"The question was never the immediate amount of taxation that the British
were asking of the colonists. The question was whether the British had the
right to do it at all. We're talking about people [the American colonists]
with enormous sensitivity to the dangers of power. If you conceded the right
to Parliament to tax and if there was no check on it, no limit, it could go on
indefinitely. You could be bled white. The power to tax was the power to
—Pauline Maier, Scholar
Contrary to popular impression, taxes in America existed throughout the
colonial period prior to the American Revolution. Colonial governments relied
on a variety of taxes to support themselves including poll, property and excise
taxes. The great Boston patriot, Samuel Adams, was himself a tax collector,
though not a very good one. His accounts were [sterling]8,000 in arrears at
the time The Stamp Act was implemented.
What outraged colonists was not so much the tax as the fact that it was being
imposeed from England. Reaction to the Stamp Act in the colonies was swift
and, on occasion, riotous.
In Virginia, Patrick Henry made a reputation for himself in a bold speech
before the House of Burgesses. "Caesar had his Brutus, Charles I his
Cromwell," he said. "May George III profit from their example."
In Massachusetts, rioters ransacked the home of the newly appointed stamp
commissioner, Andrew Oliver. He resigned the position the next day.
Threatening or attacking the Crown-appointed office-holders became a popular
tactic against the act throughout the colonies. Though no stamp commissioner
was actually tarred and feathered, this Medieval brutality was a popular
form of 18th century mob violence in Great Britain, particularly against tax
Tarring and feathering dated back to the days of the Crusades and King Richard
the Lionhearted. It began to appear in New England seaports in the 1760s and
was most often used by patriot mobs against loyalists. Tar was readily
available in shipyards and feathers came from any handy pillow. Though the
cruelty invariably stopped short of murder, the tar needed to be burning hot
By November 1, 1765, the day the Stamp Act was to officially go into effect,
there was not a single stamp commissioner left in the colonies to collect the