Stamp Act 1712

The Stamp Act of 1712 (cited either as 10 Ann. c. 18 or as 10 Ann. c. 19[1]) was an act passed in the United Kingdom on 1 August 1712 to create a new tax on publishers, particularly of newspapers.[2][3][4] Newspapers were subjected to tax and price increased. The stamp tax was a tax on each newspaper and thus hit cheaper papers and popular readership harder than wealthy consumers (because it formed a higher proportion of the purchase price). It was increased in 1797, reduced in 1836 and was finally ended in 1855, thus allowing a cheap press. It was enforced until its repeal in 1855.[5] The initial assessed rate of tax was one penny per whole newspaper sheet, a halfpenny for a half sheet, and one shilling per advertisement contained within.[6] The act had a potentially chilling effect on publishers; Jonathan Swift was a frequent publisher of newspapers, and complained in a letter[7] about the new tax. Other than newspapers, it required that all pamphlets, legal documents, commercial bills, advertisements, and other papers issued the tax.[8] The tax is blamed for the decline of English literature critical of the government during the period, notably with The Spectator ending the same year of the tax's enactment.[9] It would see increasingly greater taxes and wider spectrum of materials affected until its repeal in 1855.

Provisions of the Act

The Act raised £5,536 worth of stamps within the first year of operation.[10] This duty would be further increased throughout its lifetime, with the maximum tax of four pence on all newspapers and three shillings and six pence on all advertisements.[2] Publications which were sponsored by the government, or received sponsorship after the act, would be exempted from the tax.[10]

The Newspaper Tax

The newspaper tax would be expanded through the Six Acts to include all publications which sold for less than six pence, contained an opinion about news, or which were published more frequently than every twenty-six days.[11] It was repealed on 1 July 1855.[12]


The tax was implemented with the stated intention of raising funds for the English state lottery, to monitor the circulation of newspapers and other periodicals, and to restrict publication of writing intended to "excite hatred and contempt of the Government and holy religion".[11] All periodicals were already required by law to state the address and name of the owner, making taxation easily enforced on publishers, and allowing the government to see where legally printed publications were coming from. In order to exempt themselves from the tax, periodical authors pledged their patronage to members of the Parliament of Great Britain, leading to publications rising and falling based on the party in power and a general distrust in periodicals of the time.[10]


British essayists were critical of the tax and the effect it had on British literature. According to English writer Samuel Johnson, "A news-writer is a man without virtue who writes lies at home for his own profit. To these compositions is required neither genius nor knowledge, neither industry nor sprightliness, but contempt of shame and indifference to truth are absolutely necessary."[13][14] These essayists often saw retribution for their published words; Henry Hetherington, a prominent radical, was imprisoned for claiming the tax was a tax on knowledge, and his printing presses were ordered to be destroyed. Many others greeted the arrival of the stamps with outrage and violence. Most called for a boycott and some organized attacks on the customhouses and homes of tax collectors.


With regard to the American colonies, after months of protest and an appeal before the British House of Commons, Parliament voted to repeal the Stamp Act in March 1766.[15]


  1. ^ The act is numbered as 10 Ann. c. 18 in The Statutes of the Realm (published 1810–25), based on the original Parliament Rolls; but as 10 Ann. c. 19 in Ruffhead's Statutes at Large (published 1763–65; and later editions), based on the copies of acts enrolled in Chancery. Both forms of citation are acceptable, and both are found in reputable secondary sources.
  2. ^ a b Thomas, Joseph M. (1916). "Swift and the Stamp Act of 1712". PMLA. Modern Language Association. 31 (2): 247–263. doi:10.2307/456958. JSTOR 456958.
  3. ^ Downie, J. A. (1979). "7 - The Stamp Act of 1712". Robert Harley and the Press: Propaganda and Public Opinion in the Age of Swift and Defoe. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  4. ^ "BBC News - The key moments that shaped the British press". 2012-11-17. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  5. ^ "A brief timeline of UK newspaper publishing". Making the Modern World. The Science Museum. Retrieved December 5, 2012.
  6. ^ Ehrenpreis, Irvin (1967). Swift: The Man, His Works, And The Age. Volume II: Dr. Swift. Harvard University Press. ISBN 9780674858329. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  7. ^ "Letter 51". The Journal to Stella, by Jonathan Swift. The University of Adelaide. 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  8. ^ "Stamp Act". Retrieved December 14, 2012.
  9. ^ Justice, George (2002). The Manufacturers of Literature: Writing and the Literary Marketplace in Eighteenth-Century England. University of Delaware Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-0-87413-750-7. Retrieved 10 December 2012.
  10. ^ a b c Hyland, P. B. J. (October 1986). "Liberty and Libel: Government and the Press during the Succession Crisis in Britain, 1712-1716". The English Historical Review. Oxford University Press. 101 (401): 863–888. doi:10.1093/ehr/ci.cccci.863. JSTOR 570644.
  11. ^ a b Simkin, John. "Taxes on Knowledge". Spartacus Educational. Archived from the original on 2013-10-08. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  12. ^ "Concise History of the British Newspaper in the Nineteenth Century". British Library. 2003-11-30. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  13. ^ Johnson, Samuel (1758-11-11). "The Idler". Payne's Universal Chronicle.
  14. ^ Clarke 2004, p. 9
  15. ^ "Mar 18, 1766: Parliament repeals the Stamp Act". This Day in History. March 18, 2012. Retrieved December 12, 2012.

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