Navigation Acts

From Academic Kids

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 1651 Act

The first Navigation Act was passed in October 1651 by the parliament of the Commonwealth of England led by Oliver Cromwell. It was reaction to the failure of a diplomatic mission seeking recognition of the Commonwealth by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

The 1651 Act banned foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England, and banned ships from third countries from transporting goods from a country 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, since the Netherlands produced very few goods itself. This led to the First Anglo-Dutch War, in which eventual naval victory forced the Dutch to acknowledge the Act in the Treaty of Westminster (1654).

It is noteworthy that only shortly before the Navigation Act was passed Dutch lawyer Hugo de Groot (1583-1645) had devised a draft for a written international sea law, in which he advocated unrestricted sea trade. His views fitted very well in with Dutch interests. Nothing was to come of it in those days. However, the modern concept of territorial waters, limiting a country's jurisdiction to a narrow strip of sea close to land, is derived from his ideas.

The 1660 Act

After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660 a second Navigation Act was passed, with the rules expanded to cover exports as well as imports. The Act also imposed severe restrictions on the colonial trade. All foreign shipping was banned from this trade and the colonies themselves were forbidden from directly exporting certain goods, including tobacco, sugar and cotton, to non-English consumers.

This led to the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

Later Acts

A series of four acts, passed between 1662 and 1773, imposed further taxes and restrictions on trade with England's, and after 1707, Britain's colonies.

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 Navigation Acts were repealed in 1849 by which point Britain's utter domination of world shipping allowed them to pursue a more 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. Many scholars, including Adam Smith, have viewed the Navigation Acts as a very beneficial example of state intervention. The introduction of the legislation allowed Britain's shipping industry to develop in isolation and become the best in the world. The increase in merchant shipping also led to a rapid increase in the size and quality of the British Navy, which led to Britain becoming a global superpower.

External links

pl:Akty Nawigacyjne nl:Engelse Scheepvaartwetten


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