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The Stamp Act Congress was a meeting in the building that would become Federal Hall in New York City on October 19, 1765 consisting of delegates from 9 of the 13 colonies that discussed and acted upon the recently passed Stamp Act. The colonies that did not send delegates were Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and New Hampshire, and those from New York were delegates of particular counties within the colony, not the colony itself.

In June 1765, a circular letter from the Massachusetts Assembly was sent to the house of representatives of the rest of the colonies to "consult together on the present circumstances of the colonies". All of the delegates had served in the legislative bodies of their colonies and they were all loyal to King George III.

When word of the pending congress reached London, the Lords of Trade were so disturbed that they wrote to the king. The Lords of Trade reported to the king that "this is a matter of the utmost importance to the Kingdom and legislature of Great Britain... and proper only for the consideration of Parliament." However, by the time Parliament was informed about its existence, the Stamp Act Congress was already in session.

Contents

Proceedings

The proceedings of the Stamp Act Congress were conducted in secret; Rowan University in New Jersey has the only known copy of the meeting minutes. There were three major issues discussed - trial by Jury, a right of self taxation, and reducing admiralty courts. Robert R. Livingston wrote that what gave the delegates the most trouble was whether to acknowledge the authority of Parliament to regulate trade even though they fully accepted its right to do so. If they admitted that Parliament had the authority to regulate trade it could be constructed as an admission that an external tax to raise revenue was acceptable. Americans would argue interminably about the difference between "external" and "internal" taxes, and their willingness to accept "external" taxes, but not "internal" taxes.

They maintained that while Parliament could make laws and taxes for Great Britain, only colonial assemblies could properly make laws for the colonies, since the colonies had no representation in Parliament. As for Parliament, the colonies could not be represented there, nor did they want to be represented there, since their representatives' objections to colonial taxation could easily be ignored.

On October 19, the delegates adopted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. The delegates could not be convinced to affix their names to the document and only one signature appeared - the clerk of the congress. During the next few days the resolutions were redrafted into three petitions to the king, the Lords, and the Commons. Only six of the colonies agreed to write these petitions.[1]

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The Declaration

The Declaration of Rights raised fourteen points of colonial protest. In addition to the specifics of the Stamp Act taxes, it asserted that:

Reaction

The petition left New York in the same ship which had just arrived with the stamps. Dartmouth rejected the petition to the Lords, saying it was an inappropriate document. The House of Commons found all kinds of reasons not to consider the petition: it had been submitted by an unconstitutional assembly; it denied Parliament's right to levy taxes; to accept it would admit that Parliament had erred, etc.

This Congress is viewed by some as the first organized action in the prelude to the American Revolution; however, lack of unity plagued the colonies up to and including the beginning of the Revolution.

Representatives

Officers

Footnotes

References

  • Unger, Barlow, John Hancock, Merchant King and American Patriot, 200, ISBN 0785820264

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