Initial Colonial Response To British Acts

Just War, Rebellion, and the American Revolution: John Keown and Modern Critiques on Whether the War of Independence was Just.

Part 19: The Initial Colonial Response (1764-1767) – The Sugar Act (1764), The Stamp Act (1765), The Stamp Act Congress (1765), Declaration of Rights and Grievances (1765), The Virginia Resolves (1765), The Declaratory Act (1766), and The Townshend Acts (1767)

By Leonard O. Goenaga

The North American campaign of the Seven Years War would be called the French and Indian War after the two primary British enemies. With the goal of paying down some of the acquired £150 million war-related debt, the British would claim the Colonists responsible for paying the costs of their defense. What followed was a series of acts passed to levy new taxes on Colonists. Although taxation was previously used to regulate trade, the Sugar Act of 1764 directly taxed colonists to raise revenues, resulting with populist and constitutional complaints among the Colonists.1 As mentioned earlier in the Petition of Right, Englishmen were not to be taxed unless by consent in Parliament.2  With the actual representation of the Colonists assembled in their native legislatures, and having formulated their own taxation laws during the salutary neglect period, their consent was absent in British Parliament.

The Colonists debates were fueled further after Parliament passed the Stamp Act of 1765.3 In addition to parliament taxing without consent, Colonists began to question the extent of Parliament’s power. 4 With no elected representatives in Parliament, and so no consent over taxation, the Colonists directed an organized resistance. The Stamp Act resulted with Colonists meeting in New York City for what is known as the Stamp Act Congress. Besides producing the first organized Colonial response to Britain, the Congress would produce a petition to the Crown and Parliament, as well as establish connections among merchants and landowners across the colonies. The Stamp Act Congress would produce the Declaration of Rights and Grievances of 1765, which declared the imposed taxes unconstitutional without their consent among thirteen other colonial complaints. 5 Other evidence of Colonial protest is found in the Virginia Resolves authored by Patrick Henry and passed in the Virginia House of Representations in 1765.6

Responding to the Sugar and Stamp acts, Henry echoed the focus on representation and consent,

That the Taxation of the People by themselves, or by Persons chosen by themselves to
represent them, who could only know what Taxes the People are able to bear, or the
easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every Tax laid on the
People, is the only Security against a burdensome Taxation, and the distinguishing
characteristick of British Freedom, without which the ancient Constitution cannot

Although Parliament responded to the Colonial protests and petitions by repealing the unpopular Stamp Act, they would further agitate the Colonists by passing on the same day of this repeal the Declaratory Act of 1766. 8 This Act rejected the Colonists’ claims on taxation and representation, and instead affirmed the Crown and Parliament’s right “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.” 9 Ignoring the protest of prominent British parliamentarians, Britain further antagonized the Colonists with the passing of the Townshend Acts of 1767. 10 These acts sought to secure British control overColonial affairs through various laws beginning in 1767, and as with the Stamp and Sugar Acts, the Townshend Acts proved tremendously unpopular. 11 In addition to raising funds for royal magistrates and regulating trade, the Acts intended to establish Parliament’s right to tax and govern the colonies as stated in the Declaratory Act of 1766. Colonists would respond by tapping into their resistance networks developed during the Stamp Act Congress, which resulted in increased protests that eventually led to the Boston Massacre of 1770. This also led Parliament to increase its military presence throughout the Colonies.


1 John Phillip Reid, Constitutional History of the American Revolution, II: The Authority to Tax. Madison (University of Wisconsin Press, 1987) 206. The Sugar Act of 1764 may be found online in its full text at: The Sugar Act (1764) – <>

2 Petition of Right, <>, “the Kings Subjects should not be taxed but by Consent in Parliament.”

3 The Stamp Act of 1765 may be found online in its full text at: The Stamp Act (March 22, 1765) – <>

4 Peter D. G. Thomas, The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987) 10.

5 See Appendix 6 for the full text of the Stamp Act Congress’ Declaration of Rights and Grievances as recorded in the Journal of the First Congress of the American Colonies, in Opposition to the Tyrannical Acts of the British Parliament. Held at New York, October 7, 1765 (New York, 1845), pp. 27-29. “That it is inseparably essential to the freedom of a people, and the undoubted right of Englishmen, that no taxes be imposed on them, but with their own consent, given personally, or by their representatives. That the people of these colonies are not, and from their local circumstances cannot be, represented in the House of Commons in Great-Britain. That the only representatives of the people of these colonies, are persons chosen therein by themselves, and that no taxes ever have been, or can be constitutionally imposed on them, but by their respective legislatures.” Another protest worth nothing was against the use of Admiralty Courts, given the Right of trial by jury.

6 See Appendix 5 for the text of the Virginia Resolves.

7 John Pendleton Kennedy, ed., Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1761-1765 (Richmond: 1907).

8 See Appendix 5 for the text of the Declaratory Act.

9 Ibid.

10 See Appendix 1 for a copy of the Townshend Acts. British Voices Against the Act: Lord Camden – “[T]he British Parliament have no right to tax the Americans. I shall not consider the Declaratory Bill now lying on your table; for to what purpose, but loss of time, to consider the particulars of a Bill, the very existence of which is illegal, absolutely illegal, contrary to the fundamental laws of nature, contrary to the fundamental laws of this constitution? A constitution grounded on the eternal and immutable laws of nature; a constitution whose foundation and centre is liberty, which sends liberty to every individual who may happen to be within any part of its ample circumference. Nor, my Lords, is the doctrine new, it is as old as the constitution; it grew up with it; indeed it is its support; taxation and representation are inseparably united; God hath joined them, no British parliament can separate them; to endeavour to do it, is to stab our very vitals. . . . My position is this—I repeat it—I will maintain it to my last hour,—taxation and representation are inseparable; this position is founded on the laws of nature; it is more, it is itself an eternal law of nature; for whatever is a man’s own, is absolutely his own; no man has a right to take it from him without his consent, either expressed by himself or representative; whoever attempts to do it, attempts an injury; whoever does it, commits a robbery; he throws down and destroys the distinction between liberty and slavery. Taxation and representation are coeval with and essential to the constitution. . . . [T]here is not a blade of grass growing in the most obscure corner of this kingdom, which is not, which was not ever, represented since the constitution began; there is not a blade of grass, which when taxed, was not taxed by the consent of the proprietor. . . . I can never give my assent to any bill for taxing the American colonies, while they remain unrepresented; for as to the distinction of a virtual representation, it is so absurd as not to deserve an answer; I therefore pass it over with contempt. The forefathers of the Americans did not leave their native country, and subject themselves to every danger and distress, to be reduced to a state of slavery: they did not give up their rights; they looked for protection, and not for chains, from their mother country; by her they expected to be defended in the possession of their property, and not to be deprived of it: for, should the present power continue, there is nothing which they can call their own; or, to use the words of Mr. Locke, ‘What property have they in that, which another may, by right, take, when he pleases, to himself?’” William Pitt – “The idea of a virtual representation of America in this House is the most contemptible that ever entered into the head of a man. It does not deserve a serious refutation. The Commons of America, represented in their several assemblies, have ever been in possession of the exercise of this their constitutional right, of giving and granting their own money. They would have been slaves if they had not enjoyed it.”

11 Robert J. Chaffin, “The Townshend Acts crisis, 1767–1770” in The Blackwell Encyclopedia of the American Revolution. Jack P. Greene, and J.R. Pole, eds. (Malden: Blackwell, 1991) 255. Acts normally included within the Townshend Acts: The Revenue Act of 1767, the New York Restraining Act, the Indemnity Act, the Commissioners of Customs Act, and the Vice Admiralty Court Act. The Townshend Act of 1767 may be found online in its full text at: The Townshend Act (November 20, 1767) – <>

Self-Educated American Research Writer, Leonard O. Goenaga
, is a Baptist Associate Pastor (assigned to the Youth) at Glory of God Christian Fellowship, Raleigh, North Carolina; a Mentor (Computer Lab/Technology) at the Wake Forest Boys & Girls Club; a husband (to Katrina); and rugby coach. He holds a B.A. in Political Science (with a specific concentration in Political Theory, Social Contract, and Constitutionalism), a second B.A. in Religious Studies (with a concentration in World Religions and Early Christianity), a Master of Divinity in Christian Ethics, and an A.A. in Entrepreneurship. He has begun Ph.D with a concentration likely centered on an analysis of Locke’s Social Contract, H.L.A. Hart’s Legal System, American Constitutionalism, and Baptist Ecclesiology of Covenant. Visit his website at