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SIRWILLIAMKEITH'SJUSTIFICATION OFA STAMP DUTY IN THE COLONIES, 1739-42 iT has long been known thattheidea oflevying astamp dutyin the British coloniesby act of Parliament did not originatein the brain of GeorgeGrenville. Dr. William A. Shaw (the editor of the Calendars ofTreasuryPapers)publishedin 1905the proposals made in 1761 by Henry M'Culloh, a retired colonialofficial,to the Earl of Bute. In hisintroduction, Dr. Shaw showedthat theseproposals of M'Culloh's were more than those of an "irresponsiblepamphleteer "; he arguedthat this was the first formulation of the idea of a colonial Stamp Tax asa practical political proposition, 1and that M'Culloh either originated the plan independently or adapted it from older proposalswhich had been advancedin earlier years in the circle of officials concerned with colonial administration." William Pitt, in his speechon the Stamp Act in 1766, stated that proposals of a similarnature had beenmadeto hisadministration but had beenrejected?The ideaof an extensionof the stampduty to the colonieshad been proposedon several occasionsbetween 1722 and 1728 by men who, like M'Culloh, were not merely irresponsiblepamphleteers --for instance,Archibald Cummings,a colonial customsofficer, Martin Bladen, a leading member of the Board of Trade, and Sir William Keith, an ex-governorof Pennsylvania .4Sir William Keith presentedthe proposalformally to the King and the Board of Trade in 1728 in his "Short Discourseon the Present State of the Coloniesin America with Respectto the Interest of Great Britain," in which he advocateda greatercentralization of colonialadministration. In a short paragraphpreceding his conclusions he madethe followingrecommendation of a stamp tax: XII. Of a Revenuein America. All that hasbeen said with respectto the improvementof Plantationswill, it is supposed, signifyvery little, unlessa sufficientrevenuecan be raisedto support the needfulexpense. In orderto which,it is humblysubmittedwhetherthe duties •MiscellaneousRepresentations relative to our concernsin America. Submitted [in 1761] to theEarl of Bute by Henry M'Culloh nowfirst printedfrom theoriginal MS with Biographical andHistoricalIntroduction byWin.A. Shaw(London,1005),intro., passim. •'Ibid., xvi. 8j. Almon, Anecdotes oftheLife of theRightHonourableWilliam Pitt (London,1702), II, 186-7. 4H. L. Osgood,TheAmericanColonies in theEighteenth Century(New York, 1925), IIt 820, 888-6; GeorgeL. Beer, British ColonialPolicy, 17t•-1765 (New York, 1022), 40. 168 SIRWILLIAM KEITH'SJUSTIFICATION OFA STAMPDUTY 169 of stampsuponparchmentsand paper in England, may not with goodreasonbe extendedby Act of Parliament to all American plantations. 5 Keith's proposalof 1728,althoughit must have seemedtempting to the ministry, was not adopted. Walpole's inclination was for policieswhich would avoid provoking trouble. Nor is there any indication that the proposalof 1728 was made public at that time. It remained an official paper in the officesof the Board of Trade. No attempt has been made to trace the connectionbetween Keith's proposalin 1728and M'Culloh's in 1761. Beerand Osgood, however, both stated when discussingthe former, that the "Discourse "waspublishedby Keith alongwith certain other tracts and essaysin 1740. For somereasonneither writer pointed out that in this version,the only important alteration is the omission of Paragraph XII, the paragraph in which a stamp tax was advocated. For some reason, Keith deliberately omitted from the published versionthe all-important paragraphon whichthe success of all the rest of his proposalsdepended. øIt is apparent, therefore, that the publication of the "Discourse," some twelve years after it was written and twenty yearsbeforeM'Culloh took up the idea, is not one of the links between the two suggestions.' Among the papers collectedby Beer for the volumes on the secondpart of "The Old Colonial System" which he never completed , there has recently beenfound a transcript from the British Museum of a paperentitled "ReasonsHumbly offeredin Support of a Proposallately madeto extendthe Duties on Stampt Paper •William Keith was of Scottishdescentand had been brought up at the Jacobite court in exile. In spite of that he becamefrom 1714 to 1716 a customsofficerin the colonies.In 1717 he was appointed deputy-governor of Pennsylvania. As a result of supporting the Assembly againstthe C6uncilhewasdismissed from officein 1726and endeavoured to leada popular faction in theAssembly in support ofa papermoney policyagainstthe privilegedgroupsof the colonyrepresented •n the Council.Failing to do that he returned to England in 1728.and was consultedby the Board of Trade on colonialaffairs. As a result he submitted the "Discourse" in which he proposedthe stamp duty. The authorship and date...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-1093
Print ISSN
0008-3755
Pages
pp. 168-182
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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