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History Lesson Plan: The Stamp Act of 1765

By Curt Smothers

Following the unpopular Proclamation of 1763 closing off the west to settlers, Great Britain needed money to pay for the 10,000 British troops posted along the frontier to separate the Native Americans from the colonists. Their “solution” was the even more unpopular Stamp Act of 1765.


The British government passed the Stamp Act of 1765 because of its growing national debt (The debt increased from 72 million to 126 million pounds sterling in just a few years after the expensive Seven Years War with France.) Faced with growing unrest at home on the part an already highly taxed populace, Parliament decided that it was time for the colonists to start paying their way. The British had posted 10,000 troops on the colonial frontier to keep the peace between the Indians tribes and the land-hungry colonists, and passed the Stamp Act to pay the army’s expenses.

The Stamp Act was the first serious attempt on the part of the British to assert authority over its rambunctious colonies, and the widespread negative reaction to the taxation shocked the British Government. Whereas previous taxation was on commerce and not directly felt by most colonists, the Stamp Act was a direct tax on everyday activities of the ordinary citizen. Essentially, the Stamp Act levied a specific tax on 54 items that included legal documents (deeds, leases, etc.) , newspapers, almanacs, playing cards and even dice. As a proof that the tax was paid, a stamp had to be affixed to the document or item.

Even before it became effective, the Stamp Act provoked widespread outrage and resistance at all levels of colonial society. Unrest, riots, intimidation of tax collectors and merchants, and even the sacking of Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor’s home were all results of the Stamp Act. Also, the first Continental Congress was called and delegates from nine colonies met to jointly protest the tax.

As a result of boycotts of British merchants and pressure in the Parliament, the Government under Lord Grenville fell and the tax was rescinded. As a kind of weak and face-saving gesture the British Government passed the Declaratory Act that stated that Parliament had the right to make laws governing its subjects in the colonies.

The Stamp Act and the successful resistance in the colonies were the first signs of a growing resistance to British domination of colonial politics and commerce. Although the colonists still regarded themselves as loyal British subjects, they felt hard put upon to pay taxes and have no say how their money was spent.

Learning Objectives

stamp3 After completing this lesson plan, students should be able to:

♦ Understand the origins of colonial objections to “taxation without representation.”

♦ View the Stamp Act of 1765 from the following perspectives:

◊ The British Government:

→ Their growing national debt and need to pay for overseas troops to “protect” the ungrateful colonists.

→ Their need to assert authority over an increasingly rebellious colonial population.

Colonial Resistance ◊ The Colonists:

→ Their lingering resentment over the Proclamation of 1763, which closed down the Indian Territories to future settlement.

→ The earmarking of the tax money to pay for the presence of British troops posted after the Proclamation of 1763.

→ The irritation of having to pay taxes on everyday documents and items.

Class Activities

1. Divide the class into two sections to represent the competing interests of the British Government. Ask each group to prepare presentation notes covering the following items:

♦ The British Crown. Discuss the following:

◊ What financial pressures led the British to impose the Stamp Act?

◊ Was the Act fair?

◊ Why was the British Government so shocked over the colonists’ reaction to the tax?

♦ The colonists. Discuss the following:

◊ Why were the colonists so resentful over the Stamp Act?

◊ What were the major outcomes of the Stamp Act? (i.e., the Stamp Act Congress, the growing feelings against “taxation without representation).

2. Have each group make their own presentation covering the discussion items above. Remind both groups to take notes on the other’s presentation.

3. Assign a homework essay on the foregoing topics. Each class section could either prepare an essay on its own presentation, or, alternatively, prepare the essay on the argument presented by the other section.