Pitt’s Speech on the Stamp Act

Written by: Regina Karigan-Winter

Edited by: Senetibeb Gebre

The French and Indian War created an economic strain on Britain. In response to this need for more money, the British Parliament increased taxes in the American colonies by passing the Stamp Act (1965). This required a tax on every piece of printed paper in the colonies. The colonists’ naturally were opposed to these high taxes in a large part due to the fact that they weren’t approved by the colonial legislatures. If this act was to be passed without the consent of the colonies, then what power did the colonial legislatures have? This one act of the British Parliament was one step backward in the eyes of the colonists in that they had no voice in the supposed colonial government nor did they have representation in Parliament. In response to the Stamp Act, the colonists' rebelled by burning new shipments of stamped documents when they arrived in the colonies.

William Pitt the Elder, later the Earl of Chatham, was a great force in the French and Indian War who later became Prime minister of . William Pitt's speech on the Stamp Act was one of his famous roles in defense on the American colonies. Pitt delivered this speech in the House of Commons, the Lowe House of the Parliament. In support of the American colonies, that opposed the Stamp Act and spoke against it with freedom, Pitt claimed that “freedom has become their crime” and that they were being “robbed of their constitutional rights.”(Wieserma) Pitted meant by Constitutional right as the right of the colonies to have a representation of their voices in the Parliament. He asked that the Stamp Act be repealed because it was "founded on erroneous principle" (Wiersema) and therefore, unconstitutional.

In The Rhetoric of Western, Lloyd F. Bitzer writes on a rhetorical situation. His rhetorical theory can be applied to Pitt’s Stamp Act Speech. The rhetorical situations are the events surrounding the Stamp Act, which I have mentioned in the first paragraph, and Pitt’s response to it. Bitzer includes in his theory three constituents of a rhetorical situation, exigencies: things that need to be changed, audience and constraints. One example of a constraint is the lack of cooperation and respect of the British Parliament with the colonial legislature. Another can be the interests of the members of the British Parliament, situation of Britain during the French and Indian War. One of the exigencies in this speech is the Stamp Act passed by the British Parliament without the consent of the colonies. The audience is the House of Commons. Aristotelian appeals of pathos and logos are also expressed in this speech. Pitt makes different pathos appeals. One example can be his defense of the colonies’ treatment with the analogy of a man’s behavior to his wife.

“Be to her faults a little blind.

Be to her virtues very kind.”

At the beginning of his speech, Pitt carefully discusses his approval of ’s resistance and appeals to logos through reasoning it. “Three Million of people so dead to all feelings of liberty, as voluntarily to submit to be slaves, would have been fit instruments to make slaves of the rest."

Works Cited

Aristotle. On Rhetoric: A Theory of Civic Discourse. Trans. George. A. Kennedy. New York: Oxford UP 1991.25-51. Declaration of Independence. In Congress, July 4, 1776.

Bitzer, Lloyd F. "The Rhetorical Situation." The Rhetoric of Western Thought. Eds. James L. Golden, Goodwin F. Berquist, and William E. Coleman. 3rd ed. Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1983. 17-24.

Garry Wiersema. From Revolution to Reconstruction- an .HTML project. Department of Humanities Computing: 1994-2005. 6 March. 2003. < http://odur.let.rug.nl/~usa/D/1751-1775/stampact/sapitt.htm>