What were the Navigation Acts?


The Navigational Act definition is a series of resolutions adopted by the English Parliament and aimed at promoting and protecting England from maritime trade and industry from foreign competition. The first Act provided that the import of overseas goods into the country can only be carried out on English ships.


The imperial power of Great Britain is usually associated with free trade policy. However, officially, Britain switched to free trade only in 1845 after the cancellation of the famous “Corn Laws” by R. Peel. When England had its first colonies, the share of this country was already considered in world trade, but it met with intense competition from Holland.

This small state on the coast of the North Sea managed to create a powerful trading empire in a short period from the end of the 16th century. All the governments of Europe envied the success of the Dutch. The British, for whom this small country becomes the main rival since the end of the 16th century, sought to emulate them, adopt the Dutch experience, and squeeze their competitors.

Cromwell’s Navigation Act of October 9, 1651, became the embodiment of the hopes of English manufacturers and traders. The new law forbade transporting products or goods grown, produced in Asia, Africa, or America on any ship other than those owned by citizens of England. The second item prohibited loading and delivery on board any vessel whose captain was a foreigner.

First of all, this Act was directed against the Dutch, who actively traded with the British, filling their goods with English, European or colonial markets. Moreover, this Act became a policy model of mercantilism, which closed the way to the British economy for foreigners and created the conditions for its manufacturers and traders.

The merchants of the colonies and the metropolis were equal in their rights in the Cromwell Navigation Act of 1651 but it limited the colonial trade. A new Act, adopted in 1660, changed this position in favor of the British. The government did not prohibit the import into the colony of goods directly from foreign ports.

Anyway, in 1663, the new “Trade Promotion Act” (the Staple Act) introduced the following changes. The captain of the arriving ship was obliged to present a list of goods and documents confirming that the ship was English, and both the captain and 3/4 of the crew were English. Otherwise, they were all considered smugglers and were subject to arrest.

The merchants of the British colonies felt the most affected since they were forbidden to conduct independent trade with other countries. Furthermore, another essential point of the Navigation Act of 1660 seriously hit the colonists – a list of goods that foreigners and colonists had no legal right to export from English plantations.

In 1663, indignant Virginians wrote a petition to England demanding the repeal of new laws. They assured that the Act ruins the inhabitants and planters (colonies). However, the discontent of the colonial merchants was perfectly offset by the significant amount of illegal trade in the provinces.

From the middle of the 17th century, England became the center of a new economic system, which brought maritime, commercial, and colonial power. However, this power consisted in the balance of the metropolis power, profitable from the legal colonial trade, and the American colonies, strengthened by illegal trade.

The strengthening of the imperial policy of London in the 1760s, criticism of mercantilism broke the current balance of power and gave rise to the American Revolution and later the collapse of the First British Empire.

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