Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy: 1740- 1776

By Theodore Thayer | Go to book overview

IX
THE STAMP ACT. 1765-1766

B EFORE the passage of the Stamp Act, the British Parliament had already entered upon its new post-war approach to British- American relations. The war had revealed the looseness of the empire and its failure to act as a coordinated unity in time of emergency. Colonial governments were the objects of censure by the ministry for not cooperating sufficiently with the home government and with the other colonies. All this proved the need, it was said, of bringing the colonies more directly under the control of the British government. Under more ordinary circumstances the government could be depended upon to procrastinate, but after the Seven Years' War public opinion would not allow it to let things drift. The British debt was colossal and there arose a general feeling that the colonies should assume at least part of the current cost of defending and garrisoning British North America.

As early as February, 1763, only a few days after the Treaty of Paris was ratified, Charles Townshend, in the capacity of First Lord of Trade, announced the new plans for British colonial government. The program consisted of stricter enforcement of laws pertaining to the colonies, a greater extension in the scope of the navigation laws, and duties and taxes to be applied to the cost of colonial defense.1

The next year when most Pennsylvanians had their attention riveted pon the turbulent domestic politics, George Grenville, now Chancellor of the Exchequer and First Lord of the Treasury, went ahead rapidly in his program for the American colonies. Lumber, pot-ashes, whale fins, logwood, and iron were added to the list of American goods enumerated for exclusive shipment to Great Britain. An entirely new feature, however, was seen in the Sugar Act which lowered the duty on foreign molasses from six to three pennies per gallon. Whereas the former duty was a prohibitory one for the purpose of regulation, the new duty was as stated in the preamble of the act, intended to be a source of revenue. Still more frightening to the colonists than the tax itself was the knowledge that the act carried provisions for strengthening the Customs Office and the Admiralty Courts in America.2

____________________
1
William MacDonald, Select Charters, 273-281.
2
Claude Van Tyne, The Causes of the War of Independence, 126-127, 135; MacDonald , 272-281; George Beer, British Colonial Policy, 274-286. Merchants of Boston, New York, and Philadelphia all petitioned their legislatures to remonstrate against the new laws. Prov. Papers, XXXIV, 12.

-111-

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