Benjamin Franklin's Printing Network: Disseminating Virtue in Early America

By Ralph Frasca | Go to book overview

10
The Franklin Network and the Stamp Act

“Some Political Revolutions will probably mark the Beginning of the next Session; for the Struggle for Power is constant in this Country; nor can I see an End to it,” William Strahan wrote to David Hall from London in 1764. Parliament, in the midst of a governmental shakeup, would in the next session be “endeavouring to extinguish, in some Degree at least, our enormous Debt, which, if it is suffered to increase, must sooner or later overwhelm us.”1

These two forces, political reorganization and the enormous national debt, prompted Parliament to devise the Stamp Act. This measure, which taxed publications and legal papers, jeopardized the revenue of printers and lawyers— the two groups most capable of leading public opinion—and set the stage for the American Revolution.

Lord George Grenville advocated the tax as a means of collecting revenue, effectively forcing the colonies to pay a portion of the costs incurred during the French and Indian War. This military victory enabled Great Britain to become the predominant world power, albeit a nearly bankrupt one. By January 1763, the British national debt was 130 million pounds sterling. Saddled with a huge debt, Parliament decided that since the American colonists had benefited from the victory, they should shoulder part of the financial burden.2

At the beginning of that war, colonial assemblies had approved stamp taxes in Massachusetts in 1755 and New York in 1757 to raise revenue for military expenditures. These received a mixed response from printers in the Franklin network. Hugh Gaine raised the subscription price of his newspaper and defended the tax as a necessary expense to protect the colony from

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