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Declaratory Act

Declaratory Act

DECLARATORY ACT. 18 March 1766. On the day it repealed the Stamp Act of 1765, Britain's Parliament asserted its authority to make laws binding the American colonies "in all cases whatsoever," using the same general language as in the Irish Declaratory Act of 1719. One of the most important influences in persuading Parliament to repeal the Stamp Act had been the masterful performance of Benjamin Franklin in his testimony before the House of Commons on 13 February 1766, the thrust of which had been that Americans objected only to "internal" taxes, but not to taxes on trade. Franklin's testimony was disingenuous at best (historian Edmund S. Morgan calls it "a dangerous piece of deception with unfortunate aftereffects"), since Franklin knew that most colonists drew no such distinction.

The prime minister, the Marquis of Rockingham, who favored repeal of the Stamp Act because he believed it was unsound policy, knew that repeal would have to be accompanied by some declaration that would assuage Parliament's anger at American defiance of its authority. William Pitt had already introduced a resolution that, in demanding repeal of the Stamp Act, simultaneously "proposed that Parliament assert its sovereignty over the colonies in 'every point of legislation whatsoever.'" Rockingham made use of the distinction introduced by Franklin and supported by Pitt that Americans objected only to internal taxes. In the Declaratory Act, he asserted Parliament's right to make laws and statutes binding the colonists "in all cases whatsoever" without specifically stating whether or not those cases included the right to tax. Members of Parliament were persuaded that Americans objected only to internal taxes and believed that the Declaratory Act included the right of Parliament to tax the colonists. The misunderstandings embodied in the Declaratory Act were an important element in eroding an accurate understanding of the imperial crisis on both sides of the Atlantic.

SEE ALSO Franklin, Benjamin; Stamp Act.


Jensen, Merrill, ed. English Historical Documents, Volume IX: American Colonial Documents to 1776. David C. Douglas, general editor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1955.

Morgan, Edmund S. The Birth of the Republic, 1763–1789. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.

Morgan, Edmund S., and Helen M. The Stamp Act Crisis: Prologue to Revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1953.

Thomas, Peter D. G. British Politics and the Stamp Act Crisis: The First Phase of the American Revolution, 1763–1767. Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press, 1975.

                             revised by Harold E. Selesky

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