Navigation Acts

In the 1600s, Britain had many colonies and needed a way to manage the trade of all the raw materials, sourced from these locations. As such, their parliamentarians devised strategies to siphon as much resources as possible, which would bolster their economy for many years to come. The Navigation Acts is a set of rules implemented by the British parliament. This was done in the years in 1651, 1660 & 1663. They controlled the trades between England, their colonies and the rest of the world. The navigation laws speak to the taxes, vessel voyages and restrictions between the colonies and other countries.

Rationale of Navigation Acts

Britain saw the successful trade conducted by the Dutch and implemented strategies to deter their growth. The Acts were enacted to protect the English ships and maintain a monopoly, which enabled them to make more profit. A major goal of the navigation acts was to normalize the English colonies and the rest of world. This directly caused an improvement of the English economy; especially after the recession and the War. These rules and regulations were meant to achieve exceptional success and wealth at the expense of other countries. It directly restricted trade for other countries.

The First Navigation Act 1651

By the mid 1600s, the parliament was ready with a new edict. The first English navigation act was passed on October 10, 1651 in England under the leadership of Cromwell. It was designed to mitigate the influence and success of the Dutch shipping and trade, which far surpassed the English. As a result of the significance of the navigation acts, the level of the competition between Dutch and English shipping now had an adverse effect on Dutch shipping trade. Therefore the first of these English edicts succeeded in overpowering the Dutch and solidifying the English monopoly. The Trade and Navigation acts stipulated that any goods manufactured or made in America, Africa or Asia must be transported to England and her colonies in English ships.

Navigation Acts of 1660

The second amendment to the edict occurred in 1660; it was passed on September 13. Certain goods and articles such as sugar, cotton, ginger, wool, tobacco and indigo were enumerated. These were to be shipped only to England. All other specific goods and articles could be transported to foreign countries from English colonies in English vessels. Also three quarters of the crew including the master on the ship, should be of English citizenship. These trade rules and regulations stated that taxes on these items must be directly paid to England and not to the countries where it was exported. As such, the edicts adversely affected all other countries; therefore, in order to continue trade between the colonies, ‘smuggling’ emerged.

Navigation Acts of 1663

The third amendment occurred in 1663. The new set of edicts had to be enacted to address the imperfection of the previous Act of 1651 and 1660.  This led to those edicts being passed on July 27, 1663. This amendment to the Trade and Navigation acts was also called ‘The Staple Act or the Act for the Encouragement of Trade’. It required that all goods and articles being transported to the Americas were to be routed through The English ports. As such, all goods coming into England were inspected, taxed, approved and finally sent to their port of destination.  Shipping costs and shipping time were increased as a result of the significance of the navigation law.  Delay in commodities, only further affected the colonies and other countries to economic downfall.

Read also: British Oppression: The Cause of the American Revolution?

Navigation Acts of 1673, 1696 and 1773

Further violations of the laws led to a new Navigation Act of 1673, which was also called the Plantation Duty Act. This edict dictated that colonial ship captains give assurances that they would transport enumerated commodities to England or be liable to fiscal penalties. The tax was to be paid to England. In 1696, the regulations were amended, which further tightened loopholes in the previous set of navigation laws. During this time vice admiralty courts were instituted in the Americas to impose the laws. These laws now spoke to smuggling. The courts, therefore, enforced trade regulation and administered various punishments, for all smugglers. In the British laws, customs officials were given the power to board vessels and search for smuggled goods and commodities.

The Board of Trade and Plantations was established as a permanent body in 1696. They monitored colonial legislatures, corresponded with governments and informed itself thoroughly concerning all matters of colonial trade. All efforts made to enforce the laws proved futile. Because it unfairly impacted the people, who ultimately became lawbreakers; as such, the smuggling continued.

Navigation Acts of 1733

In 1773, the Molasses Act escalated matters in the sugar trade, within the colonies. These altered laws taxed excessively, any non English imported molasses. It was implemented to encourage the importation of British West Indian molasses. A major goal of the Navigation Acts was to limit the number of foreign goods and promote British products within the colonies. It also brought in more profit for the English government, while putting restrictions on colonies and other countries. The Molasses Act was among the least effective of the British laws.

Consequences of the Navigation Acts

The British Acts were primarily designed to expand and improve the British trade, while limiting others; for example, the Dutch maritime trade. They caused Britain to accomplish much success, wealth and economic growth. However, it was disastrous for all other countries, including the Americas and the British colonies. This ultimately led to the American Revolution.

There was no freedom of trade between the colonies and other countries because the Trade acts required all colonies’ goods and commodities, to be imported from England. Because the British parliament designed the laws, they primarily benefitted Britain’s interests and its economy. The British parliament did everything possible to prevent rapid growth of Dutch trade and shipping. Also, the level of smuggling increased in the colonies, due to the harshness of the British Navigation Acts.

The Acts limited the ability of shipping vessels to employ other people from other nationalities except English crew members, on certain vessels and increases the English seafarers’ chance of employment. The edicts were for British interest; it served to destroy the colonist gradually and caused British colonies and other countries severe economic hardships, which were unwarranted. Other countries subsequently lost power over their colonies, eventually, as they refused to abide by the British rules and regulations.

Read also: The Beginning of the American Revolution