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The Navigation Acts



The Navigation Acts were passed by the English Parliament in the seventeenth century. The Acts were originally aimed at excluding the Dutch from the profits made by English trade. The mercantilist theory behind the Navigation Acts assumed that world trade was fixed and the colonies existed for the parent country.

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The Navigation Acts of 1660 and 1696 restricted American trade in the following ways;

1. Only British ships could transport imported and exported goods from the colonies.
2. The only people who were allowed to trade with the colonies had to be British citizens.
3. Commodities such as sugar, tobacco, and cotton wool which were produced in the colonies could be exported only to British ports.

Before 1763 the English civil war and the Glorious Revolution were taking place in Europe. During this time the British had to deal with the wars in Europe and really didn't enforce the Navigation Acts, due to their preoccupation with the war. Colonist then stopped following the laws, and smuggling and bribery became a common sight throughout the colonies. The colonists began trading with non-British colonies in the Caribbean, this trading contributed to many colonial merchants and farmers prospering. Britain once again tried to enforce these laws after the French and Indian War, but the colonists sternly objected. These acts aroused great hostility in the American colonies. The Navigation Acts were finally revoked in 1849 after Britain supported the policy of free trade.


Channing, Edward. A History of the United States. Vol.2. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1926).

Hockett, Homer C. Political and Social Growth of the American People 1492-1865. (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1940).

Groilers Electronic Encyclopedia, 1993

Edited by: Brankica Radonjic
Researched by: Gus A. Drivas
Written by: Brankica Radonjic
May 2, 1997

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