18th Century English Arrogance or Just "Tone-Deaf"?

On this day in history, March 18, 1766, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act.

The Stamp Act replaced other earlier taxes, but had one major difference – it was a direct tax on the colonists. Whereas other taxes, such as those on molasses and Madeira, were import taxes and could be buried into the cost of the product, the stamp tax was more of a direct tax paid by the colonists themselves. 

One Penny Stamp
Hind site is 20/20, as they say, but somehow replacing an indirect tax with a direct tax on an already riled up people doesn’t seem like the best course of action. The sad truth is that most people, even today, don’t understand that indirect taxes must be passed on to the consumer so they go merrily on their way, blaming the company and not hidden taxes for the rise in costs. The stamp tax made it obvious who was to blame by requiring that proof of payment be stamped on every item made from paper – playing cards, newspapers, books, invoices....

Until today, I had never really taken a close look at the actual stamp.  (Hat tip to History.orgfor calling this out.) I believe there were multiple stamps used for various kinds of products, but almost all of them have an ancient French saying on them – Honi soit qui mal y pense. This translates into “Shame to him who thinks evil of it.”

In fairness, this phrase didn’t originate with the stamp act. According to Wikipedia, it is the motto of the English Chivalric Order ofthe Garter and dates back to the 14th century. But of all the phrases they could use, why use that one for the stamp? Doesn’t it seem like it’s throwing salt on the wound, or at the very least, trying to shame the Americans into not complaining?


Quick question for any of you English history enthusiasts: The 14th century is out of my timeframe, but why would the English, given their loooong history of fighting with the French, use a French phrase as the motto for the an English chivalric order? Perhaps it was during one of their few moments of peace. But then why keep using it?

No comments:

Post a Comment