Stamp Act, an act passed by the British Parliament in 1765 to tax certain transactions and printed items in the American colonies. It was the first attempt by the mother country to place a direct tax on its colonies. The act aroused bitter opposition, uniting the colonists in defense of their rights and eventually causing its repeal. This was the first in a series of crises that led to the Revolutionary War.

British tax stampsBritish tax stamps used under the Stamp Act.

Needing revenue for the defense of its American colonies, Parliament passed the Stamp Act on March 22, 1765, to become effective November 1. The act required that stamps purchased from the British government be affixed to legal documents, such as bills of sale, deeds, wills, licenses, and commissions. Also, almanacs, advertisements, pamphlets, newspapers, and playing cards were to be printed on stamped paper sold by the government.

Parliament anticipated no great opposition, and at first few objections were raised. The first publicized protest took place in Virginia's House of Burgesses, where Patrick Henry gained passage of resolutions declaring that the people of Virginia could be taxed only by themselves or their representativesa statement of the principle of no taxation without representation. Soon the question was a matter of intense debate that spread throughout the colonies. Although the tax affected all colonists, its burden fell primarily on lawyers, printers, merchants, and shippers, and they led the attack.

At the request of James Otis, the Massachusetts House of Representatives called upon the other colonies to consider united action. In October, 1765, the so-called Stamp Act Congress met in New York, with 27 delegates from nine colonies. A petition was drawn up and sent to the king and Parliament, pressing for the act's repeal. Meanwhile, organizations known as the Sons of Liberty had been formed in many colonies. At times resorting to force, they prevented distribution of the stamps and enforced boycotts against British goods. ( When the act became effective on November 1, a majority of the colonists ignored it.

In response to pleas by London merchants hurt by the boycott and by British officials sympathetic to the colonies, such as William Pitt, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766. Overlooked by most Americans, however, was Parliament's passage at the same time of the Declaratory Act, which asserted Parliament's supremacy over the colonies.