The Declaratory Act
What was the Declaratory Act?
The Declaratory Act was a measure issued by British Parliament asserting its authority to make laws binding the colonists “in all cases whatsoever” including the right to tax. The Declaratory Act was a reaction of British Parliament to the failure of the Stamp Act as they did not want to give up on the principle of imperial taxation asserting its legal right to tax colonies.
When Parliament repealed the Stamp Act on March 1766, it concurrently approved the Declaratory Act to justify its repeal. It also declared all resolution issued by the Stamp Act Congress null and void. This act meant that a Parliamentary majority could pass any law they saw fit affecting British subjects and colonists alike.
The British government yielded on the Stamp tax because it was an obstruction to business and trade between the colonies and Britain and the non-importation agreement was hurting British companies.
As a response to the Stamp Act Congress resolutions where representatives of the colonies questioned Britain’s right to tax them without representation, members of the Imperial Parliament declared their right to legislate the colonies stating a “virtual representation” as they were part of the British Empire. Colonists argued that they were represented only in their provincial assemblies making them the only legislative body legally able to levy internal taxes in the colonies. This concept, known as “No taxation without representation” was the slogan adopted by the opposition. External taxes such as the Navigation Acts or the Sugar Act were considered trade duties.
The model of virtual representation acknowledged the fact that members of Parliament represented all British citizens. The Imperial Parliament represented the interests of those living across the Atlantic and in all British colonies and not only the districts that elected them. This concept did not sit well with colonists as it did not guarantee the protection of British subjects outside Britain. Even with physical representation Parliament was too far, three thousand miles away, to exert any influence and make timely and informed decisions. The only way it could work was for the provincial government to legislate on internal taxation.
Many in the colonies celebrated the repeal of the Stamp Act and did not vigorously protest the Declaratory Act. However the Sons of Liberty including Samuel Adams, James Otis and John Hancock, saw more taxation coming their way.