Here in the United States of America, we are used to having to pay sales taxes on all varieties of merchandise. We’re also used to having to pay fees whenever we file any sorts of legal documents.
The Stamp Act, which was passed 22 March 1765, was the first direct tax on the American colonies. Once it was enacted in November of that same year, all kinds of printed matter was subject to taxation, such as:
- Legal documents;
- Playing cards and dice. (Yes, dice.)
It was bad enough having to pay the tax to begin with, but to make matters worse, they were funding something they didn’t want in the first place.
In this book, Alan Axelrod, PhD writes:
“The purpose of the Stamp Act was to help defray the cost of maintaining British soldiers in the colonies. But colonists had had their fill of British soldiery in the French and Indian War, and they resented the tax. Worse, any infringement of the new tax was to be tried in the vice-admiralty courts rather than by local magistrates.”
Alright, so first of all, the colonists’ money was going towards the maintenance of British soldiers, whose presence they already found to be exhausting. This was not something they were happy about. The Crown must have suspected there would be resistance to the idea which is why it was determined that violations of the act would be tried in vice-admiralty courts.
What does that mean? Why would that be such a big deal?
Well, the vice-admiralty courts were established to hear cases involving maritime disputes, such as between merchants and seamen. That, in and of itself, doesn’t sound problematic, but just wait… What’s one thing an American citizen can count on today if he is charged with a crime?
The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says the following:
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defence.
Guess what. A case heard in vice-admiralty court has no jury, much less a local jury. There was only one guy who was going to decide your fate if you were brought up on a charge in the vice-admiralty court, and that was the vice-admiralty court judge, a man who was directly appointed by the Crown.