick Henry in Virginia to James Otis in Massachusetts, spoke out against them. Some of these leaders formed a group, a Stamp Act Congress, to decide what to do.

The colonists decided to spring into action and boycott all British goods. Radical groups such as the Sons and Daughters of Liberty harassed tax collectors and published the names of people who did not follow the boycotts. They began to see the effects of the boycotts after a few months. British merchants who were suffering from a lack of business began to pressure Parliament to make some changes. The Stamp Act was repealed the following year.

You're a Colonist and an American patriot. Is there anything that you would still buy, even though there is a boycott against it? Why?

SKILL: Analyze

The crisis was over, but the peace did not last long.

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©1995- by the Independence Hall Association, a nonprofit organization in Philadelphia, PA founded in 1942.
Publishing electronically as ushistory.org.; online since July 4, 1995.

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