Stamp Act

Written By North Carolina History Project

Enacted in 1765, the Stamp Act increased British control over the American colonial economy and further angered American colonists by confirming that salutary neglect had ended.

The British passed the Stamp Tax in part to pay for the costs of the French and Indian War (also known as The Seven Years War).   By requiring a stamp on numerous documents, the tax affected many American activities.  A stamp was needed for marriage certificates, legal documents, newspapers, and even such items as playing cards.   According to historian Larry Schweikart, colonists feared more than paying high taxes; they also feared that the British government might control religious activities by placing a tax on denominational publications and even Bibles.   The act also meant that a growing number of bureaucrats were needed on American soil to enforce the legislation.  

Across the colonies, Americans reacted negatively to the tax.  In Boston, Massachusetts, for instance, colonists intimidated agents of the Crown and burned the lieutenant governor’s house, for they wished that their traditional English rights to be recognized.  Virginians reacted in a revolutionary way, however.   Under the direction of Patrick Henry, the Virginia House of Burgesses passed the Virginia Resolves.  One of the five resolves declared that only the Virginia assembly had the “sole exclusive right and power to lay taxes and impositions upon the inhabitants” of Virginia.  In short, Virginia legislators claimed sovereignty over many of the decisions that affected those within the colony’s boundaries.

North Carolina initially experienced a less revolutionary response.  Dr. William Houston accepted the Crown’s offer to be the colony’s stamp distributor—a position Henry McCullough had turned down.   When Houston arrived in Wilmington in November 1765, an angry crowd of Wilmingtonians persuaded (or forced) the newly appointed bureaucrat to resign his post.  In that same month, the same North Carolinians, more than likely, forced the North Carolina Gazette editor to start issuing unstamped editions (Unlike northern newspapers, which published without stamps, southern newspapers only forewent publication).  For the Wilmington editor’s “inflammatory expression” which criticized the Stamp Act, the colonial government hired another newspaper as the public printer.   The royal governor, William Tryon, tried enforcing the act and constraining colonial resistance.  His efforts eventually failed and undoubtedly influenced the increasing popularity of the Sons of Liberty in Wilmington and the Carolina coast.