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   Chapter 23 No.23

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 4023

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: Grenville's colonial policy.]

Allusion has already been made (§ 19) to vague schemes of colonial control suggested during the war. More serious measures were impending. When George Grenville became the head of the cabinet, in April, 1763, he took up and elaborated three distinctly new lines of policy, which grew to be the direct causes of the American Revolution. The first was the rigid execution of the Acts of Trade; the second was the taxation of the colonies for the partial support of British garrisons; the third was the permanent establishment of British troops in America. What was the purpose of each of these groups of measures?

[Sidenote: Navigation acts.]

[Sidenote: Effect of the system.]

The object of the first series was simply to secure obedience to the Navigation Acts (Colonies, Section 44, 128),-laws long on the statute book, and admitted by most Americans to be legal. The Acts were intended simply to secure to the mother-country the trade of the colonies; they were in accordance with the practice of other nations; they were far milder than the similar systems of France and Spain, because they gave to colonial vessels and to colonial merchants the same privileges as those enjoyed by English ship-owners and traders. The Acts dated from 1645, but had repeatedly been re-enacted and enlarged, and from time to time more efficient provision was made for their enforcement. In the first place, the Navigation Acts required that all the colonial trade should be carried on in ships built and owned in England or the colonies. In the second place, most of the colonial products were included in a list of "enumerated goods," which could be sent abroad, even in English or colonial vessels, only to English ports. The intention was to give to English home merchants a middleman's profit in the exchange of American for foreign goods. Among the enumerated goods were tobacco, sugar, indigo, copper, and furs, most of them produced by the tropical and sub-tropical co

lonies. Lumber, provisions, and fish were usually not enumerated; and naval stores, such as tar, hemp, and masts, even received an English bounty. In 1733 was passed the "Sugar Act," by which prohibitory duties were laid on sugar and molasses imported from foreign colonies to the English plantations, Many of these provisions little affected the continental colonies, and in some respects were favorable to them. Thus the restriction of trade to English and colonial vessels stimulated ship- building and the shipping interest in the colonies. From 1772 to 1775 more than two thousand vessels were built in America.

[Sidenote: Illegal trade.]

[Sidenote: Difficulty of enforcement.]

The chief difficulty with the system arose out of the obstinate determination of the colonies, especially in New England, to trade with their French and Spanish neighbors in the West Indies, with or without permission: they were able in those markets to sell qualities of fish and lumber for which there was no demand in England. Well might it have been said, as a governor of Virginia had said a century earlier: "Mighty and destructive have been the obstructions to our trade and navigation by that severe Act of Parliament,… for all are most obedient to the laws, while New England men break through them and trade to any place where their interests lead them to." The colonists were obliged to register their ships; it was a common practice to register them at much below their actual tonnage, or to omit the ceremony altogether. Colonial officials could not be depended upon to detect or to punish infractions of the Acts, and for that purpose the English Government had placed customs officers in the principal ports. Small duties were laid on imports, not to furnish revenue, but rather to furnish fees for those officers. The amount thus collected was not more than two thousand pounds a year; and the necessary salaries, aggregating between seven and eight thousand pounds, were paid by the British government.

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