As Garrison Keillor would say, “Well, it’s been a quiet week…“. I thought about writing every day last week, but I have this silly little birth defect in my lower back that flares up from time to time. It’s usually not too much trouble – a little discomfort, a little inconvenience – but this time it was worse. While walking and riding my bike weren’t too bad, it was pretty painful to sit. So I spent a lot of time standing around the house, and standing isn’t really conducive to typing on the computer.
I’m a little better today, so much so that I was able to do a few things around the house while my wife was off at a baby shower. The small of my back is still quite tender, but it seems the worst may have passed. So while things are good, let’s have a quick write here.
We’ll head back to pre-Revolutionary days. After all, if I’m not on a World War Two battlefield, I’m pretty much in the Colonies.
The Stamp Act was created by a vote of British Parliament in March of 1765. It was levied on the Colonies in November of that year. And to say it was unpopular would be a gross understatement. But it’s not as though taxes were a new thing. The Thirteen Colonies had seen their share in recent years, particularly since Britain had stopped fighting with France. The government had put down its sword and taken up its fiscal pen, only to find itself mired in the all-consuming quicksand of debt.
The interest payment alone on the debt amounted to more than half of the overall yearly budget. And regardless of the actual number, that’s a staggering percentage. So the British decided to raise taxes. Sometimes that’s a necessity. Living in 21st-century America and up to our eyeballs in government debt, we understand the reality of taxes. If any government (American, British, or Quatloo) wants to spend lots and lots of money, the people outside of the government are going to have to provide that money. It was no different in the 18th-century British empire. But the British also maintained a solid military presence in the Colonies, and Parliament believed it was reasonable that the Colonies pay for the benefits they received.
It wasn’t so much that taxes angered the Colonies. As I just wrote, taxes weren’t new. But as we all know, the Colonies were required to pay the taxes without any participation in the process. They weren’t allowed to offer up alternative ideas, no “colonial” representatives were given any voting power in Parliament, and Colonists had no say in how the revenue would be spent.
So while the tax wasn’t really all that evil, the Colonists were pretty unhappy.
And when it went into effect, the British discovered that enforcing the tax was really difficult. More troubling was the fact that many colonial merchants were now refusing to import British products until the Stamp Act was repealed. As a result, British companies were feeling a pinch. Most troubling of all was the discontent that the taxes had created in America. People were taking to the streets. There was shouting. They were burning tax collectors in effigy (see the image above). There were inflammatory articles in newspapers that fanned the emotions of the readers.
The British realized that no good thing was coming out of what amounted to a one-penny tax. So on March 18, 1766, Parliament and King George III repealed the Stamp Act. For the Colonists, it was a victory of principle and the end of a hated four-month tax. For the British, it was “back to the drawing board” for new ideas on getting the Colonists to pony up and help pay down the debt.