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Navigation Acts

NAVIGATION ACTS

NAVIGATION ACTS had their origin in Britain's regulation of its coastal trade, which was extended to the British colonies as they developed. Parliament enacted the first Navigation Act in 1660, although this legislation had its roots in earlier policy. By the close of the seventeenth century, Parliament had put other Navigation Acts in place and had installed colonial officials to enforce them through a system of admiralty courts, which had jurisdiction in cases involving trade law. The purpose of the Navigation Acts was two fold: to protect British shipping against competition from the Dutch and other foreign powers, and to grant British merchants a monopoly on colonial commodities such as tobacco and sugar. The Navigation Acts came about in the context of mercantilism, the dominant economic system of the time among the European powers. According to mercantilist thought, a nation could measure its wealth in bullion, or its accumulated supply of gold. According to conventional wisdom, because there existed a finite supply of gold in the world, there also existed a finite supply of wealth. An imperial power acquired colonies for the purpose of expanding its wealth—preferably through the discovery of gold, but also through the production of natural resources, which colonists would ship to the mother country, where manufacturers would process these raw materials into wealth-producing finished products. According to the mercantilist economic model, therefore, a system of open trade could only result in the loss of wealth. To retain material wealth in the imperial realm, a trading power had to utilize its colonies' resources within a closed-trade system, such as the one that the Navigation Acts implemented.

Under these acts, British colonies in Asia, Africa, and America could import and export goods only in English vessels, and three-fourths of each crew was to be English. Other clauses stipulated that England could import products from its colonies in Asia, Africa, or America on English vessels and that goods from foreign countries could arrive in England only on English vessels or on the vessels of the country from which the goods originated. In effect, the Navigation Acts gave English subjects (defined as anyone living within the British realm) and English ships a legal monopoly of all trade between various colonial ports and between these ports and England. Even the trade between colonial ports and foreign countries was limited to English vessels. Thus, foreign vessels were excluded entirely from colonial ports and could trade only at ports in the British Isles.

Another field of legislation related to commodities. The Navigation Acts "enumerated" certain colonial products, which could be exported from the place of production only to another British colony or to England. At first the list included tobacco, sugar, indigo, cotton, wool, ginger, and fustic and other dyewoods. Later, Parliament extended the list to include naval stores, hemp, rice, molasses, beaver skins, furs, copper ore, iron, and lumber. In addition, the colonies could import Asian goods and European manufactures only from England—although an exception was made in the case of salt or wine from the Azores or the Madeira Islands and food products from Ireland or Scotland. Parliament implemented a system of bonds to enforce the trade of enumerated commodities under the Navigation Acts. These bonds required the master of the vessel to comply with the provisions of the acts. Such arrangements operated so as to give American shipowners a practical monopoly of the trade between the continental and West Indian colonies. Residents of Great Britain in turn had a general monopoly of the carrying of the heavy enumerated goods from the colonies to the British Isles.

Colonists were largely limited to buying British manufactures. This was not necessarily a disadvantage, because an elaborate system of export bounties was provided so that British goods were actually cheaper in the colonies than similar foreign goods. These bounties averaged more than £38,000 per year for the ten years preceding the Revolution. From 1757 to 1770 the bounties on British linens exported to the colonies totaled £346,232 according to British treasury reports. In addition to bounties, there was a series of rebates, or drawbacks, of duties on European goods exported to the colonies. These, too, ran into formidable sums. Those to the West Indies alone amounted to £34,000 in 1774. The average payments from the British treasury in bounties and drawbacks on exports to the colonies in 1764 amounted to about £250,000 sterling per year.

Closely related to the Navigation Acts was another series of measures called the Trade Acts, which are usually confused with the Navigation Acts proper. Most of these were enacted after 1700, and they gradually developed into a complicated system of trade control and encouragement. The general plan was to make the entire British Empire prosperous and the trade of one section complementary to that of other sections. The Trade Acts employed a variety of measures to encourage the colonial production of goods desired in Britain. These laws gave colonial tobacco a complete monopoly of the home market by prohibiting its growth in England and imposing heavy import duties on the competing Spanish tobacco. The Trade Acts encouraged production of other colonial goods through tariff duties, which discriminated sharply in favor of the colonial product and against the competing foreign product. The legislation also granted rebates for some colonial commodities for which production exceeded British demand. Rebates facilitated the flow of these items through British markets to their foreign destinations. In other cases, regulations permitted exports of surplus colonial products, such as rice, directly to foreign colonies and to southern Europe without passing through England. In still other cases, Parliament allowed direct cash bounties on such colonial products as hemp, indigo, lumber, and silk upon their arrival in England. These alone totaled more than £82,000 from 1771 to 1775. Naval stores also received liberal bounties, totaling £1,438,762 from 1706 to 1774, and at the time of the Revolution were averaging £25,000 annually.

Overall, the navigation system was mutually profitable to colonies and mother country. Resistance to the acts emerged periodically, however. In the late seventeenth century, for example, colonists complained that James II used the Navigation Acts to hamper colonial economic autonomy. Colonists also resisted British attempts to use trade law as taxation measures. Occasionally, parliamentary prohibitions discouraged colonial industries if they threatened serious competition with an important home industry. Notable examples include prohibitions of the intercolonial export of hats made in the colonies (1732; see Hat Manufacture, Colonial Restriction on) and wool grown or manufactured in the colonies (1699). In this case, the powerful Company of Felt-Makers in London became alarmed at the increasing number of hats that colonial manufacturers were distributing throughout the British colonies and in southern Europe. In response to these complaints, Parliament passed legislation that regulated apprenticeships for hatmakers and slowed the growth of this industry. In another instance, Parliament—responding to English manufacturers who feared colonial competition—forbade the establishment of new mills to produce wrought iron and steel (1750). The same legislation encouraged the production and export of pig iron and bar iron, which benefitted both the colonies and the mother country. Laws such as these produced some local complaint, although they evidently affected few people, because many ignored the more restrictive aspects of the regulations.

More common than resistance to the law was simple negligence—either by ignoring specific restrictions, as hat and iron manufacturers often did, or by smuggling. Evidence indicates that smuggling flourished in the colonies throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Parliament's delays in empowering customs agents, the distance between Britain and its colonies, and the length and complex geography of the North American coastline all made thorough enforcement of the Navigation and Trade Acts nearly impossible. As a result, foreign goods proliferated throught the colonies, and many colonial materials left North America on foreign vessels. Other evidence of smuggling included the frequent abuse of customs agents and the preponderance of bribery, forgery, and other fraud among customs agents and colonial merchants alike. Smuggling was so prevalent that, in the mid-eighteenth century, measures such as the Revenue Act (also known as the Sugar Act, 1764) and the Tea Act (1773), which reduced duties in the legitimate trade while cracking down on smugglers, sparked some of the fiercest patriot resistance.

As long as the trade and navigation laws were limited to the regulation of trade and the promotion of the total commerce of the empire, they generally found support in eighteenth-century America. The enumerated products came largely from the colonies that remained loyal. The bounties went largely to the colonies that revolted. The New England shipping industry depended greatly on the protection that the Navigation Acts ensured. Consequently, the First Continental Congress approved the navigation system in its resolutions, and Benjamin Franklin offered to have the acts reenacted by every colonial legislature in America and to guarantee them for a hundred years if Britain abandoned efforts to tax the American colonies.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Andrews, K. R., et al. The Westward Enterprise: English Activities in Ireland, the Atlantic, and America, 1480–1650. Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 1979.

Carr, Lois Green, et al., eds. Colonial Chesapeake Society. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Church, R. A., ed. The Coal and Iron Industries. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.

Kammen, Michael G. Empire and Interest: The American Colonies and the Politics of Mercantilism. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1970.

McCusker, John J., and Kenneth Morgan, eds. The Early Modern Atlantic Economy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.

McCusker, John J., and Russell R. Menard. The Economy of British America, 1607–1789. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985.

ShelbyBalik

O. M.Dickerson

See alsoBoard of Trade and Plantations ; Bounties, Commercial ; Culpeper's Rebellion ; Dominion of New England ; Enumerated Commodities ; Mercantilism ; Townshend Acts ; Triangular Trade .

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Navigation Acts

NAVIGATION ACTS

NAVIGATION ACTS. The Navigation laws enforced a system of economic management designed to ensure that England's colonial trade was controlled for the benefit of the mother country. There was nothing unique in this arrangement, later referred to as mercantilism, since all the major European powers operated similar systems. Unfortunately, the weak state of England during the second quarter of the seventeenth century meant that much of its colonial trade had been taken over by foreign powers, notably the Dutch. Accordingly, in 1651 the Commonwealth Parliament introduced the first Navigation Act, which required that all plantation goods imported into England be shipped in vessels owned and (three-quarters) manned by Englishmen or in vessels belonging to the country of origin. The expectation was that these restrictions would exclude the Dutch from England's colonial commerce while increasing England's wealth and naval power. The immediate result was the first Anglo-Dutch Naval War of 16521654.

Despite the successful exclusion of the Dutch from the carrying trade, it was quickly perceived that the act of 1651 was deficient because it still allowed colonial goods to be shipped directly to Europe in the vessels of other nations, resulting in a loss of revenue and trade to the mother country. Accordingly, a new bill was drafted in 1660 that not only banned foreign vessels from English colonial ports but declared that certain high-value commodities such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, and indigo must be shipped to England before being reexported elsewhere. However, because the colonies were not only exporters of raw materials but also importers of finished goods, a third Navigation Act was deemed necessary in 1663 to ensure that foreign manufactures reached the colonies only via England, where they first could be taxed, to make them less competitive with English products, while at the same time raising revenue for the crown.

While the acts of 1660 and 1663 constituted the heart of the system of navigation laws, further measures proved necessary over time. In 1673 a fourth act was passed to bring the colonies into line regarding the enumerated duties, notably the one penny duty on a pound of tobacco and the five shilling duty on a hundredweight of white sugar, which up to this time were collected only in England. Then in 1696 a new administrative agency, the Board of Trade, was established to monitor the system more effectively. Simultaneously, special vice-admiralty courts were created to punish those breaking the acts of trade.

Until this time the colonies had been seen primarily as producers of exotic goods and consumers of British manufactures. Now a new consideration began to influence British imperial policy: the need to protect metropolitan producers from colonial competition. In 1699 the Woollen Act was passed, which banned the export of colonial woolen garments to Britain. It was followed in 1732 by the Hat Act and in 1750 by the Iron Act, both similarly aimed at prohibiting (or at least regulating) the production of finished articles in the colonies. These acts, however, were poorly enforced and largely unnecessary since colonial output was rarely of sufficient quality to challenge British manufacturers.

Opinions vary about the economic effects of the Navigation Acts. Most historians believe that the system on balance was beneficial to the colonies: the advantages of being part of an expanding British economy greatly outweighed the disadvantages of these poorly enforced trade restrictions. In any case, there were few complaints about the Navigation Acts in the American Declaration of Independence of 1776. Indeed, the Americans, finding that economic independence was not necessarily as attractive as political independence, sought to negotiate partial reentry into Britain's mercantilist system after the Peace Treaty of 1783.

See also Anglo-Dutch Naval Wars ; British Colonies: North America ; Commerce and Markets ; Mercantilism ; Shipping .

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Appleby, Joyce Oldham. Economic Thought and Ideology in Seventeenth Century England. Princeton, 1978.

Dickerson, Oliver M. The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution. New York, 1963.

Egnal, Marc. New World Economies: The Growth of the Thirteen Colonies and Early Canada. New York, 1998.

McCusker, John J., and Russell R. Menard. The Economy of British America, 16071789. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1985.

Shepherd, James F., and Gary M. Walton. Shipping, Maritime Trade, and the Economic Development of Colonial North America. Cambridge, U.K., 1972.

Richard Middleton

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Navigation Acts

Navigation Acts, in English history, name given to certain parliamentary legislation, more properly called the British Acts of Trade. The acts were an outgrowth of mercantilism, and followed principles laid down by Tudor and early Stuart trade regulations. They had as their purpose the expansion of the English carrying trade, the provision from the colonies of materials England could not produce, and the establishment of colonial markets for English manufactures. The rise of the Dutch carrying trade, which threatened to drive English shipping from the seas, was the immediate cause for the Navigation Act of 1651, and it in turn was a major cause of the First Dutch War. It forbade the importation of plantation commodities of Asia, Africa, and America except in ships owned by Englishmen. European goods could be brought into England and English possessions only in ships belonging to Englishmen, to people of the country where the cargo was produced, or to people of the country receiving first shipment. This piece of Commonwealth legislation was substantially reenacted in the First Navigation Act of 1660 (confirmed 1661). The First Act enumerated such colonial articles as sugar, tobacco, cotton, and indigo; these were to be supplied only to England. This act was expanded and altered by the succeeding Navigation Acts of 1662, 1663, 1670, 1673, and by the Act to Prevent Frauds and Abuses of 1696. In the act of 1663 the important staple principle required that all foreign goods be shipped to the American colonies through English ports. In return for restrictions on manufacturing and the regulation of trade, colonial commodities were often given a monopoly of the English market and preferential tariff treatment. Thus Americans benefited when tobacco cultivation was made illegal within England, and British West Indian planters were aided by high duties on French sugar. But resentments developed. The Molasses Act of 1733, which raised duties on French West Indian sugar, angered Americans by forcing them to buy the more expensive British West Indian sugar. Extensive smuggling resulted. American historians disagree on whether or not the advantages of the acts outweighed the disadvantages from a colonial point of view. It is clear, however, that the acts hindered the development of manufacturing in the colonies and were a focus of the agitation preceding the American Revolution. Vigorous attempts to prevent smuggling in the American colonies after 1765 led to arbitrary seizures of ships and aroused hostility. The legislation had an unfavorable effect on the Channel Islands, Scotland (before the Act of Union of 1707), and especially Ireland, by excluding them from a preferential position within the system. Shaken by the American Revolution, the system, along with mercantilism, fell into decline. The acts were finally repealed in 1849.

See studies by G. L. Beer (1907–13); L. A. Harper, The English Navigation Laws (1939, repr. 1964); O. M. Dickerson, The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution (1951, repr. 1974).

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Navigation Acts

Navigation Acts were intended to protect English (later British) commerce from foreign competition. They originated in Tudor times and were based on ideas usually called mercantilist. This assumed that the volume of world trade was finite and that any gain by one country could only be at the expense of another. The great Act of 1651 was aimed at the Dutch carrying trade. It required that all imports should be carried in ships either owned by English subjects or owned by the nationals of the country from which the goods came. Exports were similarly restricted. The Acts had the concurrent purpose of fostering the merchant navy, which retained an important defensive role. The Navigation Acts were abolished in 1849, a final step towards making Britain a free trade economy.

Ian John Ernest Keil

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Navigation Acts

NAVIGATION ACTS


Between 1645 and 1761 British Parliament passed a series of 29 laws intended to tightly control colonial trade, shipping, and industry to the benefit of English interests. The American colonists largely ignored these acts, which were intended to ensure that the British colonies in North America remained subservient to the mother country. The initial act of 1645 forbade the import of whale oil into England unless it was transported aboard English ships with English crews. Subsequent laws passed in 1651, 1660, and 1663 provided the basis of the Navigation Acts. The First Navigation Act (1651) resembled the legislation of 1645 but was more far-reaching. It stipulated that goods could only enter England, Ireland, or the colonies aboard English (or English colonial) ships. Furthermore colonial coastal trade was to be conducted entirely aboard English ships.

The Second Navigation Act (1660) reaffirmed that goods could only be transported aboard English ships and established a list of "enumerated articles" that had to be shipped directly to England. The intent was to prevent the colonies from trading directly with any other European country. England required the colonies to sell their materials directly to English merchants or pay duties on goods sold to other countries. The list of articles included sugar, cotton, tobacco, indigo, rice, molasses, apples, and wool. In 1663 Parliament passed the Staple Act, making it illegal for colonies to buy products directly from foreign countries; European countries would first have to ship their products to England or pay customs fees. Through the Navigation Acts England tried to establish itself as the gatekeeper of colonial imports and exports. But the laws were difficult to enforce and the colonists easily circumvented them. Smuggling was rampant: In 1684 Parliament annulled the 1629 charter of the Massachusetts Bay Company. It charged that the colonists had violated English law by exporting tobacco and sugar directly to Europe and had thereby shown disrespect to the king. The laws nevertheless had little effect on the colonial economy, which grew at twice the rate of England's during the period. The acts continued to be passed until the eve of the American Revolution (17751783).

See also: Indigo, Molasses Act, Rice, Sugar, Tobacco, Triangular Trade

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Navigation Acts

Navigation Acts English 17th-century statutes placing restrictions on foreign trade and shipping. The first Navigation Act (1651) declared that English trade should be carried only in English ships; it was the main cause of the first Anglo–Dutch War. Later acts placed restrictions on the trade of the colonies.

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