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1765 Two Hundred And Twenty-five Years Ago

March 2023
1min read

Great Britain paid a high price to drive French arms from North America. The French and Indian War doubled the national debt and brought to the British Empire vast new territory populated with Indians and Frenchmen who remained hostile to British rule. Parliament decided that the colonies should begin to pay for their own defense and passed two acts in March designed to support a ten-thousand-man army. On March 22 King George III signed the Stamp Act, requiring colonists to pay a tax on all legal documents, newspapers, almanacs, and even playing cards and dice. Two days later the Quartering Act, George III’s arrangment for the army’s lodging, went into effect.

Political leaders on both sides of the Atlantic questioned whether the crown could impose a direct tax upon the colonists, to which the British prime minister, George Grenville, responded, “God damn them, we will show them that we have the power to tax them, and will tax them.” Though the colonists were lightly taxed compared with English citizens, they protested that the London government had no right to tax British subjects who lacked representation in the House of Commons.

Mob resistance to the law grew so violent throughout 1765 that colonial stamp agents dared not even attempt to enforce it. New Yorkers rioted, and Boston residents hanged Grenville in effigy on the public gallows. By the spring of 1766 the British had committed fifteen hundred troops to maintaining order around New York alone, and the Stamp Act was raising little revenue. That May the colonists celebrated news of the act’s repeal.

Housing British troops proved to be less objectionable to the colonists than paying for them. Comparatively little protest hindered the first year of the Quartering Act, which required the colonies to house British troops and to provide them “with Fire, Candles, Vinegar, and Salt, Bedding, [and] utensils for dressing their Victuals.” In addition the colonies had to supply a daily ration of “Small Beer or Cyder, not exceeding Five Pints, or Half a Pint of Rum mixed with a Quart of Water, to each Man, without paying anything for the same.” The Quartering Act was renewed in 1766 and its provisions strengthened in 1774.

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