Lesson Plans

Colonial America & Revolution

The Stamp Act/Taxation Without Representation

Author: Kristi Titus

School: Leesburg Elementary

Grade Level: 4th

Time Estimated: 4 days

Historical Background

At the conclusion of the French and Indian War in 1763, England was left with a very significant war debt. They had to find a way to pay for damages suffered during the war. Also, they wanted to continue to keep British troops in the colonies in order to maintain control. Again, that would cost money.

In order to raise the funds needed, Parliament passed a series of taxes. The Stamp Act (March, 1765) taxed newspapers, documents, licenses, and most legal papers. The citizens of England approved of this tax. They already paid very high taxes, and they felt that the colonies were responsible for paying for their own repairs and for an army presence. The colonists did not feel that they had a direct voice in Parliament, so they considered this taxation without representation. Thus, the conflict began.

Protests were both violent and non-violent. The colonists boycotted many businesses which caused them to shut down. Committees of Correspondence were formed. These groups wrote letters back and forth to various colonies to keep them informed about what was occurring in their area.

By 1766, American boycotts had caused the British merchants to lose a great deal of money. The merchants complained to Parliament who eventually reversed the Stamp Act.

In 1767, Britain passed another tax – the Townshend Acts. It was later repealed due to American defiance, but the British government left the tea tax in place. Another tea law was passed along with the Intolerable Acts (1774). These laws led to the colonists gathering arms in preparation for war.

SOL Skills

VS.1a Identify and interpret artifacts and primary and secondary source documents to understand events in history.
VS.1d Compare and contrast historical events.
VS.1e Make connections between past and present.
VS.1d Draw conclusions and make generalizations.

SOL Content

VS.5a The student will demonstrate knowledge of the role of Virginia in the American Revolution by identifying the reasons why the colonies went to war with England as expressed in the Declaration of Independence.



Day 1

  1. Preview: Predict what was important to the colonists at the time. What did they buy to use in their daily lives? Make a list on the board.
  2. Students will be given a copy of the preamble to the Stamp Act that has been modified for easier understanding. Students will also be given a vocabulary list to help them interpret the document. Show the students a copy of the full Stamp Act so that they can understand the length of the document.
  3. As a class, read through the preamble. Model with students how to manage difficult text (rereading, adjusting your reading rate, and using the definition list to help you with tough words).
  4. Then, have students work in groups to decipher selected parts of the Stamp Act. Have them work to fill in their notes looking for the types of items which were taxed and the various other associated laws and punishments.
  5. Meet back as a whole group to discuss their findings and be sure all students have filled in their notes. As a class, agree on a definition of the Stamp Act.
  6. Homework: Multiple Intelligence Assessment – For homework, have students answer the following questions in their social studies notebooks. Describe several things which surprised you the most about the Stamp Act. What would you have done if you were a colonist in 1765?

Day 2

  1. Preview: Start by discussing the students’ homework responses in their social studies notebooks. The second question is a great springboard into today’s lesson. How do people protest things today? (Protest may be a new vocabulary word for many students.) How do you think the colonists reacted to the Stamp Act? What did they do?
  2. Lesson Set Up: Many colonists did not feel that the Stamp Act was fair. They felt that it was taxation without representation. In other words, the people were taxed, but they did not have a voice in the government. Many people started to show their dislike of the Stamp Act by drawing cartoons. (Please note that this is probably not the first time students have dealt with cartoons. The Join or Die cartoon with the snake would have been presented during the French and Indian War.) Before this lesson, you may want to remind students of some of the guiding questions to use when studying cartoons.
    • What is the cartoon’s caption or title?
    • What words or phrases are used in the cartoon?
    • Did the artist exaggerate any physical features of the people in the cartoon? Explain those exaggerations.
    • What do you think the cartoon means?
    • From whose point of view is this cartoon drawn?
    • Is there any bias in the cartoon?
  3. Share with the students the cartoon, “The Bostonians Paying the Excise-Man, or Tarring and Feathering.” This cartoon was published in London on October 31, 1774. (Historical Background – The Boston Tea Party occurred on December 16, 1773. It was a direct reaction to the Tea Act. The Tea Act stated that only the East India Tea Company could import tea into America.) The cartoon illustrated the punishment administered to John Malcolm, the tax official in Boston. He was tarred and feathered by the colonists, and they forced him to drink large amounts of tea. Students may need to be told that the Excise-Man was a tax collector for the British. In the background, other colonists are throwing tea into the harbor. When you first show students the cartoon, give them a few minutes to study the print quietly. Then, work through the cartoon analysis worksheet. Provide background information as questions arise.
  4. Divide students into groups. Have them take a different cartoon, and complete the same activity. Ask them to start by taking time to study the cartoon. Then, have them complete the cartoon analysis worksheet. Circulate among the groups and provide assistance and historical background as needed.

    A word about the cartoonists – Both Benjamin Wilson and Phillip Dawe lived in Great Britain. These prints were popular in London mainly because the artists lived in London. Also, political caricature had long been a fixture in England. These prints were sold in the streets and print shops. They were shown in taverns and coffee-houses. Benjamin Franklin enjoyed Wilson’s prints, so he sent a copy to his wife in Philadelphia. The prints soon gained popularity in the colonies. Clearly, there were many in England who were sympathetic with the colonies’ cause.

    Cartoons –
    • "The Repeal, or the Funeral of Miss Ame-Stamp" - This is one of the most famous cartoons of the period. It was drawn by Benjamin Wilson on March 18, 1766, and it celebrates the end of all the taxes. It shows a funeral procession in London of Stamp Act supporters carrying a coffin with the remains of the Stamp Act inside it. They are moving toward an open vault which is prepared for the burial of all unfair taxes. Leading the procession are some of the Englishmen who passed the taxes.

      The action is set on a dock. You can see large unshipped goods that were supposed to be sent to America. Stamps just returned from America are also on the wharf.
    • "The Alternative of Williamsburg" – Phillip Dawe, February 16, 1775 - This print shows the colonial protest to the taxes. In August, 1774, the Williamsburg Resolutions were passed. Virginians were urged to sign a pledge of loyalty to the resolves of the Continental Congress. They were also encouraged to stop the export of tobacco until all taxes were repealed. The print shows the Capitol courtyard in Williamsburg, VA. Liberty fighters have hung a plank across two tobacco barrels to serve as a table upon which the pledge has been placed for signing. One of the barrels is labeled tobacco. Some of the colonists seem reluctant to sign the pledge because stopping the export of tobacco would cause them great financial loss. The alternative is obvious. Behind the table are barrels of tar and feathers hanging from the gallows.
    • "The Bostonians in Distress" – This cartoon is also by Benjamin Wilson. This cartoon shows the consequences of the Boston Port Act. After the Boston Tea Party, England closed the port of Boston. The Bostonians were in dire need of food, and they felt oppressed by the local British troops. In the cartoon, Bostonians are incarcerated – cut off from food and supplies. Residents from nearby towns provided food for them.
  5. Gather the class together, and have each group go over the cartoon and cartoon worksheet with the class.
  6. Homework: Multiple Intelligence Assessment – Have students design a cartoon of their own to display the colonists’ feelings toward the Stamp Act.

Day 3

  1. Preview:Have students share their cartoons with the class.
  2. Discuss with the class how information is circulated today. Discuss how information was circulated in colonial times. It was difficult for colonists to get information. In 1773, Virginia led the colonies in setting up the Committees of Correspondence. It was established by the House of Burgesses, and it was designed to communicate with other legislatures about the actions of the British.
  3. This activity is designed to simulate the Committees of Correspondence. Divide the students up into groups. Have them sit in various locations around the room. Hand each group a modified copy of a primary source account of an event in the pre-Revolutionary colonies. Groups are to read the account and discuss it. Then, they are to write a letter to the other legislatures detailing the events in their colony. When all letters are written, deliver each letter. To accomplish this, nominate a horse and rider from each group. They are to take the letter and gallop to the next colony. Before the colony reads the letter, the rider should gallop back to his/her colony. Continue "delivering" all the letters until each colony has read the account of every other colony. The teacher’s role is to circulate among the groups, and help them with letter format, etc. as needed.
  4. Regroup. Discuss. What were the Committees of Correspondence? What was their purpose? (It was a group of colonists in each colony who met to write letters. The purpose of these letters was to communicate the actions of the British with the other colonies. Students should also realize that letters were their only means of communication as the telephone, telegraph, etc. had not been invented yet.)
  5. Homework: Multiple Intelligence Assessment – Have students answer the following questions in their social studies notebook. What was the most interesting thing you learned in the simulation? Why do you think the Committees of Correspondence were important?

Day 4

  1. Preview: Have students share their notebook entries from last night. Ask students to share with the class a powerful quote. You can get them thinking by suggesting King's "I have a dream." What makes this quote memorable? Did it spur action? (You can mention Kennedy's "Ask not . . ." quote). Today students will read or listen to parts of a famous speech and see what effects it had.
  2. Background Information: Up to this point, the colonies had just protested the tax without actually engaging in major military action. The Continental Congress had met and tried to solve the situation peaceably to no avail. On March 23, 1775, Patrick Henry made a speech at St. John's Church in Richmond, VA.
  3. Review Primary Sources:A speech is another primary source. When we listen to speeches we need to consider some very different questions. Why was the speech made? Who was the intended audience? Who is the speaker? What kind of a speaker was he? What ideas were used to persuade or inform the audience? Were those ideas effective? If you had lived in the time of the speech, would you have supported the statements that were made? Why or why not? How did the speech make you feel?
  4. Have students listen to a recording of the last two paragraphs of the speech (from "There is no longer any room for hope . . ." http://www.history.org/media/audio.cfm. This website allows you to hear the whole speech or just the ending. You can also print a copy of the text from the website.)
  5. As soon as the speech concludes, ask students how it made them feel. Next, take the time to answer the aforementioned questions about speeches. Also, discuss how speeches are different from looking at other types of documents. Then, write the following part of the speech on the board. "Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death." Discuss the meaning of this quote.
  6. Homework: Multiple Intelligence Assignment – Have students create an advertisement encouraging young gentlemen to sign up to serve in the army. The poster should include reasons for them to enlist which may include some recent historical events. Also, students could include part of the text of Patrick Henry’s speech.


Students with different ability levels are placed in cooperative groups along with stronger students so that they can be exposed to higher-level historical thinking. As for homework assignments, students will start them in school and discuss them with staff to help them develop their ideas. The various assignments and learning strategies are differentiated according to various multiple intelligences/learning styles.


Create a newspaper with at least three articles. One article should discuss the Stamp Act. The second article should discuss the Committees of Correspondence. The third article should discuss Patrick Henry’s speech. One of the articles should be an editorial. One should be an eyewitness account, and the last one should be an interview. The cartoon that students did on Day 2 will also be incorporated into the newspaper.

References: Web

"The Repeal, Or The Funeral Of Miss Ame-Stamp," The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

    This is a link to the cartoon, “The Repeal, or the Funeral of Miss Ame-Stamp.”

"The Alternative Of Williams-Burg," The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

    This is a link to the cartoon, “The Alternative of Williams-burg.”

"Colonial Williamsburg," The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation

    This website provides some great background information on Virginia at the time of the Revolutionary War.

"Patrick Henry, Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death, Virginia, March 23, 1775," LocalVoter

    This is a link to the text of Patrick Henry's "Liberty or Death" speech.

"The Stamp Act - Primary Source," HistoryWiz

    This is a link to the full text of the Stamp Act.

References: Books & Media

Freedman, Russell. Give Me Liberty!: The Story of the Declaration of Independence. Holiday House, Incorporated, 2001.

Penner, Lucille R. Liberty! How the Revolutionary War Began. Scholastic, 1998.

Primary Sources: American Revolution. Teacher Created Materials.

    Teacher Created Materials – Primary Sources – American Revolution – This is a great resource! It has copies of the two Boston cartoons. Wonderful!