The 1760s were difficult years for the British Empire. The British won the Seven Years War 1755-1763, but the prolonged conflict cost the country almost 50 million pounds, bringing its national debt closer to 130 million. The debt put a strain on the economy, which could not be replenished by further taxing the British citizens out of fears of a national uprising. This caused the country’s top officials to turn their attention to the British Americas, as a potential source of the much-needed income.
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For this purpose, the Isles imposed the Sugar Act, which taxed sugar a molasses imported into the colonies, as well as began the policy of the Salutary Neglect Reversal. However, this was deemed insufficient by the British Prime Minister George Grenville, which led to him introducing the Stamp Act of 1765 (Morgan, 2004).
The Stamp Act Resolutions
The Stamp Act was passed by the Parliament of Great Britain and was the first serious attempt to reaffirm the British authority over the colonies. The Act required almost all documentation, from diplomas to newspapers, to be printed on stamped paper, which was produced in London and sold in colonies for a fee. The Stamp Act affected the colonies on a large scale, and completely circumvented most of the colonial regulatory legislative institutions.
This leads to severe displeasure of the colonial population, causing protests, boycotts, and resistance movements, supported by the society’s intelligentsia. The crisis escalated and eventually called for a repeal of the Stamp Act to avoid an uprising, which was companioned by a list of resolutions.
The first five regulations postulated that the colonists owed the same allegiance to the Crown of Great Britain as its subjects on the Isles, and are, consequently owed the same rights and liberties, which included the right to not be taxed without their consent, either personal or given by their representatives. The last two resolutions specifically noted that the colonies did not have any representation in the British house commons and that the colonists would defer to their representatives, who would be responsible for imposing taxes.
The first and second resolutions reaffirmed that the colonists were citizens of the British Empire, and they were willing to fulfill all of their responsibilities to the Crown, They showed their unwillingness to be denied the rights of British citizens and to be treated as anything less. The third resolution addressed the matter of taxation directly, by asserting that the British citizens could not be taxed without their consent or the consent given by their representatives. On its own, this statement positions the taxes imposed without the consent of the colonists to go against their rights as British citizens.
However, while the latter is represented by the Houses of Commons in Britain, the fourth resolution noted that the former is not, and could not have any such representation due to geographical reasons. This resolution directly stated that the House of Commons could not legally impose taxes on behalf of the colonies. The final resolution developed the thought further. Since the House of Commons couldn’t and shouldn’t represent the colonists, they would be governed by their local representatives.
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This final resolution expects the British Isles to provide the colonies with a very high level of autonomy, basically by completely abdicating their right to directly impose taxes on the population. In this way, the resolutions positioned self-governance as a consequence of the colonists’ constitutional rights as British citizens (Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress – Original Text, n.d.).
The Declaratory Act was published immediately following the repeal of the Stamp Act 1765. It noted the fact the notions in the colonies towards self-governance and postulated that while the Stamp Act was repealed and the Sugar Act lessened, the Imperial Crown and the Parliament remain the principal authorities on laws and policies in the colonies, retaining its right to impose binding regulations and legislations on the American colonists due to their role as British subjects (The Declaratory Act, March 18, 1766, n.d.).
The Declaratory Act reads like a direct response to the Stamp Act Resolutions. It uses the same argument about the colonists being British citizens to reaffirm their position as the Empire’s subjects, its complete authority over them as with the British citizens in the Isles, and focuses on their responsibilities, rather than rights.
The document had the explicit purpose to help the British government save its face in front of its citizens locally and abroad and thus needed to project power and authority. Its purpose was to confirm that while the British Empire may have agreed to repeal the Stamp Act and decrease the taxing, it viewed the Resolutions and the ideals of self-governance and self-representation they discussed as unfounded and criminal. This approach implied the potential of future laws and taxes to be imposed upon the colonies, which inevitably followed (Declaratory Act, n.d.).
The two evaluated documents show different perspectives on the role, obligations, and rights of the American colonists. The Stamp Act Resolutions show the colonists’ desire towards self-governance, based on their rights as British citizens. To them, the ability to regulate their taxes is a logical conclusion of their political and geographical situation. This view is countered by the Declaration and its reassertion of the Crown’s and parliament’s power over British America, and the latter’s innate dependence on the former.
The comparison of these documents shows the seeds of conflict that would eventually result in the American Revolution.
Declaratory Act. (n.d.). Web.
Morgan, E. S. (Ed.). (2004). Prologue to revolution; sources and documents on the Stamp act crisis, 1764-1766. Chapel Hill: UNC Press Books.
Resolutions of the Stamp Act Congress – Original Text. (n.d.). Web.
The Declaratory Act, March 18, 1766. (n.d.). Web.