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 ?
6 The most important were freedom of the transit trade (the duty-free import of goods to be re-exported), the reduction of the duty on timber from the Baltic countries, and a lessening of certain restrictions imposed by the Navigation Laws.
The principle was applied in a small way the next year, in a more important way the year after, and continued to guide policy until the last major restraints on trade, the Navigation Laws, were repealed in 1849.
Another obstacle was the perceived military value of the Navigation Laws and of other restrictions that enlarged the merchant marine and made it a reserve for the Navy.
Baring was critical of the Navigation Laws but did not want them changed in a way that would injure shipping.
The demand would be increased by making the transit trade free and by the amendments to the Navigation Laws, and it would be decreased by lowering the duty on timber from the Baltic, since it was less distant than North America, from which timber also was imported.
He was also businesslike when he testified about the Navigation Laws.
26 They made even greater use of Adam Smith, the shipowners citing his approving of the Navigation Laws and a pamphleteer deducing from his capital theory that free trade would reduce the domestic wealth of the nation.
Oceanografia's Mexican-flagged fleet and saturation diving system is well-positioned to bid competitively for such deepwater pipeline construction in the Mexican market; Mexican commercial navigation laws give Mexican-flagged vessels preference over non-Mexican-flagged vessels.
Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani said that the Gulf Cooperation Council considers the attack as an act of terrorism that jeopardizes international navigation in Bab al-Mandab, exposing it to grave risk, as it runs contrary to international navigation laws and to regional and international efforts being made to send relief aid to the Republic of Yemen, in order to alleviate the suffering of the brotherly people of Yemen, he concluded.

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