Parliament Passes the ‘Declaratory Act’ to Declare Sovereignty Over Colonies in All Cases

Enacted on the same day that Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act by King George and British Parliament was merely positioning so that England would not lose face for giving in to the colonies.

The British Parliament passed the Declaratory Act in March 1766. It did so in connection with repealing the Stamp Act of 1765. The Declaratory Act was a Parliamentary definition of its relationship to and powers over the original American thirteen colonies.

 Declaratory Act

The British Parliament passed the Declaratory Act in March 1766. It did so in connection with repealing the Stamp Act of 1765. The Declaratory Act was a Parliamentary definition of its relationship to and powers over the original American thirteen colonies. 

Evolution of the act

The Sugar Act of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765 were British laws that imposed taxes on the American colonies. Up until those pieces of legislation were enacted, Parliament had allowed self-governing local assemblies in the colonies to regulate local taxes.

The change in policy and Parliament’s insistence on its right to impose taxes angered the colonists. Active forms of resistance spread throughout the colonies following the Stamp Act. Boycotts were organized, pamphlets and letters were written, and even violent acts of protest against tax collectors, royal officers, and Loyalists occurred.

Only when the voices of colonial protest were joined by those of English merchants affected by the boycotts did Parliament choose to repeal the Stamp Act. In an effort to assert its right and power to oversee the colonies, however, it also passed the Declaratory Act.

Enacted in 1766, the Declaratory Act affirmed Parliament’s authority over the colonies and their legislatures. It defined the colonies as subordinate to the king of England and Parliament and thus declared the right to establish laws and statutes binding the colonies to them “in all cases whatsoever.” It also denied the validity of colonial resolutions against taxation without representation.

In a deliberately ambiguous way, Parliament used the Declaratory Act to define its right to tax the colonies without giving them representation. In choosing to repeal the Stamp Act, it averted further violence in the colonies. By passing the Declaratory Act, however, it insisted on its continuing power to tax the colonies in future laws.

Reaction

Most colonists were so relieved that the Stamp Act had been repealed that they paid little attention to the accompanying Declaratory Act. Many simply saw it as Parliament’s attempt to maintain the appearance of power in the midst of backing down to colonial protests. However, the Townshend Acts of 1767, which levied import duties on glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea among other measures, would awaken colonists to the seriousness of Parliament’s position as set forth in the Declaratory Act.

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