Virginia Resolves

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VIRGINIA RESOLVES is a name applied to several sets of resolutions. The most important were the Virginia Resolves on the Stamp Act. Patrick Henry introduced six resolutions, which were adopted by the Virginia House of Burgesses on 30 May 1765 except for the last two, which were considered too radical. Seven, slightly reworded, were published widely in newspapers, and similar sets were adopted by the legislatures of eight colonies by the end of 1765.

Earlier in 1765 the British Parliament had passed the Stamp Act, which placed a tax on newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, and broadsides, all kinds of legal documents, insurance policies, ship's papers, licenses, dice, and playing cards. This led to widespread protest in the American colonies and to the slogan, "No taxation without representation!"

The key resolution of the official version of the Virginia Resolves was

That the general assembly of the colony, together with his majesty or his substitute have in their representative capacity the only exclusive right and power to levy taxes and impositions on the inhabitants of this colony and that every attempt to vest such a power in any person or persons whatsoever other than the general assembly aforesaid is illegal, unconstitutional, and unjust, and has a manifest tendency to destroy British, as well as American freedom.

The Virginia Resolves concerning the Townshend Acts were prepared by George Mason and introduced 16 May 1769 by George Washington in the House of Burgesses. They were adopted unanimously that day as a protest against the 1767 Townshend Acts, which had been adopted by the British Parliament after the repeal of the Stamp Act in 1766. The Townshend Acts created a tax on imported goods, such as paper, glass, paints, and tea shipped from England.

In February 1768, Samuel Adams drew up and issued the Circular Letter, which reported that the Massachusetts General Court had denounced the Townshend Acts in violation of the principle of no taxation without representation, reasserted that the colonies were not represented adequately in the British Parliament, and attacked the Crown's attempt to make colonial governors and judges independent of people by providing them a source of revenue independent of taxation and appropriations by colonial legislatures.

Resolutions passed by the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1769 asserted that only the Virginia governor and legislature had the power to tax Virginians. They also condemned the British government for censuring Adams's Circular Letters, multiple copies of which had been sent by various colonies, and attacked proposals in Parliament that dissidents be taken to England for trial. Within a few months, similar sets of resolutions were adopted by other colonial assemblies.

Written by James Madison and introduced by John Taylor of Caroline County, the Virginia Resolutions of 1798 was adopted by the Virginia Senate on 24 December 1798. Together with the Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 authored by Thomas Jefferson, it protested the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, calling for state actions to obstruct their enforcement. That approach came to be called state nullification of U.S. laws. These protests established the Doctrine of '98 for interpretation of the Constitution, which drove the Democratic-Republican Party that elected Jefferson to the presidency and took control of Congress in 1800. That event came to be called the Revolution of 1800, which ushered in the Jeffersonian era that lasted through 1824.


Loring, Caleb William. Nullification, Secession, Webster's Argument, and the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions Considered in Reference to the Constitution. New York, 1893.


See alsoMassachusetts Circular Letter .

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Virginia Resolves

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Virginia Resolves