Defying the Stamp Tax on Newspapers

On this date in 1835 a group met at the Crown and Anchor Tavern in London to rally against the stamp tax on newspapers. A handful of politicians spoke, and the Waterford Mail reported on the occasion. Since the cause was near and dear to newspapers, and since politicians had, as they continue to have, a mutually-obsequious relationship with the press, it is hard to take the reports of this meeting very seriously.

But there is one episode in the article that seemed worth repeating, and a follow-on article from another paper also seemed interesting.

An individual here said — “My Lord Brougham, as a vender and a victim of unstamped publications, I wish to address the meeting.”

The Chairman — Certainly, Sir, you shall have the opportunity you seek as soon as the next resolution shall have been proposed (cheers).

The vender and victim of unstamped newspapers here stood forward, and announced himself as Joseph Foster, adding that he was one of those who had suffered under the Six Acts of Castlereagh. He had endured imprisonment for selling unstamped publications, and he would now beg to read to the meeting a petition which he had sent for presentation to their Chairman, but of which “my Lord Brougham” refused to take charge (cries of oh, oh! cheers and confusion). Mr. Foster, as soon as silence was obtained, read the petition to which he alluded. It stated that he had been sentenced to two months’ confinement by Mr. Chambers, the Magistrate, for selling unstamped newspapers on the evidence of two persons who were unworthy of credence, and urged the injustice of inflicting so heavy a punishment for that which ought to be considered an offence…

The Chairman assured Mr. Foster that this was the first he had heard of his petition, but when he went home he should inquire about it. He received numberless letters every day, and it was as much as himself and Secretary and Clerk could do to attend to the correspondence…

The second article, which is noted as having been borrowed from the Courier, reads as follows:

Newspaper Stamp Duty.

The question as to the stamp duty on newspapers promises, at length, to be brought to a speedy, if not a satisfactory, settlement. Yesterday there appeared the first number of a daily newspaper, issued in defiance of the law, on unstamped paper, and sold for two pence! We do not think that any such impudent proceeding ever took place in any civilized country. The passive resistance to the payment of tithe was a mere joke to this. Here we have an open overt act in the teeth of the law, accompanied by a declaration that it is to be daily repeated! Is conduct of this sort to be tolerated? The stamp duty on newspapers may be an expedient or an inexpedient tax; and such may be the case with the duty on tea, the duty on malt, or any other duty. But it has been legally imposed by an act of the Legislature; and, if the issue of newspapers in the teeth of this act be allowed, there is an end of the authority of Government, and no man not an ass will henceforth pay any duty not agreeable to himself.