Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
A Stamp Act is a law passed by a government that requires tax to be paid on the transfer of certain documents such as property deeds. Those that had paid the tax received an official stamp on their documents. The tax raised, called stamp duty, was first devised in the Netherlands in 1624 after a public competition to find a new form of tax. A variety of products have been covered by Stamp Acts including playing cards, patent medicines, cheques, mortgages and newspapers. The items often have to be physically stamped at approved government offices following payment of the duty although methods involving annual payment of a fixed sum or purchase of adhesive stamps are more practical and common.
Stamp Acts in The United Kingdom
Stamp Duties are the oldest tax still raised by the Inland Revenue.
1694 Stamp Act
Stamp Duty was first introduced in England in 1694 following the Dutch model as An act for granting to Their Majesties several duties on Vellum, Parchment and Paper for 4 years, towards carrying on the war against France
The duty ranged between 1 penny to 40 shillings on a number of legal documents including insurance policies, documents used as evidence in courts, grants of honour , grants of probate and letters of administration. It raised around £50,000 a year and although a temporary measure, it proved so successful that its use was continued.
1712 Stamp Act
The tax was extended to cover newspapers causing protests from publishers and writers including Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe. It stipulated a penny duty on each full printed page and a shilling on advertisements. At the time, Britain enjoyed a free press with satirical and seditious publications becoming more and more widely read. As well as raising money the act was an attempt to limit the readership of such publications without invoking explicit censorship.
1724 Stamp Act
In 1724 the Act was renewed and although vigourously resisted, its tax on publications was eventually enforced. In 1743 selling unstamped newspapers was made a criminal offence.
1765 Stamp Act
See the main article at Stamp Act 1765
George Grenville's 1765 Stamp Act is most famous for inciting the rebellion of the American colonies and producing the slogan ‘no taxation without representation’. The arrival of ships bearing cargoes of stamped documents met rioting by the colonists. Consignments of stamped documents from Britain were burned and each colonial distributor of the papers was forced to resign.
The total income coming from the Act until its repeal in 1766 was only £4,000, less than the Act had cost to implement.
1793 Stamp Act
Ad valorem (meaning relative to the value) rather than a flat fee Stamp Duty was introduced on grants of probate and letters of administration.
1797 Stamp Act
Introduced by William Pitt the Younger who described Stamp Duty as a tax easily raised, pressing little on any particular class, especially the lower orders of society, and producing a revenue safely and expeditiously collected at small expense. He pointed out that there had been no significant increases in Stamp Duty for some time and so practically doubled the tax.
1808 Stamp Act
1815 Stamp Act
Ad valorem duty was extended to more types of documents. Newspaper stamp duty was increased to sixpence a page making papers unobtainable to all but the rich. That year the tax raised £3,250,000. Some publishers such as Richard Carlile defied the law and continued to publish their newspapers without charging the extra tax. Carlile was tried on charges of blasphemy and seditious libel in an attempt to close down his paper, The Republican . He was found guilty, sentenced to three years in Dorchester Jail and fined £1,500.
The poet William Wordsworth worked as Distributor of Stamps for Westmoreland from this time until his death. Little is known of his official activities, but it seems from a government report that he was in charge of a large area and was prompt in the performance of his duties.
In the 1830s men such as Henry Hetherington , James Watson, John Cleave , George Julian Harne and James O'Brien joined Richard Carlile in fighting against what they called a 'tax on knowledge'. The men were often persecuted, being arrested and punished for contravention of the Act. Sales of unstamped newspapers were vastly higher than legal news sources such as The Times.
1840 Stamp Act
The first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, was introduced at the suggestions of Rowland Hill. This Act gave responsibility for supplying the new postage stamps to the Stamps and Taxes Department.
1842 Stamp Act
1855 Stamp Act
The tax on newspapers was finally abolished following pressure from the publishers' lobbying group, the Newspaper Stamp Abolition Committee led by Henry Hetherington.
1870 Stamp Acts
Three laws relating to Stamp Duty were passed in this year:
- The Stamp Act 1870
- The Stamp Duties Management Act
- The Inland Revenue Appeal Act .
1891 Stamp Act and Stamp Duties Management Act
All the above Acts were superseded by the Stamp Duties Management Act 1891 and the Stamp Act 1891 which still constitute the bulk of UK law on Stamp Duties today.
The modern UK Stamp Act
In 1914 The Director of Stamping at the Stamp Office oversaw the production of the first Treasury Notes (later called banknotes). This lasted until 1928 when production of banknotes passed from the Department to the Bank of England. In 1963 production of postage stamps passed to the Post Office.
The Finance Act 1986 introduced Stamp Duty Reserve Tax. From 27 October 1986 the charge was imposed on 'closing' transactions at the London Stock Exchange which until then had been transactions where no document was used and therefore exempt from Stamp Duty.
A public display of Stamp Office artefacts and records was held at the Courtauld Institute in 1994 to commemorate the Three hundredth anniversary of the introduction of UK Stamp Duty. The Stamp Office was also awarded the Charter Mark by John Major's Advisory Committee as a reward for its public service.
The Finance Act 1999 consolidated much Stamp Act law into a single document. Today it yields more than £1 billion every year to the Treasury.
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