Study Guide

Stamp Act Quotes

By British Parliament, King George III

  • Duty

    An act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, towards further defraying the expences [sic] of defending, protecting, and securing the same; and for amending such parts of the several acts of parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations, as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned. (1.1)

    The D-word is invoked here. They're talking specifically about the amounts of money that will have to be paid for the stamps, although it would also be the duty of the colonists to pay them. In the crown's defense, it also stipulates exactly what this money is to be used for, and in fact it's something that's already been done.

    […] we, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the commons of Great Britain in parliament assembled. (1.2)

    Parliament characterizes itself as the king's most dutiful subjects. Clearly, the idea of adhering to duty was valuable enough that it was used as a bit of a brag.

    For every skin or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which shall be ingrossed [sic], written or printed, any declaration, plea, replication, rejoinder, demurrer, or other pleading, or any copy thereof, in any court of law within the British colonies and plantations in America, a stamp duty of three pence. (1.3)

    This is a standard example of what you'd find in the first part of the law. You're going to see "duty" once a paragraph there. It's talking about how much that specific thing will cost to have a stamped version. And once again, you can see how the two slightly different definitions of "duty" relate to one another.

    And also a duty of one shilling for every twenty shillings, in any sum exceeding fifty pounds, which shall be given, paid, contracted, or agreed, for, with or in relation to any such clerk, or apprentice. (2.1)

    This specifies a duty paid to an apprentice, which brings up an important point: duty as a concept goes both ways. People without power have duties to those who do, but people who have power also have duties to those who don't. This intersecting and interacting web of obligation is what we call society.

    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all books and pamphlets serving chiefly for the purpose of an almanack, by whatsoever name or names intituled [sic] or described, are and shall be charged with the duty imposed by this act on almanacks, but not with any of the duties charged by this act on pamphlets, or other printed papers; anything herein contained to the contrary notwithstanding. (5.1)

    It's not enough to say that one has a duty to someone or something else. You have to specify what that duty is. This section of the law is one of several that clarifies what those are.

  • Rules and Order

    An act for granting and applying certain stamp duties, and other duties, in the British colonies and plantations in America, towards further defraying the expences [sic] of defending, protecting, and securing the same; and for amending such parts of the several acts of parliament relating to the trade and revenues of the said colonies and plantations, as direct the manner of determining and recovering the penalties and forfeitures therein mentioned. (1.1)

    The opening gives the logic behind the imposition of the new rule. Essentially, it's a rule for enforcing order. As the colonies just participated in what was then the bloodiest war in their history, that was needed.

    Provided always, That this act shall not extend to charge any bill of exchange, accompts, bills of parcels, bills of fees, or any bills or notes not sealed for payment of money at sight, or upon demand, or at the end of certain days of payment. (6.1)

    You can't spell borders without order. The rules have to have limits, and this is one of them. Try to govern too much and you'll just make chaos.

    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the said several duties shall be under the management of the commissioners, for the time being, of the duties charged on stamped vellum, parchment, and paper, in Great Britain: and the same commissioners are hereby impowered and required to employ such officers under them, for that purpose, as they shall think proper; and to use such stamps and marks, to denote the stamp duties hereby charged, as they shall think fit; and to repair, renew, or alter the same, from time to time, as there shall be occasion; and to do all other acts, matters, and things, necessary to be done, for putting this act in execution with relation to the duties hereby charged. (12.1)

    Rules need enforcers. Mostly because if no one enforces a rule, the chances of it being followed kind of go into the toilet. This section provides for the people doing it.

    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person shall forge, counterfeit, erase, or alter, any such certificate, ever such person so offending shall be guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony without the benefit of clergy. (18.1)

    The next arm of any rule, after enforcers, is penalties. Here, the penalty is death. "Without the benefit of clergy" is a legal term of the time, which had come to mean that the amount of offenses didn't matter. In other words, the first time you were caught breaking this statute, you'd get death. First time.

    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the comptroller or comptrollers for the time being of the duties hereby imposed, shall keep perfect and distinct accounts in books fairly written of all the monies arising by the said duties; and if any such comptroller or comptrollers shall neglect his or their duty therein, then he or they, for every such offence [sic], shall forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds. (53.1)

    The Stamp Act is ridiculously orderly in the way it's constructed. Here you see the penalties for not keeping good enough records. A hundred pounds is a significant sum today. It was back then too.

  • Freedom and Tyranny

    Provided, That nothing in this act contained shall extend to charge the probate of any will, or letters of administration to the effects of any common seaman or soldier, who shall die in his Majesty's service; a certificate being produced from the commanding officer of the ship or vessel, or troop or company in which such seaman or soldier served at the time of his death, and oath, or if by a quaker a solemn affirmation, made of the truth thereof, before the proper judge or officer by whom such probate or administration ought to be granted; which oath or affirmation such judge or officer is hereby authorized and required to administer, and for which no fee or rewards shall be taken. (7.1)

    The Stamp Act is famous as a document that did nothing but curtail freedoms and stomp on rights like they were ants at a picnic. In many places, though, the law states the kinds of things it doesn't change. In this case, the law is informing the world of the power it doesn't have. That doesn't sound like tyranny.

    Provided always, and be it enacted, That until after the expiration of five years from the commencement of the said duties, no skin, or piece of vellum or parchment, or sheet or piece of paper, on which any instrument, proceeding, or other matter or thing shall be ingrossed [sic], written, or printed, within the colonies of Quebec or Granada, in any other than the English language, shall be liable to be charged with any higher stamp duty than if the same had been ingrossed [sic], written, or printed in the English language. (8.1)

    England's empire had many different languages spoken within it. The law specifically mentions that there is no penalty for printing a document in another language. It's to be charged the same price as English. There is no attempt to enforce English as an official tongue (pointing out Granada and Quebec as places where other languages are primary). Again, this is another case of the Stamp Act being non-tyrannical.

    Or if any such officer shall be of the people commonly called Quakers, he shall take a solemn affirmation to the effect of the said oath; which oath or affirmation shall and may be administered to any such commissioner or commissioners by any two or more of the same commissioners, whether they have or have not previously taken the same: and any of the said commissioners, or any justice of the peace, within the kingdom of Great Britain, or any governor, lieutenant governor, judge, or other magistrate, within the said colonies or plantations, shall and may administer such oath or affirmation to any subordinate officer. (13.2)

    Quakers, according to their religion, can't swear oaths. The Stamp Act stipulates that the Quakers can't be asked to do this in relation to the act. Doesn't sound like much, right? Well, this is before the First Amendment was a thing, and this document was asserting that a minority religious group (and not a very popular one) would be respected.

    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person shall forge, counterfeit, erase, or alter, any such certificate, ever such person so offending shall be guilty of felony, and shall suffer death as in cases of felony without the benefit of clergy. (18.1)

    Okay, now that looks like tyranny. This part of the law specifies that not only is the penalty for forgery death, but that's the penalty the first time you're caught. If that's not tyrannical, it's at least excessive. This isn't the only penalty in the Stamp Act that requires death on the first offense either.

    And it is hereby enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if any person within the said colonies or plantations, or any other part of his Majesty's dominions, shall sell or buy any cover or label which has been made use of for the inclosing any pack or parcel of cards; every person so offending shall, for every such offence [sic], forfeit twenty pounds. (38.1)

    This is a pretty typical passage in the Stamp Act specifying a fine for an offense. The point here is that the Stamp Act is very clear about what it's going to fine, and that's nearly everything that has to so with stamps. While this isn't a problem on its face, the fines are absolutely brutal for the time, and remember, this was in the middle of a bad economy. The crown was getting money from the colonists coming and going.

  • Legitimacy

    […] we, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the commons of Great Britain in parliament assembled. (1.2)

    This line, from near the beginning of the law, is asserting Parliament's legitimacy. Basically, it's like, "here's why we get to make this law." It wasn't even unusual. Any law of the time would include a passage like this.

    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the commissioners for managing the said duties, for the time being, shall and may appoint a fit person or persons to attend in every court of publick [sic] office within the said colonies and plantations. (13.1)

    This section grants legitimacy to employees. It's practical, sure, but it also traces the locals actually collecting the stamp duties all the way back to the king.

    And it is hereby declared, That upon any prosecution of prosecutions for such felony, the dye, tool, or other instrument made use of in counterfeiting or forging any such seal, stamp, mark, type, device, or label, together with the vellum, parchment, paper, cards, dice, or other matter, or thing having such counterfeit impression, shall, immediately after trial or conviction of the party or parties accused, be broke, defaced, or destroyed, in open court. (20.1)

    The stamp itself was a symbol of legitimacy. So anyone forging it was ordered put to death. This section talks about what to do with the actual forged stamp itself. The idea was to mess it up enough that it could no longer function for its intended purpose. This did help discourage later forgers, but it also reasserted the legitimacy of the real stamps.

    And it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That no person whatsoever shall sell or expose to sale any such pamphlet, or any news paper, without the true respective name or names, and place or places of abode, of some known person or persons by or for whom the same was really and truly printed or published, shall be written or printed thereon; upon pain that every person offending therein shall, for every such offence [sic], forfeit the sum of twenty pounds. (27.1)

    Legitimacy requires identity. In this case, you're not looking at legitimacy for the crown but for people subject to the law. Basically, something that would list authorship, like a newspaper, has to have a person's right name on it. This keeps track of the duties owed and it also makes the paper itself legitimate.

    And be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid […] (53.1)

    This line appears many times and could be plucked from any of its appearances. It's an appeal to legitimacy. It's pointing back to the authority, specifically of the king, that allows the law and all its provisions to exist.