History, in general, only informs us of what bad government is. — Thomas Jefferson

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

The Stamp Tax

Besides the galling trade and navigation laws to which the poor American colonists had to submit, there were other troubles which you must try to understand. The French and Indian War had cost a great deal of money, which had to be paid. It was also needful to take steps to arrange for the government of the new territory, and especially to defend it, for the British knew that the French and Spaniards would like to get it back.

Now, King William's War, Queen Anne's War, and King George's War had been waged because England and France were fighting in Europe. They had done no good to the colonists, who, even after furnishing men and money, and winning Louisburg, saw it given back to the French. It was different, though, with the fourth war, which was begun in America, while Great Britain furnished men, money, and arms to defend the colonies. The colonies had done their best to help, and the American soldiers, whom the British mockingly called "Yankee Doodles," had shown great courage.

Franklin tried to arrange matters of taxation by his plan of government, which, you remember, was set aside at Albany (1754). The colonies refused it because they said it gave too much power to the king; and the king refused to accept it because it gave too much power to the colonies.

King George's advisers now told him that as Great Britain had run into debt fighting in America, it was only right that the colonies should help to pay the money. They added that it would be necessary to keep an army in America to defend the new-won lands, and that the colonies ought to feed and pay these soldiers.

If Great Britain had asked the colonies, Will you support an army?" they might perhaps have consented. But instead of letting the Americans talk the matter over and raise the money in any way they pleased, measures were taken by Parliament to raise a large sum, which the king was to use in providing for a standing army.

At that time, many of the British were dissatisfied, too, for the members of the House of Commons no longer represented the whole nation. New cities like Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds had no right to vote at all, while a few tumble-down places, which had been towns two hundred years before, still sent several members to Parliament. Pitt and some other statesmen said that a new census ought to be taken, and that the House of Commons should represent all the people of Great Britain; but the king, among others, thought things ought to remain just as they were.

The two parties were still quarreling over this when the question about America came up, and it was greatly because the British were not fairly represented that unjust laws were made. To raise the money, Parliament decreed that the colonies would have to keep the trade and navigation laws, and pay a tax upon sugar and molasses, and that no newspaper should be printed or deed written except on paper stamped by government officers. This was called the "Stamp Act."

As soon as Pitt heard that the Stamp Act had been passed, he said it was wrong to tax the colonies without their consent. But Parliament would not listen to him. In those days, vessels crossed the Atlantic only once a month. There was no telegraph, no daily newspapers, and the post between large cities like Philadelphia and New York ran only twice or thrice a week. It therefore took some time before the news of the passing of the Stamp Act became generally known in America.

Franklin, who was then in England, did his best to hinder the making of such an unjust law. He was once asked whether the Americans would be angry; and, hoping to make the British understand how unreasonable they were, he told them this story: A Frenchman once came running out of his house with a red-hot poker. He grasped an Englishman, passing by, and said: "Let me run this poker through you!" Of course the Englishman declined. Then the Frenchman said: "Well, let me at least run it a few inches into your body." But when the Englishman again refused, the Frenchman said, in an aggrieved way: "If you won't let me do either, you should at least pay for the trouble of heating this poker!"

Still, all Franklin's tact and good sense could not prevent the law being passed, and he sadly wrote home: "The sun of liberty is set; the Americans must light the lamp of industry and economy."


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell