SALUTARY NEGLECT. In the generation of British politicians that arose after the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714), management of domestic politics, especially in Parliament, was more important than the close supervision of overseas colonies. Accommodation of interests and the promotion of trade were valued more highly than strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts or confrontation over new policy initiatives, so much so that the years after the rise of Robert Walpole as the king's chief minister in 1721, to about the middle of the eighteenth century, were called a period of "salutary neglect." To be sure, when serious conflicts of interest arose, the concerns of North American colonists were subordinated. In the Hat Act of 1732, English hatters won from Parliament a prohibition against the production of hats in the colonies. In the Molasses Act of 1733, British West Indian sugar planters influenced Parliament to levy a higher duty on sugar from the French islands as the price of allowing North Americans to continue importing a non-British-produced commodity. Nonetheless, local elites in the colonies were able to prosper, consolidate their positions, and become self-aware in a time when the burden of empire was comparatively light. By mid-century, when this period began to come to an end after the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, colonial elites had come to view "salutary neglect" as the correct state of affairs between the mother country and the North American colonies. Many colonists believed they participated in the crisis of the final French and Indian war as junior partners rather than subordinates, and thus were stunned when, after 1763, the imperial government began to enforce regulations and generate new ways of mulcting the colonial economies.
revised by Harold E. Selesky