I'm writing a paper on the era of the Stamp Act (1765) concerning primarily the clash of legal cultures between what was then the Colonies of North America and the mother country, Great Britain.

You can email or message me for (an abbreviated version of) what I have so far. But my mode of attack in answering this question is mostly this:

The legal culture of Great Britain centered around two main principles. Firstly that it was a bureaucracy and with it had all the shortcomings of bureaucracies. These shortcomings which were established in the legal structure of how Great Britain operated made it difficult to respond in a timely fashion to the Stamp Act rebellions. In other words, Britain was never proactive and its reactive performance was severely hampered by the strict adherence to tradition. (Rather than the grassroots, propaganda driven culture in North America.) The Second main principle was Parliamentary supremacy. This was a huge road block because it essentially gave Britain the "right" to tax the colonists. While the colonists viewed taxation as a "privilege" that was not really granted to Parliament.

Firstly I'd like to field comments. Does anybody think this is a valid line of attack? Any idea how it may be improved where its strengths and possible weaknesses are?

Secondly, I've run into a bit of a problem with sourcing this argument. I need to find more sources relating to the bureaucratic structure of Great Britain and evidence that this structure did indeed slow down reaction times and lead to an over-dependence on "civil" techniques to combat aggressive and riotous ones.

If any one can point me to references that would be great as well.

Thanks so much,


  • There was an underlying principle of "salutary neglect" towards the colonies: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salutary_neglect. So it wasn't that the British didn't have the "right" to enforce the Stamp Act, it was that they really hadn't enforced anything up to that point. It sounds like you would want to try and find Parliamentary sources of the response to the Stamp Act. I guess I'm not 100% sure what it is you are asking. – ihtkwot Mar 14 '12 at 13:13
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    thanks @ihtkwot! let me clarify. I do have some documentation on the Parliamentary response to the Stamp Act specifically the Gage and Conway correspondence (of which I've posted an excerpt here: docs.google.com/document/d/…). I just wanted to know if there were any sources you would recommend or if this thesis needs tweaking due to a lack of relevant information. – franklin Mar 14 '12 at 16:30
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    It seems that the basic gist you are getting at is that Parliament was too slow to respond to the colonial crisis, and the reason it was too slow was because of the bureaucratic nature of British government. The second principle you mention seems to confuse the issue by introducing a seemingly unnecessary debate, with respect to the response, over whether it was a right or a privilege. I would focus on how the machinery of government dictated the British response. – ihtkwot Mar 14 '12 at 16:47
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    @ihtkwot, you're also forgetting that news took months to get across the Atlantic and months to respond. The news of rebellion reached England 4 months after the rebellion, England had to organize an army with 4 month old information, probably taking a month at most, and the generals, after landing, had to then fight the colonists with 9 month old information. Not very easy. – Russell Mar 17 '12 at 1:11
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    I doubt you'll find corroboration for your first premise. The Stamp Act was, or became, a political question more than a technical or bureacratic one, so you might be looking under the wrong lamplight... :) – Felix Goldberg Dec 10 '12 at 0:41