Navigation Acts
to protect English trade

1651, 1660, 1663, and 1672

Navigation Acts were several laws passed in the 1600's by the English Parliament. The purpose of the laws was to protect English trade. In 1645, Parliament passed a law that forbade the importation of whale oil into England in non-English vessels, or in ships that were not operated by English sailors.

The act known as the First Navigation Act was passed in 1651. It was aimed against the American Colonies and the Dutch, who were profiting from most of the overseas trade between the West Indies and Europe. The act provided that no products from any foreign country might be shipped into England in any but English-built ships operated by crews that were at least 75 percent English. But the act was not strictly enforced.

Parliament passed other trade laws in 1660, 1663, and 1672. The act of 1660 required that all the tobacco from the colonies must be brought to England. The act of 1663 (Second Navigation Act) declared that almost all goods imported into the colonies must be landed in England first. In 1672, an act was passed requiring that goods had to be shipped to England before they could pass from one of the American Colonies to another.

Before 1761, 29 acts limiting colonial trade had been passed. These included one law banning importation of molasses and sugar. America suffered little from these laws because of smuggling by the colonists. Several parts of the acts favored American industry, especially shipbuilding, because they encouraged American shipping. But the Americans vigorously opposed the restrictions on commerce. This opposition was one of the main causes of the Revolutionary War in America (1775-1783). The British Parliament, in 1849, repealed (canceled) all the Navigation Acts.

« Excerpts from Navigation Acts

Contributor: Charles Carlton, Ph.D., Prof. of History, North Carolina State Univ.


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