The Declaratory Act



declaratory act

A drawing of the House of Commons of the British parliament, c.1765

There was nothing drastic or immediately threatening about the Declaratory Act, passed by the British parliament immediately after the Stamp Act was repealed in 1766. It raised no new tax, placed no restriction or requisition on the colonial assemblies, in fact it did not require anything from the colonists at all – except an understanding of their subordinate role to the British crown and parliament. The Declaratory Act was simply a proclamation that reinforced parliament’s law-making power over the American colonies. It was designed to clarify the relationship between Britain and America, passed really for the benefit of the Americans themselves, who seemed to have forgotten their place. It was a statement of political perspective; it certainly had no practical implications. The act read in part:

 
Several houses of representatives in his Majesty’s colonies and plantations in America , have against law, claimed to themselves the sole and exclusive right of imposing duties and taxes upon his majesty’s subjects in those colonies and plantations; they have passed certain votes, resolutions, and orders derogatory to the legislative authority of parliament. The said colonies and plantations in America have been and are subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain; the King and parliament [has] full power and authority to make laws and statutes to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever. [adapted]
 

“The Declaratory Act of 1766 reaffirmed the Parliament’s commitment to govern and to tax for the entire empire. [It] satisfied the members of Parliament about the legitimacy and reach of their power.”
John E. Findling, historian

The Declaratory Act was viewed by some in the colonies, quite justifiably, as a face-saving measure. Many considered it a statement of political sovereignty, issued to ease the embarrassment of the Stamp Act repeal. Others thought the Declaratory Act a more sinister development. They saw it not just as a declaration of principle but also a statement of intent; some took it as evidence that parliament intended more legislation to tax the colonies and subordinate the colonial assemblies. To the radicals, the Declaratory Act was inherently more worrying than the earlier attempts to implement petty taxation. Whatever the case the Declaratory Act did not have an immediate impact on the colonies; it would take another raft of taxation legislation the following year to stir the Americans once more.

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