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In March 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act, a tax on newspapers and all other printed materials in the American colonies. The British argued that the tax was needed to pay off debts that they had incurred while protecting the American colonists during the French and Indian War. The British thought that it was fair for the Americans to pay higher taxes. The Americans disagreed. Read the documents below and try to determine why the Americans were upset about the Stamp Act.

Boston Editorial

Source: This letter appeared as an editorial in a Boston newspaper on October 7, 1765. The author is unknown.

Boston-Gazette, and Country Journal, 7 October 1765

To the Inhabitants of the Province of the Massachusetts-Bay.

MY DEAR COUNTRYMEN,

AWAKE!—Awake, my countrymen, and, by a regular & legal opposition, defeat the designs of those who enslave us and our posterity.... [S]hall you, the descendents of Britain, born in a Land of Light, and reared in the Bosom of Liberty—shall you commence cowards, at a time when reason calls so loud for your magnanimity?.... This is your duty, your burden, your indispensable duty. Ages remote, mortals yet unborn, will bless your generous efforts, and revere the memory of the saviors of their country....

I exhort you to instruct your representatives against promoting by any ways of means whatsoever, the operation of this grievous and burdensome law. Acquaint them fully with your sentiments of the matter... They are clothed with power... to be faithful guardians of the liberties of their country....

Happy, thrice happy should I be, to have it in my power to congratulate my countrymen, on so memorable a deliverance; whilst I left the enemies of truth and liberty to humble themselves in sackcloth and ashes.

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: Who wrote this document? When? For what purpose? What was the audience?
  2. Contextualization: What was going on at the time the document was written? What were people doing? What did people believe?

London Newspaper Letter

Source: The following letter was written in a London newspaper. It shows that the British could not understand why the people of Boston were so upset about the Stamp Act.

Boston-Gazette Supplement, 27 January 1766

From a late London Paper.

....The occasion of the riotous behavior of the Bostonites is peculiarly remarkable. Had the Parliament taxed their small beer an half penny a quart, the tax would then have been most severely felt... and an improper conduct on such an occasion had been less a matter of surprise.... But in the present case, the tax to be levied affects none of the necessaries of life; will never fall upon many of the poor... Even a very poor person cannot be much hurt by paying a shilling or eighteen pence when he is married, puts his son for apprentice to a trade, or when he makes his will. The tax on newspapers concerns only a very few—the common people don’t purchase newspapers. Is it not surprising then that the mob should be so much alarmed by the apprehension of a tax by which they are to be so little affected... even before the tax is begun to be levied?

Questions:

  1. Sourcing: What newspaper does this come from? What would you predict the author’s perspective will be on the Stamp Act? Was this written before or after the Stamp Act went into effect?
  2. Contextualization: What happened in Boston? Why is the author surprised? Who reads the newspapers, according to the author?

Section Questions:

  1. Corroboration: Where do the documents agree and where do they conflict?
  2. Corroboration: Was the Stamp Act fair? How were the colonists treated by the British?
  3. Corroboration: How did the colonists feel about their treatment?

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