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The British Parliament made a decision to install the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765 but it was not scheduled to take effect until November 1st of the same year. This gave the colonist half a year to let the government know their opinion.

A Stamp Act duty was in place in Britain since 1694.

Massachusetts briefly experimented with a stamp duty before 1765.

Currently in the UK a transfer tax derived from the stamp duty, “stamp duty land tax” (SDLT) taxes land transactions. “Stamp duty reserve tax” (SDRT) taxes transfer of shares and other securities.

Currently in the US, certain states impose a real state transfer tax derived from the old stamp tax. Various documents such as deeds, notes and other transactional documents carry similar tax.

The Stamp Act differed from the Sugar Act in that it was intended to collect an “internal tax” and not a trade tax.

American colonies were obliged to pay a fee on almost every piece of paper used for legal documents, licenses, etc.

List of items that were affected by the Stamp Act: Legal documents, ship’s papers, wills, licenses, newspapers, pamphlets, advertisement, bills of sale, almanacs, calendars, any kind of declarations, pleas to courts, donations, inventory, testimonials, diplomas and certificates of university, college, seminary or academy of learning;  affidavits, bails, business license, writ of covenant for levying of fines, writ of entry for suffering a common recovery, court orders, dice and playing cards among others. See original text for more.

People who created public documents had to pay a tax on blank paper they bought. Officials would place a stamp as prove of payment.

The purpose of the collected funds was to protect the American frontier near the Appalachian Mountains. The majority of the cost was to maintain the contingent of 10,000 British troops.

The total amount intended to be raised by the new tax was £60,000 per year, this is not even 20% of the total amount of £350,000 per year required to maintain the troops.

The collection of the tax was a total failure. The total amount raised was a mere £3,292[1] coming from Florida, Canada and the West Indies and £45[2] from Georgia.

The tax was payable in gold and silver only and not in paper money as was the common method of payment in the colonies.

More than one hundred thousand pounds worth of stamps was shipped to America[3].

The significance of the Stamp act was due to the fact that for the first time the tax was installed not to regulate commerce and trade, but to directly squeeze money out of colonists. Moreover the tax was introduced by a direct order from England without approval of the colonial legislature.

Thepassage of the Stamp Act in British Parliament can be considered a complete failure. After its introduction the British revenues from colonies actually diminished. Colonial businesses refused to import the goods from Britain reducing the overall volume of trade and the base of collecting other taxes. The violations of the law in the colonies were so widespread that even courts would not enforce the use of stamps on legal documents.

The people most affected by this act were lawyers, printers, merchants and ministers – some of the most influential people in society.

Forging or counterfeiting stamps was a crime punishable by death.

Transactions conducted without stamps would be enforced by confiscating property or land involved in such transaction.

Colonial protesters burning Stamp Act papers

The implementation of this tax was so heavy handed that it was bound to cause the highest possible opposition in the colonies. Judge for yourself – colonists were now obligated to pay extra for things that they used daily.

Of course there is always a counterpoint. The money raised by the tax was intended to stay in the colony. Also the British Parliament granted colonists the right to select American tax collectors for the job.

By passing the law Britain actually helped to organize colonial protests to such extend that the Act is considered as one of the most significant immediate causes of American Revolution.

The organization of the Stamp Act protest led to the formation of theSons of Liberty.

The actions of Americans to protest the Stamp Act led to its repeal by the British government on March 1766.


[1] Historical Statistics of the United States: Earliest Times to Present, vol. 5, “Imperial taxes Collected under Several Brirtish Laws: 1765-1774.

[2] Adolph Koeppel, “New Discoveries from British Archives on the 1765 Tax Stamps for America”, Publication of the American Revenue Association, 1962.

[3] Alvin Rabushka, Taxation in Colonial America, “British Taxation of the American Colonies, 1763-1775”, p.755.


Related Information


Description of the Stamp Act

Its primary goal was to raise money needed for military defenses of the colonies.

Stamp Act facts

Interesting known and unknown fact of this act.

Original Text

Text as enacted by the British Parliament

Repeal of the Stamp Act

The boycott of English goods by the colonies forced the British Parliament to repeal the original Stamp Act on March 18, 1766.


 Back to Stamp Act History Homepage

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