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States: General History and Description >> The Revolution, 1775-1783 >> Causes
Navigation Acts, 1651-1849
a series of laws passed by the English Parliament designed to protect English trade
In 1645, a law forbade the importation of whale oil into England in vessels other than English, or in ships which were not manned by English sailors.
The act known officially as the First Navigation Act was passed by Parliament in 1651. This act provided that no products from any foreign country could be shipped into England or any English colony by any but English-built ships manned by English crews. The act was not strictly enforced, however.
An act passed in 1660 required that all the tobacco from the colonies must be brought to England, and forbade the growing of tobacco in England. (This was one of the few Navigation Acts that was actually intended to help the American colonies.)
The Second Navigation Act, passed in 1663, declared that almost all goods -- including sugar, cotton, indigo and tobacco -- imported into the colonies must be landed in England first. This act, had it been enforced, would have seriously curbed American trade with the West Indies. The American colonies had long been dependent on sending their agricultural products to the West Indies in exchange for receiving certain products which they in turn used to produce items that could subsequently be shipped to England in return for manufactured goods.
In 1672, an act was passed requiring that goods had to be shipped to England before they could pass from one of the American colonies to another.
By 1761, 29 acts had been passed in restraint of colonial trade. These included one law which prohibited the importation of molasses and sugar. America suffered little from these laws, however, because of the wholesale smuggling practiced by the colonists. In fact, several provisions of the acts were actually favorable to American industry, especially shipbuilding, because they encouraged American shipping. Nevertheless, the restrictions on commerce were vigorously opposed by the Americans, and this opposition was one of the principal subjects of contention between the American colonies and Great Britain.
All of the Navigation Acts were finally repealed by the British Parliament in 1849.
This page was last updated on January 19, 2017.