The English Navigation Acts were a series of laws which restricted the use of foreign shipping for trade between England (after 1707 Great Britain) and its colonies, which started in 1651. At their outset, they were a factor in the Anglo-Dutch Wars. Later, they were one of several sources of resentment in the American colonies against Great Britain, helping cause the American Revolutionary War.
The major impetus for the Navigation Acts was the ruinous deterioration of English trade in the aftermath of the Eighty Years War, and the concomitant lifting of the Spanish trade-embargoes on trade between the Spanish Empire and the Dutch Republic. The end of the embargoes in 1647 unleashed the full power of the Amsterdam Entrepôt and other Dutch competitive advantages in world trade. Within a few years, English merchants had practically been overwhelmed in the trade on the Iberian Peninsula, the Mediterranean and the Levant. Even the trade with English colonies (partly still in the hands of the royalists, as the English Civil War was in its final stages and the Commonwealth of England had not yet imposed its authority throughout the English colonies) was "engrossed" by Dutch merchants. English direct trade was crowded out by a sudden influx of commodities from the Levant, Mediterranean and the Spanish and Portuguese empires, and the West Indies via the Dutch Entrepôt, carried in Dutch bottoms and for Dutch account.
The obvious solution seemed to be to seal off the English and Scottish markets to these unwanted imports. The precedent was the Act the Greenland Company had obtained from Parliament in 1645 prohibiting the import of whale products into England, except in ships owned by that company. This principle was now generalized. In 1648 the Levant Company petitioned Parliament for the prohibition of imports of Turkish goods "...from Holland and other places but directly from the places of their growth." Baltic traders added their voices to this chorus. In 1650 the Standing Council for Trade and the Council of State of the Commonwealth prepared a general policy designed to impede the flow of Mediterranean and colonial commodities via Holland and Zeeland into England.
For further detail of the background see First Anglo–Dutch War.
The Navigation Act bill was passed in October 1651 by the Parliament of the Commonwealth of England led by Oliver Cromwell, reinforcing a longstanding principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. It was reaction to the failure of an English diplomatic mission to The Hague seeking a joining of the Commonwealth by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchal aspirations of stadtholder William II of Orange. The stadtholder had suddenly died however and the States were now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea quite too seriously. The English proposed the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch Africa and Asia. As the Dutch, however, had just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, they saw little advantage in this grandiose scheme and proposed a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again was unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and was seen by them as a deliberate affront.
The Act banned foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies and banned third party countries' ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically targeted the Dutch who controlled a large section of Europe's international trade and even much of England's coastal shipping. It excluded the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy was competitive, not complementary with the English, and the two countries therefore exchanged few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constituted only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows. The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it was only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations had failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) showed the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominated and were able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries held each other in a stifling embrace.
The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ended the impasse. The Dutch acknowledged the Act in this peace, but it seems to have had very little influence on their trade. For England the Act offered only limited solace. It could not limit the deterioration of England's overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself was the principal consumer, like the Canaries' wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies the Dutch kept up a flourishing "smuggling" trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offered in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offered a loophole (through intercolonial trade) wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginian tobacco through.
The 1651 Act (like other legislation of the Commonwealth period) was declared void on The Restoration of Charles II, having been passed by 'usurping powers'. Parliament therefore passed new legislation. This is generally referred to as the "Navigation Acts", and (with some amendments) remained in force for nearly two centuries.
The Navigation Act 1660 added a twist to Oliver Cromwell's act; ships' crews had to be three-quarters English, and "enumerated" products not produced by the mother country, such as tobacco, cotton, and sugar were to be shipped from the colonies only to England or other English colonies.
The Navigation Act 1663 (also called the Act for the Encouragement of Trade) required all European goods bound for America (or other colonies) to be shipped through England or Wales first. In England, the goods would be unloaded, inspected, paid duties, and reloaded. The trade had to be carried in English bottoms (i.e. vessels), which included those of its colonies. Furthermore, imports of 'enumerated commodities' (such as sugar, rice, and tobacco) had to be landed and pay tax before going on to other countries. This increased the cost to the colonies, and increased the shipping time.
This Act entitled colonial shipping and seamen to enjoy the full benefits of the exclusive provisions. There was no bar put in the way of colonists who might wish to trade in their own shipping with foreign plantations or European countries other than England, provided they did not violate the enumerated commodity clause.
"English bottoms" included vessels built in English plantations (i.e. colonies), for example in America.
The Acts were in full force for a short time only. After the Second Anglo-Dutch War, which ended disastrously for England, the Dutch obtained the right to ship commodities produced in their German hinterland to England as if these were Dutch goods. Even more importantly, England conceded the principle of "free ship, free good" which provided freedom of molestation by the Royal Navy of Dutch shipping on the high seas, even in wars in which the Dutch Republic was neutral. This more or less gave the Dutch freedom to conduct their "smuggling" unhindered as long as they were not caught red-handed in territorial waters controlled by England. These provisions were reconfimed in the Treaty of Westminster (1674) after the Third Anglo-Dutch War.
The 1733 Molasses Act levied heavy duties on the trade of sugar from the French West Indies to the American colonies, forcing the colonists to buy the more expensive sugar from the British West Indies instead. The law was widely flouted, but efforts by the British to prevent smuggling created hostility and contributed to the American Revolution. The Molasses Act was the first of the Sugar Acts. The act was set to expire in 1763, and in 1764 was renewed as the Sugar Act, which caused unrest with the colonists.
The Navigation Acts were repealed in 1849 under the influence of a laissez-faire philosophy. The Navigation Acts were passed under the economic theory of mercantilism under which wealth was to be increased by restricting trade to colonies rather than with free trade. By 1849 "a central part of British capital's import strategy was to reduce the cost of food through cheap foreign imports and in this way to reduce the cost of maintaining labour power"(van Houten). Repealing the Navigation Acts along with the Corn Laws served this purpose, but also led to the break up of the formal British Empire.
The introduction of the legislation caused Britain's shipping industry to develop in isolation. However, it had the advantage to English shippers of severely limiting the ability of Dutch ships to participate in the carrying trade to England. The Navigation Acts, by reserving British colonial trade to British shipping, may have significantly assisted in the growth of London as a major entrepôt for American colonial wares at the expense of Dutch cities. The maintenance of a certain level of merchant shipping and of trade generally also facilitated a rapid increase in the size and quality of the Royal Navy, which eventually (after the Anglo-Dutch Alliance of 1689 limited the Dutch navy to three-fifths of the size of the English one) led to Britain becoming a global superpower until the mid 20th Century. That naval might, however, never was sufficient to limit Dutch trading power. The reason was that the Dutch trading system rested on such a degree of leverage over overseas markets and shipping resources, combined with a financial power that was only overtaken by Great Britain during the 18th century (after the Glorious Revolution), that it enabled the Dutch to put sufficient pressure on the English to prevent them from sustaining naval campaigns of sufficient length to wrest maritime concessions from the Dutch.
The Navigation Acts, while enriching Britain, caused resentment in the colonies and contributed to the American Revolution. The Navigation Acts required all imports either to be sold in England or bought from England no matter what price could be obtained elsewhere. The rationale was the theory of Mercantilism: the more money one country or colony has, the more power it will hold. The colonists resorted to smuggling. Writs of assistance were issued to enforce the Navigation Acts.
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|The English Navigation Acts were a series of laws which, beginning in 1651, restricted foreign shipping. Resentment against the Navigation Acts was a cause of the Anglo-Dutch Wars and the American Revolutionary War. The following is the text of the 1651 ordinance.— Excerpted from Navigation Acts on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.|
For the increase of the shipping and the encouragement of the navigation of this nation, which under the good providence and protection of God is so great a means of the welfare and safety of this Commonwealth: be it enacted by this present Parliament, and the authority thereof, that from and after the first day of December, one thousand six hundred fifty and one, and from thence forwards, no goods or commodities whatsoever of the growth, production or manufacture of Asia, Africa or America, or of any part thereof; or of any islands belonging to them, or which are described or laid down in the usual maps or cards of those places, as well of the English plantations as others, shall be imported or brought into this Commonwealth of England, or into Ireland, or any other lands, islands, plantations, or territories to this Commonwealth belonging, or in their possession, in any other ship or ships, vessel or vessels whatsoever, but only in such as do truly and without fraud belong only to the people of this Commonwealth, or the plantations thereof, as the proprietors or right owners thereof; and whereof the master and mariners are also for the most part of them of the people of this Commonwealth, under the penalty of the forfeiture and loss of all the goods that shall be imported contrary to this act; as also of the ship (with all her tackle, guns and apparel) in which the said goods or commodities shall be so brought in and imported; the one moiety to the use of the Commonwealth, and the other moiety to the use and behoof of any person or persons who shall seize the goods or commodities, and shall prosecute the same in any court of record within this Commonwealth.
And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no goods or commodities of the growth, production, or manufacture of Europe, or of any part thereof, shall after the first day of December, one thousand six hundred fifty and one, be imported or brought into this Commonwealth of England, or into Ireland, or any other lands, islands, plantations or territories to this Commonwealth belonging, or in their possession, in any ship or ships, vessel or vessels whatsoever, but in such as do truly and without fraud belong only to the people of this Commonwealth, as the true owners and proprietors thereof, and in no other, except only such foreign ships and vessels as do truly and properly belong to the people of that country or place, of which the said goods are the growth, production or manufacture; or to such ports where the said goods can only be, or most usually are first shipped for transportation; and that under the same penalty of forfeiture and loss expressed in the former branch of this Act, the said forfeitures to be recovered and employed as is therein expressed.
And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no goods or commodities that are of foreign growth, production or manufacture, and which are to be brought into this Commonwealth in shipping belonging to the people thereof, shall be by them shipped or brought from any other place or places, country or countries, but only from those of their said growth, production, or manufacture, or from those ports where the said goods and commodities can only, or are, or usually have been first shipped for transportation; and from none other places or countries, under the same penalty of forfeiture and loss expressed in the first branch of this Act, the said forfeitures to be recovered and employed as is therein expressed.
And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no sort of cod-fish, ling, herring, pilchard, or any other kind of salted fish, usually fished for and caught by the people of this nation; nor any oil made, or that shall be made of any kind of fish whatsoever, nor any whale-fins, or whale-bones, shall from henceforth be imported into this Commonwealth or into Ireland, or any other lands, islands, plantations, or territories thereto belonging, or in their possession, but only such as shall be caught in vessels that do or shall truly and properly belong to the people of this nation, as proprietors and right owners thereof; and the said fish to be cured, and the oil aforesaid made by the people of this Commonwealth, under the penalty and loss expressed in the first branch of this present Act; the said forfeit to be recovered and employed as is there expressed.
And it is further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that no sort of cod, ling, herring or pilchard, or any other kind of salted fish whatsoever, which shall bo caught and cured by the people of this Commonwealth, shall be from and after the first of February, one thousand six hundred fifty three, exported from any place or places belonging to this Commonwealth, in any other ship or ships, vessel or vessels, save only in such as do truly and properly appertain to the people of this Commonwealth, as right owners; and whereof the master and mariners are for the most part of them English, under the penalty and loss expressed in the said first branch of this present Act; the said forfeit to be recovered and employed as is there expressed.
Provided always, that this Act, nor anything therein contained, extend not, or be meant to restrain the importation of any of the commodities of the Straits or Levant seas, laden in the shipping of this nation as aforesaid, at the usual ports or places for lading of them heretofore, within the said Straits or Levant seas, though the said commodities be not of the very growth of the said places.
Provided also, that this Act nor anything therein contained, extend not, nor be meant to restrain the importing of any East India commodities laden in the shipping of this nation, at the usual port or places for lading of them heretofore in any part of those seas, to the southward and eastward of Cabo Bona Esperanza, although the said ports be not the very places of their growth.
Provided also, that it shall and may be lawful to and for any of the people of this Commonwealth, in vessels or ships to them belonging, and whereof the master and mariners are of this nation as aforesaid, to load and bring in from any of the ports of Spain and Portugal, all sorts of goods or commodities that have come from, or any way belonged unto the plantations or dominions of either of them respectively.
Be it also further enacted by the authority aforesaid, that from henceforth it shall not be lawful to any person or persons whatsoever to load or cause to be laden and carried in any bottom or bottoms, ship or ships, vessel or vessels, whatsoever, whereof any stranger or strangers born (unless such be denizens or naturalized) be owners, or masters, any fish, victual, wares, or things of what kind or nature soever the same shall be, from one port or creek of this Commonwealth, to another port or creek of the same, under penalty to every one that shall offend contrary to the true meaning of this branch of this present Art, to forfeit all the goods that shall be so laden or carried, as also the ship upon which they shall be so laden or carried, the same forfeit to be recovered and employed as directed in the first branch of this present Act.
Lastly, that this Act nor anything therein contained, extend not to bullion, nor yet to any goods taken, or that shall be taken by way of reprisal by any ship or ships, having commission from this commonwealth.
Provided, that this Act, or anything therein contained, shall not extend, nor be construed to extend to any silk or silk wares which shall be brought by laud from any part of Italy, and there bought with the proceed of English commodities, sold either for money or in barter: but that it shall and may be lawful for any of the people of this Commonwealth to ship the same in English vessels from Ostend, Nieuport, Rotterdam, Middelburg, Amsterdam, or any ports thereabouts, the owners and proprietors first making oath by themselves, or other credible witnesses, before the Commissioners of the Customs for the time being or their deputies, or one of the Barons of the Exchequer, that the goods aforesaid were so bought for his or their own proper account in Italy.
|This work is in the public domain worldwide because the work was created by a public body of the United Kingdom with Crown Status and commercially published prior to 1960.|