Samuel Adams Heritage Society

Pre-Revolution Activities

Sugar Act, 1764 and Stamp Act, 1765

The Sugar Act and the Stamp Act imposed by the British government in 1764 and 1765 respectively, was view with a disapproval eye among people who perceived the British as overstepping their power over the colonies. They wanted to tax people without their approval to raise income to pay for the troops stationed in the colonies after the French-Indian War. The Sugar Act was the first in the series of British Colonial taxation acts that provided fuel for revolutionary mood in American colonies. The tax was masterfully implemented to cause little grief to the general public by including the duty in the cost of goods. One can even argue that it would have passed with little notice if SA did not see it as an infringement on rights and liberties of colonists. His campaign against the tax was successful in three respects.

First Adams gained an important political ally in James Otis, an influential lawyer and the Advocate General of the Admiralty Court. The second success was that his proposal to protest the tax to the British Parliament actually gained the votes and the support of Massachusetts Assembly. And the third achievement was all the publicity that SA gained while campaigning against the Sugar Act - his protest was reprinted in many local newspapers.

Shortly thereafter came the British Stamp act of 1765. This time the new tax burden took form of official stamps that colonists had to purchase and that were required for legal contracts, newspapers, court documents and other official paperwork. The protests in the colonies started even before as soon as the news broke. And this time SA took it to the streets. Adams tried to unify his Country Party with the North Boston and the South Boston opposition groups, together they became known as the Sons of Liberty. Under Adams they organized riots and violent attacks to intimidate tax collectors. They destroyed the building that was going to house the stamp headquarters and the house of Thomas Hutchinson. Their intimidation tactics varied from arson, burning official offices and stamps, to ceremonial hangings of British-appointment officials on the Liberty Tree in Boston Common. It took several years for Britain to realize what was happening.

In the meanwhile Adams and the Sons of Liberty were said to completely control Boston. SA well understood that political forces needed support of the crowd to act decisively and Sons of Liberty organized this support. The culmination was the Stamp Act Congress where representatives of all but four colonies demanded the King to repeal the tax in a document called Declaration of Rights of the Stamp Act Congress. They met to coordinate response to the Stamp Act which laid the groundwork for the future Continental Congress. It also helped to coordinate their anti-British movements. In 1766 the British gave up to the pressure and the tax was never collected.

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