“The Road to Revolution: The Stamp Tax Crisis of 1765”; A Traveling Exhibit Provided by the Commonwealth Museum, Boston
August 2 - August 30
King George III was twenty-five years old in 1764. Although not an absolute monarch, he wielded considerable power over the world’s greatest empire.
Some thought that the young king put his confidence in the wrong people. “We must call in bad men to govern bad men,” he explained.
Deeply in debt after the French and Indian War, the King’s advisors proposed two unpopular revenue measures for the colonies: The Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765.
The Sugar Act included a customs duty paid by merchants. It was unwelcome, but not unfamiliar. The Stamp Act was something new, a direct, internal tax that affected most colonists. Former Prime Minister William Pitt had known better. When the idea was proposed to him a few years earlier, he had declined “to burn [his] fingers with an American Stamp Act.” Now, nearly every piece of paper in the colonies would require a revenue stamp. There was a firestorm of protest!
School children know what happened next: the debate about “taxation without representation,” the birth of the Liberty Tree and the Sons (and Daughters) of Liberty, the role of James Otis, Samuel Adams, and John Hancock. The story is familiar but not the back story. The events of 1765, two hundred and fifty years ago, started a complex debate about the principles of government, the importance of individual rights, and the identity of colonists as “Americans.”