“[. . .] and that the king’s Majesty [. . .] had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever.”
– Declaratory Act, 1766
The Declaratory Act was a gesture of British Parliament reasserting its authority to pass taxes and laws on the colonies, even though they lacked any representation.
The Stamp Act of 1765 had backfired on the British Crown. The British were hoping to raise revenue by imposing the first direct tax on the colonies, but instead, a flaming opposition went coursing through the region. The colonies began boycotting British goods, and stopped supporting activities that benefited the Crown.
Under normal circumstances the British could have easily dealt with these issues, but the Seven Years’ War with the French had left Britain drowning in debt. The troops stationed in North America also required revenue for their upkeep, which was the reason the Stamp Act had been introduced in the first place. Without that revenue, the troops were unable to control the enraged colonists, ultimately leading to the repeal of the Stamp Act.
What the Declaratory Act Meant
Along with the repeal of the Stamp Act, British Parliament simultaneously passed the Declaratory Act, which declared British authority to make and pass laws for the colonies. The language of the Act, “in all cases whatsoever,” was a direct indication that the legislation would be binding even if the colonies had no representation. The Declaratory Act served to extinguish any celebration that would follow the repeal of the Stamp Act.
There was no immediate reaction to the Declaratory Act, over which the colonists seemed not to have a consensus. Some felt that it meant more taxes would be levied soon, while others were unsure.
However, when Parliament asserted in 1767 that it could pass any laws by majority, the colonies were infuriated. Thomas Paine responded by publishing pamphlets called “The American Crisis.” The Declaratory Act turned out to be one of the most important events in the buildup to the Revolutionary War.