The Stamp Act Riots & Tar and Feathering
Sam Adams
 Sam Adams
"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 destroy."

—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.
Tar & feathering cartoon
 Tar & feathering cartoon

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 collectors.

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 for application.

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 tax.