Today in 1766, British Parliament repealed the Stamp Act, after months of protest from the colonies and British merchants. On the same day, it also passed the Declaratory Act, a pronouncement that Parliament’s authority in North America was supreme and binding upon the colonies.
It declared that Parliament had the authority “to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America…in all cases whatsoever.”
In “The American Crisis,” Thomas Paine condemned the Declaratory Act and considered its underlying idea to be the root of the conflict with Britain:
“Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but “to bind us in all cases whatsoever” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth.”
To many, the Declaratory Act offered no saving grace to the prevailing American position that the colonies could be taxed only by their own colonial assemblies, a precept they believed stretched all the way back to the Magna Carta. This contradictory view would force a new rift between the colonies and their mother country that would be seen over the next years.
Still, jubilant celebrations broke out all throughout North America. Some had said the king had delivered the colonies from oppression and injustice, and were ready to give adulation to the crown. New Yorkers celebrated by erecting a statue of George III on the tip of Bowling Green in Manhattan. Ultimately, the same statue would be melted down and turned into musket balls to be fired on his majesty’s forces.
After continual hostility against the taxes it attempted to levy against the North American colonies, Parliament in 1774 passed the even more controversial Coercive Acts. The laws effectively stripped Massachusetts of any political sovereignty, enacted a policy that permitted forcible quartering of British soldiers, closed the ports in Boston to all commerce, and allowed for trials of royal officials to be brought elsewhere in the British Empire in order to secure a more preferable outcome.
Richard Henry Lee described the measures as “a most wicked System for destroying the liberty of America.” Responding harshly to all resistance against taxation and circumstances considered rebellious, Britain’s conscious attempt to drain power from the colonies, and propensity to assert itself as supreme over all legislative matters, served as the primary reason the colonies drew arms against the government they ultimately chose to depart from.
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