NONIMPORTATION AGREEMENTS were a series of commercial restrictions adopted by American colonists to protest British revenue policies prior to the American Revolution. Britain's Stamp Act of 1765 triggered the first nonimportation agreements. To protest taxation without representation, New York merchants agreed collectively to embargo British imports until Parliament repealed the stamp tax, and they persuaded the merchants of Boston and Philadelphia to do likewise. Under pressure from British exporters who lost business, Parliament repealed the Stamp Act within a year.
After Parliament imposed the Townshend duties on imports in June–July 1767, colonists implemented a second, uneven round of nonimportation agreements. Boston promptly resumed its embargo of British imports, and New York followed in 1768. But Philadelphia signed on to the idea only in 1769, after stockpiling imports. Southern merchants refused to cooperate, and smuggling reportedly occurred everywhere. By 1770, the embargo began to squeeze British exporters as international tensions mounted in Europe. Parliament repealed the Townshend duties on all commodities except tea.
A third wave of economic embargo formed in 1774. To protest various parliamentary restrictions, the Continental Congress created the Continental Association, which imposed nonimportation, nonconsumption, and limited nonexportation terms on the colonies. In disregard of colonial wishes, however, British merchants opened new export markets, and the government in London resolved to crush colonial rebelliousness. War soon followed.
The nonimportation agreements of the late colonial era were important precursors to the American Revolution. The agreements stoked tensions that led to violence. Negotiation of the agreements thrust Boston patriots into prominence and demonstrated to colonists the potential of united action. On a deeper level, the agreements helped awaken colonists to their emerging national identity as Americans by helping them promote their cultural value of thrift on a national stage.
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Thomas, Peter D. G. The Townshend Duties Crisis: The Second Phase of the American Revolution, 1767–1773. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987.