Navigation Acts

Navigation Acts
   A series of mercantilist provisions designed to protect English shipping, as well as to secure huge profits at the cost of colonies. English customs practices aimed at the Dutch in 1651 had banned foreign vessels from shipping goods from non-European ports to English ports. They also forbade vessels from third-party countries to ship goods through European ports to England. The 1707 Navigation Acts imposed duties and restricted trade with all British colonies. A favorable balance of trade was maintained for the colonial power by exporting more finished goods to the colonies and importing raw materials. Heavy duties were imposed on export of molasses and sugar from the French West Indies to the 13 American colonies by the Molasses Act of 1733. These restrictions were a factor in both the Anglo-Dutch Wars and the American Revolution.
   By the beginning of nineteenth century, mercantilism had fallen into disfavor, and the British government began to move toward a policy of laissez faire. The British merchant marine was supreme, and the Navigations Acts could be dispensed with. Moreover, British trade was hampered by retaliatory duties imposed by the Netherlands, Prussia, and Portugal. With the Treaty of Ghent in December 1814, Britain and the United Stares settled their commercial disputes and abolished mutual restrictions on trade. As president of the Board of Trade, William Huskisson promoted free trade principles in the Reciprocity of Duties Bill of June 1823. The bill did away with certain restrictions imposed on foreign ships bringing goods to British ports and made no distinctions between British vessels and those of foreign countries agreeing to trade reciprocity. Duties on imported items like raw foreign wool, imported raw, and manufactured silk were lowered.
   The Navigation Acts were finally repealed in 1849, as Britain’s domination of world shipping permitted the removal of a monopoly of trade with the colonies. In the self-governing colonies, tariffs could even be imposed on goods from Britain. The long-term effect was beneficial, as British shipping increased by 45 percent within two decades. With improved shipping technology and industrial supremacy, Britain witnessed no serious rival to British domination of world trade and shipping in the nineteenth century.
   See also <>; <>.
    Dickerson, Oliver M. The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution . New York: Octagon Books, 1978;
    Harper, Lawrence A. The English Navigation Laws: A Seventeenth-Century Experiment in Social Engineering . New York: Columbia University Press, 1939;
    Trevelyan, G. M. History of England . 2nd ed. London: Longmans, 1966.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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