E Pluribus Unum

10a. Stamp Act Congress

"No taxation without representation!" was the cry. The colonists were not merely griping about the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act. They intended to place actions behind their words. One thing was clear — no colony acting alone could effectively convey a message to the king and Parliament. The appeals to Parliament by the individual legislatures had been ignored. It was James Otis who suggested an intercolonial conference to agree on a united course of action. With that, the Stamp Act Congress convened in New York in October 1765.

The Congress seemed at first to be an abject failure. In the first place, only nine of the colonies sent delegates. Georgia, North Carolina, New Hampshire, and the all-important Virginia were not present. The Congress became quickly divided between radicals and moderates. The moderates would hold sway at this time. Only an extreme few believed in stronger measures against Britain than articulating the principle of no taxation without representation. This became the spirit of the Stamp Act Resolves. The Congress humbly acknowledged Parliament's right to make laws in the colonies. Only the issue of taxation was disputed.

Colonial and personal differences already began to surface. A representative from New Jersey stormed out during the proceedings. The president of the Congress, Timothy Ruggles of Massachusetts, refused to sign the Stamp Act Resolves. In the end, however, the spirit of the Congress prevailed. Every colonial legislature except one approved the Stamp Act Resolves.

In the end, the widespread boycotts enacted by individual colonists surely did more to secure the repeal of the Stamp Act than did the Congress itself. But the gesture was significant. For the first time, against all odds, respected delegates from differing colonies sat with each other and engaged in spirited debate. They discovered that in many ways they had more in common than they originally had thought. This is a tentative but essential step toward the unity that would be necessary to declare boldly their independence from mother England.

On the Web
George Grenville 1712-1770
George Grenville was the driving force in Britain behind the passage of the Stamp Act. Here is a good biography from National University of Singapore.
Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry made a name for himself opposing the Stamp Acts. Even before the Stamp Act Congress, each Colony had to decide whether to send delegates to the Congress. During these debates, Henry uttered his famous line, "If this be treason, make the most of it."
Pitt's Speech on the Stamp Act
William Pitt was a VIP adviser to King George II and also the man "charged with giving birth to sedition in America." Read the reasons he believed the Stamp Act was unjust in a speech that he gave before Parliament. Anyone going here will know more about the Stamp Act than an AP teacher.
Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress
It is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives. In more familiar words, "Taxation without representation is tyranny." This no-frills page contains just the text of the 13 Resolves sent to King George. But if you want to know why the Colonists were so upset, we resolve that you should stop here first.
Stamp Act Crisis
The person who wrote this page has a very good grasp on the Stamp Act and the Stamp Act Congress and its consequences. It will only take a few minutes to read and you'll get a very good overview of the Stamp Act.
During a debate in the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry declaimed, "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third..." At this point cries of treason rose from all sides, but with hardly a pause Henry neatly went on to say, "If this be treason, make the most of it."
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