Navigation Acts

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Navigation Acts,

in English history, name given to certain parliamentary legislation, more properly called the British Acts of Trade. The acts were an outgrowth of mercantilismmercantilism
, economic system of the major trading nations during the 16th, 17th, and 18th cent., based on the premise that national wealth and power were best served by increasing exports and collecting precious metals in return.
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, and followed principles laid down by Tudor and early Stuart trade regulations. They had as their purpose the expansion of the English carrying trade, the provision from the colonies of materials England could not produce, and the establishment of colonial markets for English manufactures. The rise of the Dutch carrying trade, which threatened to drive English shipping from the seas, was the immediate cause for the Navigation Act of 1651, and it in turn was a major cause of the First Dutch WarDutch Wars,
series of conflicts between the English and Dutch during the mid to late 17th cent. The wars had their roots in the Anglo-Dutch commercial rivalry, although the last of the three wars was a wider conflict in which French interests played a primary role.
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. It forbade the importation of plantation commodities of Asia, Africa, and America except in ships owned by Englishmen. European goods could be brought into England and English possessions only in ships belonging to Englishmen, to people of the country where the cargo was produced, or to people of the country receiving first shipment. This piece of Commonwealth legislation was substantially reenacted in the First Navigation Act of 1660 (confirmed 1661). The First Act enumerated such colonial articles as sugar, tobacco, cotton, and indigo; these were to be supplied only to England. This act was expanded and altered by the succeeding Navigation Acts of 1662, 1663, 1670, 1673, and by the Act to Prevent Frauds and Abuses of 1696. In the act of 1663 the important staple principle required that all foreign goods be shipped to the American colonies through English ports. In return for restrictions on manufacturing and the regulation of trade, colonial commodities were often given a monopoly of the English market and preferential tariff treatment. Thus Americans benefited when tobacco cultivation was made illegal within England, and British West Indian planters were aided by high duties on French sugar. But resentments developed. The Molasses Act of 1733, which raised duties on French West Indian sugar, angered Americans by forcing them to buy the more expensive British West Indian sugar. Extensive smuggling resulted. American historians disagree on whether or not the advantages of the acts outweighed the disadvantages from a colonial point of view. It is clear, however, that the acts hindered the development of manufacturing in the colonies and were a focus of the agitation preceding the American Revolution. Vigorous attempts to prevent smuggling in the American colonies after 1765 led to arbitrary seizures of ships and aroused hostility. The legislation had an unfavorable effect on the Channel Islands, Scotland (before the Act of Union of 1707), and especially Ireland, by excluding them from a preferential position within the system. Shaken by the American Revolution, the system, along with mercantilism, fell into decline. The acts were finally repealed in 1849.


See studies by G. L. Beer (1907–13); L. A. Harper, The English Navigation Laws (1939, repr. 1964); O. M. Dickerson, The Navigation Acts and the American Revolution (1951, repr. 1974).

Navigation Acts


acts passed by the English Parliament to defend England’s sea trade from foreign competition.

The first Navigation Act was passed in 1381. The act of 1651 established that goods from Asia, Africa, and America were to be shipped to England and her possessions only on English vessels; European goods were to be shipped on either English vessels or the vessels of the exporting country. The act was directed against Dutch intermediate trade and fishing; it led to the Dutch War of 1652–54, as a result of which the Netherlands was compelled to accept the principles of the Navigation Acts. The clauses of the act of 1651 were preserved and developed further in the acts of 1660, 1663, 1672, and 1696. The Navigation Acts were based on the principles of mercantilism and played a major role in the development of English sea trade. They were abolished in the mid-19th century with the establishment of English commercial and industrial hegemony and the transition to the principles of free trade.


Harper, L. The English Navigation Laws. New York, 1939.
References in periodicals archive ?
Implicit taxes took the form of the Navigation Acts, which sought to regulate shipping between the colonies and its trading partners.
What will you do to ensure that the promise of the Patient Navigation Act is not an empty one?
We have a zero tolerance policy to this sort of behaviour and we are considering prosecuting her under the Navigation Act.
The dozen revellers were immediately taken away by police and held for questioning under the Air Navigation Act.
Handy faces a charge under Spain's Air Navigation Act of endangering an aircraft and assault occasioning actual bodily harm.
17 of the Implementing Rules of the Navigation Act to the extent corresponding to the duration of custody.
A spokesman for Merseyside Police said: ``Two men from the Hartlepool area were arrested under the Navigation Act on suspicion of endangering an aircraft and endangering and threatening passengers and crew.
Once this was realized the largely anti-Dutch Navigation Act of 1651 was passed, which became the corner-stone of English commercial policy.
Trent Rusby (Member), Administration of Harbors and Navigation Act 1993;
Starting with the mercantilist principles of Adam Smith and the conflict between free trade and the 'notoriously restrictive' Navigation Acts regulating national shipping, it finishes with the internationalism of the truly global, post-regulatory era.
The underlying thesis of The Capital and the Colonies is that the growth of English colonial trade and shipping in the Atlantic between 1660 and 1700 can not entirely be explained by the effects of the Navigation Acts, as Lawrence Harper and others have contended, but attention to the development of "commercial capabilities" that allowed England "to improve efficiency, close a substantial cost gap with its Dutch rivals and make mercantilism work" (p.
To Adam Smith (1776), these Navigation Acts were "impertinent badges of slavery, imposed .