Regulating Trade Within the Empire

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Regulating Trade Within the Empire

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Navigation Acts. From 1651 onward Parliament passed a series of laws called the Acts of Trade, or Navigation Acts, that attempted to regulate trade with the empire. The theory that underlay these acts was called mercantilism. The idea was that the colonies existed for the benefit of England and that their economic development should coincide with the interests of the mother country. Starting in 1651, the Navigation Acts established a system of regulations that worked both for and against colonial economic interests. Under these laws commodities transported to and from the colonies had to be carried on British ships commanded by British masters; three-quarters of a ships crew had to be Britons. (In this case British meant anyone from the British Isles and American colonies.) This provision greatly aided American sailors and shipbuilders. Other provisions required that certain items called enumerated articles must be taken to England before they could be transported to European ports, while other goods could not be sold anywhere but in England. The latter included tobacco, rice, furs, indigo (a blue dye), and naval stores (masts, hemp, pitch, tar, and turpentine). The acts also included bounties to be paid to Americans for producing things that England needed, such as hemp for rope, iron, dyes, silk, and lumber, while imposing protective tariffs on the importation of the same commodities from other countries. Better enforcement of the Navigation Acts was one motive behind the creation of the Dominion of New England in the 1680s, just as avoiding their enforcement was one motive behind the colonial rebellions that followed the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

Enforcement. In order to enforce these laws Parliament created vice-admiralty courts in the colonies. Such courts handled maritime matters and were controversial in America because they did not include jury trials and took matters out of the hands of local courts. But the mildness of much of the legislation combined with lax enforcement meant that such regulations were rarely the object of protest after 1700, at least until the American Revolution. Parliament claimed first pick on the New England trees suitable for ships masts in the White Pine Acts of the 1720s, restricted the American manufacturing of beaver hats in the Hat Act of 1731, and taxed the importation of French Caribbean molasses in 1733. Each of these prompted complaints, but none resulted in wide-scale rebellion.

SLAVE DISTURBANCES IN COLONIAL AMERICA, 1663-1741

Year(s) ...............Type ...............Colony ...............Place or Description
Key for Types of Activity: SR = Slave Revolt / SC = Slave Conspiracy (without revolt) / M = Maroons or escaped slaves
Source: Richard Maxwell Brown, Strain of Violence: Historical Studies of American Violence and Vigilantism (Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press, 1975), pp. 320-326.
1663 ...............SC ...............Va ...............Gloucester County
1687 ...............SC ...............Va ...............Westmoreland County
1691 ...............SR ...............Va ...............Rappahannock County
1708 ...............SR ...............N.Y ...............Newtown, Long Island
1709-1710 ...............SC ...............Va ...............Surry, James City, and Isle of Wight Counties
1711 ...............SR ...............S.C ...............Band of rebels
1712 ...............SR ...............N.Y ...............New York City
1713 ...............SC ...............S.C ...............Goose Creek
1720 ...............SC ...............S.C ...............Charleston
1722 ...............SC ...............Va ...............Rappahannock River
1723 ...............SC ...............Va ...............Middlesex and Gloucester counties
1727 ...............M ...............La ...............Maroons of des Natanspallé
1729 ...............M ...............Va ...............Blue Ridge Mountains
1730 ...............SC ...............Va ...............Princess Anne County and Norfolk
1730 ...............SC ...............S.C ...............Charleston
1730 ...............SC ...............La ...............New Orleans
1738 ...............M ...............Md ...............Prince Georges County
1739 ...............SC ...............Md ...............Annapolis
1739 ...............SR ...............S.C ...............Stono River
1741 ...............SC ...............N.Y ...............New York City

Reassertion of Control. As the British began to reorganize their control over the colonies in the late 1740s, they created still more regulations. The Iron Act of 1750 outlawed the building of colonial forges for turning pig iron into steel. This law also dropped duties that had previously been laid on pig iron, so in theory the statute both helped and hindered the colonies. In truth it was not enforced anyway, so it had little effect. The Currency Act of 1751 seriously restricted the use of paper money, but it only applied to New England and for various reasons was not immediately perceived as a threat there. Eventually many Americans would come to see such measures as unnecessary and even unlawful interferences with their freedom. Not until the famous Sugar and Stamp Acts of the 1760s did united resistance to such legislation occur.

Source

Edwin J. Perkins, The Economy of Colonial America (New York: Columbia University Press, 1980).

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