The Navigation Acts

The Navigation Acts were passed by the English Parliament in the 17th century. The Acts were originally aimed at excluding the Dutch from the profits made by English trade. The mercantilist theory behind the Navigation Acts assumed that world trade was fixed and the colonies existed for the parent country.

The Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1696 restricted American trade in the following ways:

  • Only British ships could transport imported and exported goods from the colonies.
  • The only people allowed to trade with the colonies were British citizens.
  • Commodities such as sugar, tobacco, cotton, and wool that were produced in the colonies could be exported only to British ports.

Before 1763 the English civil war and the Glorious Revolution were taking place in Europe. During this time the British were busy with the wars in Europe and didn’t enforce the Navigation Acts. Colonist then stopped following the laws, and smuggling and bribery became common. The colonists began trading with non-British colonies in the Caribbean, which helped many colonial merchants and farmers to prosper. Britain tried to enforce these laws after the French and Indian War, but the colonists objected, and these acts aroused great hostility in the American colonies. The Navigation Acts were finally revoked in 1849 after the Britain supported the policy of free trade.

Source: The Navigation Acts
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