The Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament on March 22, 1765. Designed to raise revenue for British troops stationed in America and relieve some of the debt burden Great Britain incurred after fighting the Seven Year’s War with France, the Stamp Act imposed a fee on every piece of printed paper used by the American Colonists.
It immediately drew the ire of American patriots because, for the first time, Parliament had engaged in an end-run on colonial legislatures and had passed a tax designed to raise revenue without input from those who would be taxed.
Colonists insisted that the tax was unconstitutional because only their representatives, not a Parliament thousands of miles away across an ocean, had the power to tax them.
The Stamp Act was especially onerous because it required that all legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets, advertisements, playing cards and dice be taxed and printed on paper produced in London containing an embossed revenue stamp. Since it included newspapers, pamphlets and advertisements, it was also considered an assault on free speech. And the fee had to be paid in British specie, not colonial paper money.
Opposition to the act grew quickly among the colonists who saw it as the first step toward ever-more repressive taxation imposed on the colonies by the mother country. Merchants, landowners and commoners initiated demonstrations that included harassment and intimidation of stamp distributors and refusal to allow British ships bearing the official paper to offload.
The protests gave rise to a group called Sons of Liberty that sometimes resorted to violence. On August 14, 1765, Sons of Liberty hanged in effigy Andrew Oliver, the distributor of stamps for Massachusetts. The tree used for the hanging came to be called the Liberty Tree. Oliver’s effigy was later beheaded at Oliver’s home and burned. His stable house, coach and chaise were also burned, prompting Oliver to resign from office the next day.
Patrick Henry rose in the Virginia House of Burgesses to denounce the tax. His words were considered so impolitic that some thought he was on the verge of treason and was almost censured. While his words weren’t fully documented, Henry was said to have stated, “Caesar had his Brutus, Charles the First his Cromwell, and George the Third… may profit by their example.
Henry drafted the Virginia Resolutions which declared that colonists held the same rights as all citizens of the British crown and could only be taxed by their representatives as the best safeguard to ensure against burdensome taxation.
Ten years later the Revolutionary War broke out and one of the issues imbedded in colonists’ minds was abusive taxation.
Fast forward to 2017. Congressional Republicans working on a tax reform bill are considering changes in the way advertisement is taxed as a business expense. Currently, advertising spending is a 100 percent deductible business expense. But proposals under consideration would reduce that to a 50 percent deductible expense with the rest being amortized over the course of a decade. In other words, as lawyer and nationally syndicated radio host Edward Woodson writes, the tax law would be changed to treat advertising like an asset – such as a machine or tool – instead of like an expense.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly ruled that advertising is free speech. In Bates v State Bar of Arizona, the Supreme Court ruled that free speech includes paid advertisements or solicitations to pay or contribute money.
Reducing or eliminating the deduction for advertising creates a requirement that exercising a God-given right guaranteed under the Constitution’s 1st Amendment must be purchased. And all Americans, not just those who can afford it, hold the same rights to express themselves without interference from government.
Patrick Henry, and the rest of the Founders, are doubtless spinning in their graves at the insanity emanating from the District of Criminals.