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Colonial Reaction To The Stamp Act


In 1765, the British Parliament enacted the Stamp Act as a means of raising colonial tax revenues to help defray the cost of the French and Indian War in North America. The Colonists reacted immediately, asserting that the Stamp Act was an attempt to raise money in the colonies without the approval of colonial legislatures. Resistance to the act was demonstrated through debates in the colonial legislatures, written documents (including legislative resolves, prints, and songs), and mob/crowd actions such as tarring and feathering tax collectors. In this lesson, students will analyze several eighteenth-century documents to determine colonial opinions of Great Britain's attempts to tax the colonists in the 1760s.


As a result of their investigation, students will be able to:

  1. Analyze primary documents.
  2. Practice the skills of observation, analysis, and interpretation.
  3. Understand colonial reaction to Great Britain's tax legislation, specifically the Stamp Act of 1765.



  1. Through lecture or student reading (using textbook and reference materials of your choice), introduce the students to the background of the American colonies up to 1765. Use the "Virginia Time Line, 1760-1776," to place the Stamp Act of 1765 and the Virginia Stamp Act Resolves in chronological context for the students. Remind the students that the American colonists are still British subjects at this time.
  2. Introduce the content of the Stamp Act by using the "Summary of the 1765 Stamp Act."
  3. Divide the students into three groups. Give each group a copy of one of the following documents: 1) the words to the song The Glorious Seventy Four, 2) the print The Repeal, Or the Funeral of Miss Ame-Stamp, and 3) the print The Alternative of Williams-burg. [Note: the descriptions provided with the prints are for instructor reference.]
  4. Instruct the students to analyze their document to determine what it has to do with the Stamp Act and later attempts by British Parliament to tax the colonies. What is the viewpoint of the document? Is it for or against the English tax? Were the colonists pleased with the taxes? Why or why not? To what form(s) of resistance do the documents refer? Have each group present its findings to the class using specific references to details in the document and defending inferences. Ask the class what it thinks the overall colonial reaction was to England's taxes.
  5. Introduce Patrick Henry's "Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions." Read the resolutions to the students. Discuss what each resolution means. Would Parliament agree with what the resolutions propose? Why or why not? How might Parliament react to the resolutions?
  6. After discussing the "Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions," remind the students that the American colonists are still British subjects and that the proposed Resolutions are highly controversial. Hold a class vote on the resolutions, with students voting as if they were members of the Virginia House of Burgesses. Do the resolves pass or fail? Write down the results of the vote for later reference.