Two of the major events commonly regarded as preludes to the American Revolution were the enactment of the Sugar Act (1764) and the Stamp Act (1765), designed to increase British tax revenues. In the American colonies these Acts were not only dealt with in terms of economic disadvantage but increasingly in terms of right, the focal point being the question whether Parliament had the right to tax the colonies.
After the last French and Indian war the British gained Canada and the Missisippi area as new territories. The war was won but the costs had been huge, and would remain high due to the need to protect the colonies against other (western or native) enemies. But even more dangerous to the empire was the fact that Anglo-American strategic and economic interdependence were disrupted and no longer coincided after the War, a factor which would soon prove to undermine the bond between the empire and its American colonies.
Parliament and Grenvilee the prime minister, increasingly felt the colonies should at least pay a part of their own protection. Grenville drew up a number of resolutions dealing with new duties, which, after being accepted by Parliament, became know as the Sugar Act, due to the fact that one of the more important resolutions dealt with a new duty on molasses. One of these resolutions was in fact an early draft of what later became known as the Stamp Act, but it was not included in the final version of the Sugar Act.
The Sugar Act caused alarm in the American colonies, partly because of the expected economic disadvantages, but also because of a number of other reasons, one of the most important being the severe implementation by the navy. Added to this was a general post-war depression and the enactment of another act prohibiting the use of paper money as legal tender, almost immediately following the Sugar Act. It was this combination of factors which provided the background for the oppositional activities. A lot of assemblies spoke against the new taxes. In addition, the Sugar Act also became an issue in the struggle between various factions in the different states, but in general opposition was strong. One of the steps taken, for example, was to threat with a boycot of English products. Meanwhile rumours of a possible new act which was being prepared by the British added to the growing tension.
Apart from the fear of economic hardship and disaster a more fundamental objection came to the fore: Parliament’s right to tax the colonies was being challenged. This was an important turning point in the American attitude because from now on opposition was not only based on practical politics, but increasingly became grounded on fundamental juridical and theoretical objections, which challenged British souvereignty in its very core.
As it turned out, the rumours about a new tax were right. Grenville was preparing a new tax because revenues were still too low. Instead of offering it too Parliament rightaway he made the colonies a proposal. He gave them the chance to raise money themselves, in other words, to tax themselves. It is not entirely clear why Grenville did this as some say he was planning to introduce a new tax anyway. Probably he tried to give the colonies a feeling of having some degree of control in their own affairs in an attempt to bypass American opposition. The fact Grenville didn’t mention the exact ammount of money he wanted left the Assemblies in the American colonies in a state of confusion and suggest indeed the proposal was merely a strategic move. Colonial agents defending their cause were not heard by Parliament during the time the Act was scheduled to be discussed, another fact which added to the already tense atmosphere. Parliament accepted the Stamp Act in january 1765. It called for a tax on all kinds of paper in use, like various kinds of official documents used in court, harbors, landtransactions, etcetera. The Act prescribed these documents had to be printed on paper carrying an official stamp
But Parliament misjudged the sentiments in the American colonies as well as its own power. Parliamentary supremacy over America seemed natural to all parties involved at the other side of the ocean. But opposition against the Stamp Act once implemented was strong and violent. Almost all assemblies in the colonies challenged the right of the British, to tax the territories. Incidents were reported all over and preparations for the boycot of English goods were being made, a fact of which British merchants were highly sensitive. After a year of protests, rioting and debating Parliament withdrew the Stamp Act, having grossly overestimated its own power and realizing the situation indeed had changed after the French-Indian war.
The commotion surrounding the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act was only the beginning of a more determined American oppositional movement. However, as soon became clear, Parliament failed to notice the underlying changes in the complex relationship between ‘mother and children’ and failed to adjust its own attitude. And so, within a year, the game was started all over again with the implementation of the Townshend Duties .On June 6, 1765, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, on the motion of James Otis, resolved to propose an intercolonial meeting to resist the Stamp Act. On June 8 it sent a circular letter to the assemblies of the other colonies  inviting them to meet at New York the following October “to consider of a general and united, dutiful, loyal and humble representation of their condition to His Majesty and the Parliament; and to implore relief.” The resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress were the chief accomplishment of the Congress. The principle issue that divided the twenty-seven delegates was wether to modify the rebelious tone of their denial of Parliament’s authority to tax; this could be done by acknowledging explicitly what authority Parliament did have over the colonies. In the end this proved to be impossible because the more radical delegates were afraid of conceding too much. The extent of the concession they were willing to make is registered in the rather vague wording of the first resolution.