5. Tax dispute It was not so much the new duties that caused consternation among New England merchants.It was rather the fact that steps were being taken to enforce them effectively, an entirely newdevelopment. For over a generation, New Englanders had been accustomed to importing the largerpart of the molasses for their rum distilleries from the French and Dutch West Indies without payinga duty. They now contended that payment of even the small duty imposed would be ruinous. As it happened, the preamble to the Sugar Act gave the colonists an opportunity to rationalizetheir discontent on constitutional grounds. The power of Parliament to tax colonial commodities forthe regulation of trade had long been accepted in theory though not always in practice, but thepower to tax "for improving the revenue of this Kingdom," as stated in the Revenue Act of 1764,was new and hence debatable. The constitutional issue became an entering wedge in the great dispute that was finally towrest the American colonies from England. "One single act of Parliament," wrote James Otis, fieryorator from Massachusetts, "has set more people a-thinking in six months, more than they had donein their whole lives before." Merchants, legislatures, and town meetings protested against theexpediency of the law, and colonial lawyers like Samuel Adams found in the preamble the firstintimation of "taxation without representation," the catchword that was to draw many to the causeof the American patriots against the mother country.
Later in the same year, Parliament enacted a Currency Act "to prevent paper bills of credithereafter issued in any of His Majesty's colonies from being made legal tender." Since the colonieswere a deficit trade area and were constantly short of "hard money," this added a serious burden tothe colonial economy. History of American Money equally objectionable from the colonialviewpoint was the Billeting Act, passed in 1765, which required colonies to provide quarters andsupplies for royal troops. Strong as was the opposition to these acts, it was the last of the measures inaugurating thenew colonial system that sparked organized resistance. Known to history as the “Stamp Act”, itprovided that revenue stamps be affixed to all newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets, licenses, leases,or other legal documents, the revenue (collected by American agents) to be used for "defending,protecting, and securing" the colonies. The burden seemed so evenly and lightly distributed that themeasure passed Parliament with little debate. The violence of the reaction in the thirteen colonies, however, astonished moderate meneverywhere. The act aroused the hostility of the most powerful and articulate groups in thepopulation, journalists, lawyers, clergymen, merchants, and businessmen, north and south, east andwest, for it bore equally on all sections of the country. Soon leading merchants, whose every bill oflading would be taxed, organized for resistance and formed non-importation associations.