There is always a risk when taking any position opposite that of your Rulers. In 1766, “The System” was the British Parliament. Faced with obnoxious opposition to their Stamp Act, the deliberative body would take it upon themselves to correct the problem. In the same breath that they would repeal the Stamp Act on March 18, 1766, they would issue the Declaratory Act.
And be it further declared and enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all resolutions, votes, orders, and proceedings, in any of the said colonies or plantations, whereby the power and authority of the parliament of Great Britain, to make laws and statutes as aforesaid, is denied, or drawn into question, arc, and are hereby declared to be, utterly null and void to all in purposes whatsoever.
This is the intellectual elite’s version of patting themselves on their powdered wigs and saying “Neener, neener!” What they did was basically state that the American colonists were too stupid and incapable of higher thinking when they were being worked up into a frenzy by self-interested radical firebrands.
Whew! I’m sure glad that we’ve moved past that level of rhetoric.
The arrogance and complete disconnect from what was going on in the hinterlands that were the American colonies is really hard to grasp. Two hundred and fifty years removed it seems so obvious. They were losing control of the political situation and were oblivious – truly incapable of understanding the depth of colonial discontent. Here are a Few Pages of the debates on the repeal and Declaratory Act originally assembled back in 1919. Its a fairly short read but the dialog between the MPs is illustrative.
Generally speaking, the colonials didn’t buy it for a minute. Evidently they remained too stupid and inflamed. In this Anonymous Letter, the author calls out the MP’s for their headlong rush to the gentle precipice.
SIR: The Declaratory Act, passed by the Parliament at the time they repealed the Stamp Act, was such a violation of the Constitution, such an assumption of new powers, so subversive of liberty, and so destructive of properly, that it deserves particular observation….The abuse of these powers, or the attempt of one branch of the Legislature to extend its peculiar powers so as to abridge those of the others, has been the foundation of many civil wars and struggles in Britain.
Whew! It’s also a good thing that we’ve moved beyond an arrogant ruling class who would abuse the powers of a branch of government.
They would not learn their lesson, even twelves years on when a Peace Delegation would be sent to the Continental Congress in 1778. I came across this Facebook Post in my readings earlier this week and thought that it dovetailed nicely with the anniversary of the Declaratory Act.
The House of Commons creates a peace commission to negotiate with the American patriots because of France’s recognition of the United States. This commission travels to Philadelphia and accedes to all demands except for independence. The Continental Congress rejects their offer.
It was almost an exact restatement of the Declaratory Act. Of course we will address your petty grievances little minions as long as you realize that the Rules Laid Down By Parliament and Assented to by His Majesty the King remain preeminent and inviolable. Your little colonial congresses and town halls mean nothing to us.
The newspapers of the colonies were the Internet of their day, where the radical firebrands could write letters anonymously and stir up the masses. Even the editors were a little slow on the uptake. This was, in part, due to the elation that most felt – they had triumphed over “The System” and the Stamp Act had been repealed. It was less obvious in March of 1766 that while TPTB were publicly being contrite, that they were also laying the groundwork for dealing with future dissent more harshly. The long, hot summer of 1766 had yet to start.