The Stamp Act of 1765 will forever be associated with the colonial battle cry of “no taxation without representation.” The use of stamped, embossed paper on legal documents, newspapers and even playing cards were required fare under the stipulations of the act. Stamps did not refer to the postage stamps that we know today, but rather, in colonial times, they were used in an embossing process. Pressure is applied to the stamp, leaving the imprint of a raised design on different materials. In colonial times, a stamp was used on paper, metal or fabric.
The presence of the stamp indicated payment of the imposed tax. Using paper that had been stamped for legal documents was an established practice in England for years, but the American colonists had never been subject to the same restrictions. They were outraged and responded violently.
The English Parliament passed the Stamp Act in a direct attempt to raise funds for the British military defending the borders of the American colonies. Violators of the law were subject to trial in vice-admiralty courts. The concept was alien to the early colonists, who had up to that time experienced only external and indirect taxation. The Sugar Act of 1764 was a tax on trade, but it did not directly affect their lives in the same way. It can be said that the agitation stirred by the passage of the Stamp Act sowed the seeds of discontent that some ten years later erupted into the conflict known as the American Revolution.
The Stamp Act was not intended or considered to be an act of oppression by many of the luminaries of the day. Even Benjamin Franklin gave his agreement to the tax, albeit not without considerable hesitation. Despite the intentions of the mother country, colonial reaction was intense, adverse and immediate. One of the unexpected effects of the passage of the act was the unification of some of the more powerful factions of colonial society, namely the lawyers, clergy, businessmen and journalists.
The American colonists did not feel that they were fairly represented in the British government, and their protest of “no taxation without representation” was never legally addressed. The Stamp Act angered them because they saw no need for the army that the proceeds were supposed to defray. The colonists stood their ground and, unable to enforce the law, the English Parliament was forced to repeal it the following spring. Taxes and discontent swelled until colonial America went to war with the mother country, exerting its need for independence in the American Revolution.