William Logan Comments on William Pitt and the Stamp Act of 1765

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The Stamp Act was passed by British Parliament on March 22, 1765. It was levied to help pay for debt caused by the stationing of British troops in America during the French and Indian War, the North American conflict in the global Seven Years’ War (1756–63) between France and Great Britain. The act was to take effect on November 1, 1765. It was a direct tax imposed by the British on the American colonies without approval of colonial legislatures. The tax, in the form of a stamp, was required to be paid by colonists when they purchased various types of paper goods, such as playing cards, pamphlets, newspapers and official documents.

Many people from the various colonies were outraged by the tax, and they sent representatives to a meeting in New York in October 1765 to discuss what they were going to do about it. The delegates of the nine colonies participating in the conference agreed that although British Parliament had a right to regulate trade, they did not have a right to tax the colonists, because the colonists were not represented in Parliament. This would eventually give rise to the slogan, “No taxation without representation.”

The Pennsylvania State Archives has in its holdings (Manuscript Group 79, William Logan Collection) a letter that sheds some light on the widespread colonial sentiment regarding the stamp tax. The letter was sent on March 24, 1766, to James Reed (1716–93), prothonotary in Reading, from William Logan (1718–76), an attorney and member
of the Governor’s Council in Philadelphia.

In the letter Logan relates that there was news of the British “sending The Great Pit to the Tower for disrupting and opposing the Right of Parliament for taxing American Colonies.” He continued, “This alarmed us greatly, as concluding debates must have been high & that they had got at home into very hot water, & a probability of our Affairs not ending so well as could he wished, I assure thee people began to put on long faces in the streets.”

The “Great Pit” mentioned in this letter was William Pitt the Elder (1708–78), a member of Parliament who had conceded that the British government had a right to legislate the colonies but agreed with the colonists that this legislative oversight did not extend to direct taxation. Pitt, known for his brilliant oratory, left his sick bed to give an impassioned speech against the stamp tax to Parliament on January 14, 1766. Pitt stated his opinion that the Stamp Act should “be repealed absolutely, totally, and immediately.”

Colonists were elated that Pitt had defended their position against the Stamp Act and worried about his welfare; however, Pitt would go on to become prime minister of Britain from 1766 to 1768.

In March 1766 Parliament repealed the Stamp Act. The William Logan letter tells of the colonial response to this good news in Philadelphia. “This has made us all alive tho we shall be pleased to have the account confirmed before full rejoicings are made on ye occasion yet it is so far believed that our bells have been ringing all the afternoon & the ships in the Harbor have all their Colors flying.”

The issues concerning taxation and representation that the Stamp Act raised in Britain and the colonies was the beginning of the strain in their relationship that would lead in the next decade to the American Revolutionary War and American independence.


Richard C. Saylor is an archivist for the Pennsylvania State Archives and author of the award-winning book Soldiers to Governors and numerous articles on military, political and sports history.