Stamp Act Congress Summary
The Stamp Act Congress was a meeting of 27 delegates from nine of the 13 Original Colonies that took place in New York City from October 7 to October 25, 1765. They met to discuss a unified colonial response to the provisions of the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act was passed on March 22, 1765, and was set to go into effect on November 1, 1765. The meeting produced a document called the “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” that was sent to the colonial legislatures, the King, and both houses of Parliament. Although the Declaration and letters were rejected by colonial agents and British officials, the Stamp Act Congress marked the first time a “continental congress” was held by the colonies in order to respond to British policies. The Stamp Act Congress was one of the most significant events that took place during the American Revolution.
Stamp Act Congress Quick Facts
- Also Known As: The Stamp Act Congress is also called the Continental Congress of 1765, the First Congress of the American Colonies, and the Congress at New York.
- Date Started: The Stamp Act Congress held its first meeting on Monday, October 7, 1765.
- Attendees: There were 27 delegates in attendance, representing 9 of the 13 colonies.
- Location: The Stamp Act Congress held its meetings at Federal Hall on Wall St. in New York City.
- Date Ended: The proceedings ended on Friday, October 25.
Massachusetts Calls for a Colonial Congress
On March 22, 1765, Parliament passed the Stamp Act. It required all legal documents — and many printed materials — in the American colonies to be printed on special paper with stamps embossed on it. To Parliament’s great surprise, Americans were outraged and responded angrily with legislative protests and street violence — the Stamp Act Crisis.
In April, news of the new law reached the colonies and the Stamp Act Crisis started. There was violent opposition, including riots in Boston, Massachusetts, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Savannah, Georgia, which were likely organized by the Sons of Liberty. Colonial legislatures passed resolutions, generally referred to as “Stamp Act Resolves,” to protest the new law. Virginia passed the first resolutions on May 29, 1765.
On June 8, 1765, the Massachusetts Assembly sent a circular letter to the legislatures of the other colonies inviting them to send delegates to a congress in New York to “consult together on the present circumstances of the colonies.”
Nine of the 13 colonies, including Massachusetts, chose to send delegates to the meeting, which was held in New York City from October 7 through October 25. During the proceedings, 27 delegates from 9 of the 13 colonies met in New York to discuss a unified colonial response to the Stamp Act. The precedent for such a meeting had been set by the Albany Congress in 1754.
Although the Stamp Act Congress was similar in nature to the Albany Congress, there was one significant difference — the Stamp Act Congress was illegal.
In 1754, the British Board of Trade called for — and authorized — the Albany Congress, which made those proceedings legal. However, the Stamp Act Congress was called for by colonial leaders — men like James Otis Jr. — was not authorized by the British government, and was, therefore, illegal. In fact, the question of the legality of the proceedings was why some colonies refused to send delegates.
Debate Over the Stamp Act
The background issues that led to the debate that was held over the provisions of the Stamp Act focused on the following items and their implications on colonial America.
- The Stamp Act had been passed at the suggestion of Prime Minister George Grenville for the purpose of raising revenue from the colonies.
- Previous taxes levied by Parliament were typically charged as customs duties on shipments of goods. Not everyone was affected by them. The Stamp Act tax was a direct tax on nearly all colonists.
- Many colonists believed the Stamp Act violated the colonists’ rights as British subjects because it was passed without the approval of the colonial legislatures.
- The provisions of the Stamp Act were to be carried out by Stamp Agents appointed by the Crown.
- Any violations of the Stamp Act were to be tried in the Vice-Admiralty Courts. Those courts did not use juries and were seen as a violation of the right to a trial by peers.
During the debate, the idea of unity between the colonies crept into the minds of some delegates. South Carolina delegate Christopher Gadsden wrote, “There ought to be no New England man, no New Yorker, etc. known on the Continent, but all of us Americans.”
Stamp Act Congress Resolutions — the Declaration of Rights and Grievances
The Stamp Act Congress drafted a Declaration of Rights and Grievances on October 19, which stated among other things that
- Only the colonial assemblies had a right to tax the colonies.
- Trial by jury was a right, and the use of Admiralty Courts was abusive.
- Colonists possessed all the Rights of Englishmen, which were laid out in the English Bill of Rights.
- Parliament could not represent the colonists, because the colonists had no representation in either house.
Petitions to the King and Parliament
After the delegates agreed to the resolutions, they decided to send letters to the King and both houses of Parliament and ask for the Stamp Act to be repealed. Committees were set up to write the letters, which were called the Address to the King, the Memorial to the House of Lords, and the Petition to the House of Lords.
Committee to Write the Address to the King
Committee to Write Memorial to the House of Lords
Committee to Write the Petition to the House of Commons
Dispute Over the Proceedings
When it came time for the delegates to sign the proceedings — the official documents — of the Stamp Act Congress, not all of them could The delegates from Connecticut, New York, and South Carolina did not have permission from their colonial legislatures to sign. Those delegations had been instructed to send the documents to the legislatures for review.
The delegates from Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island did have the authority, and most of them did. The two exceptions were Robert Ogden from New Jersey and the President of the Stamp Act Congress, Timothy Ruggles. Both of them argued the documents should be sent to the colonial legislatures for review.
Ruggles’ refusal led to an argument and may have resulted in him challenging Thomas McKean to a duel. However, Ruggles left New York early the next morning, without speaking to McKean and the other delegates. When Ruggles returned to Massachusetts, he was censured by the legislature for refusing to sign the petitions.
When Ogden returned to New Jersey, he found the people were not pleased with him. They burned him in effigy and he responded by resigning from his seat in the New Jersey Legislature.
Stamp Act Takes Effect
On November 1, 1765, the Stamp Act took effect, but there were no stamp agents available to distribute the stamps. They had resigned or refused to perform their job due to violence and intimidation against them.
British Reaction to the Stamp Act Congress
By the time the Stamp Act Congress sent the letters to Britain, Parliament was already discussing the repeal of the Stamp Act. However, there were also concerns among British officials over the idea the letters had been prepared and approved by an unauthorized congress and they were rejected.
Repeal of the Stamp Act
On March 18, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, primarily due to protests from British merchants who believed it would damage their prospects of doing business in the colonies. However, on that same day, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act, which declared its ability to pass legislation to govern the colonies.
Significance of the Stamp Act Congress
The Stamp Act Congress was a significant historical event in the American Revolution because it was the first unified meeting of the American colonies to respond to British taxation. Congress also passed the first legislation that argued American colonists had the same rights as natural-born Englishmen and Parliament did not have the right to levy taxes on the colonies without the approval of the colonial legislatures.
Stamp Act Congress Members
27 men from nine of the 13 colonies attended the Stamp Act Congress. Georgia, New Hampshire, North Carolina, and Virginia did not send delegates.
Contrary to popular belief, Samuel Adams did not attend the Stamp Act Congress. He stayed in Massachusetts and tended to matters there.
- William Bayard, Sr.
- John Cruger Jr.
- Leonard Lispenard
- Phillip Livingston
- Robert R. “The Judge” Livingston
Officers of the Stamp Act Congress
- President — Timothy Ruggles
- Secretary — John Cotton