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The Molasses Act of March 1733 was an Act of the Parliament of Great Britain (citation 6 Geo II. c. 13), which imposed a tax of six pence per gallon on molasses from non-British colonies. Parliament created the act largely at the insistence of large plantation owners in the British West Indies.[1] The Act was not passed for the purpose of raising revenue, but rather to regulate trade by making British products cheaper than those from the French West Indies.

The Molasses Act of 1733 provided:

... there shall be raised, levied, collected and paid, unto and for the use of his Majesty ..., upon all rum or spirits of the produce or manufacture of any of the colonies or plantations in America, not in the possession or under the dominion of his Majesty ..., which at any time or times within or during the continuance of this act, shall be imported or brought into any of the colonies or plantations in America, which now are or hereafter may be in the possession or under the dominion of his Majesty ..., the sum of nine pence, money of Great Britain, ... for every gallon thereof, and after that rate for any greater or lesser quantity: and upon all molasses or syrups of such foreign produce or manufacture as aforesaid, which shall be imported or brought into any of the said colonies or plantations ..., the sum of six pence of like money for every gallon thereof ...; and upon all sugars and paneles of such foreign growth, produce or manufacture as aforesaid, which shall be imported into any of the said colonies or plantations ... a duty after the rate of five shillings of like money, for every hundred weight Avoirdupoize....

Historian Theodore Draper described British intent on the tax as it would affect the American colonies:

Bladen [Col. Main Bladen who was a longtime member of the British Board of Trade] had conceived of the strategy of inflicting a prohibitive duty on imports from the French West Indies instead of simply disallowing them. When he was confronted with the argument that the proposed bill would result in the ruin of the North American colonies, he replied, “that the duties proposed would not prove an absolute prohibition, but he owned that he meant them as something that should come very near it, for in the way the northern colonies are, they raise the French Islands at the expense of ours, and raise themselves also [to]o high, even to an independency.”[2]

A large trade had grown between the New England and Middle colonies and the French, Dutch, and Spanish West Indian possessions. Molasses from the British West Indies, used in New England for making rum, was priced much higher than its competitors and they also had no need for the large quantities of lumber, fish, and other items offered by the colonies in exchange. The British West Indies in the first part of the 18th Century were the most important trading partner for Great Britain so Parliament was attentive to their requests. However, rather than acceding to the demands to prohibit the colonies from trading with the non-British islands, Parliament passed the prohibitively high tax on the colonies for the import of molasses from these islands. [3] Historian John C. Miller noted that the tax:

...threatened New England with ruin, struck a blow at the economic foundations of the Middle colonies, and at the same time opened the way for the British West Indians -- whom the continental colonists regarded as their worst enemies -- to wax rich at the expense of their fellow subjects on the mainland.[4]

Largely opposed by colonists, the tax was rarely paid, and smuggling to avoid it was prominent. If actually collected, the tax would have effectively closed that source to New England and destroyed much of the rum industry. Yet smuggling, bribery or intimidation of customs officials effectively nullified the law. [3] Miller wrote:

Against the Molasses Act, Americans had only their smugglers to depend upon -- but these redoubtable gentry proved more than a match for the British. After a brief effort to enforce the act in Massachusetts in the 1740’s, the English government tacitly accepted defeat and foreign molasses was smuggled into the Northern colonies in an ever-increasing quantity. Thus the New England merchants survived -- but only by nullifying an act of Parliament.[5]

The growing corruption of local officials and disrespect for British Law caused by this act and others like it like the Stamp Act or Townshend Acts eventually led to the American Revolution in 1776. This Act was replaced by the Sugar Act in 1764. This act halved the tax rate, but was accompanied by British intent to actually collect the tax this time.

Notes

  1. ^ Draper pg. 95-96 Middlekauff pg. 63
  2. ^ Draper pg. 100. The quote provided by Draper came from Leo Francis Stock’s Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments respecting North America (1937) vol. 4. pg. 182
  3. ^ a b Miller pg. 96-99
  4. ^ Miller pg. 95
  5. ^ Miller pg. 99

Bibliography

  • Draper, Theodore. A Struggle For Power:The American Revolution. (1996) ISBN 0-8129-2575-0
  • Middlekauff, Robert. The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789. (2005) ISBN 13:978 0-19-516247-9
  • Miller, John C. Origins of the American Revolution. (1943)







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