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NAVIGATION ACTS

As our Maritime Law series continues we come to one of the causes of the American Revolution. Legislation was passed by the English Parliament in the 17th. and 18th. Century's CE to promote and protect English industry and commerce against foreign competition. These acts were sometimes called the Acts of Trade and Navigation. The Navigation Act of 1651 CE stipulated that goods imported or exported by English colonies in Africa, Asia or America be shipped on vessels constructed by English shipbuilders and sailed by crews that were 75% English. Goods imported from the colonies into England also had to arrive on English vessels. Goods from foreign countries were restricted to vessels from the exporting country or to English ships.

The term 'English' referred to individual nationality and not to place of residence and so colonists and colonial shipping were considered 'English'. The Act of 1660 CE specified certain articles, principally tobacco, rice, and indigo, that the English colonists could export only to another English colony or to England. Later Statutes such as the Woolens Act of 1750 CE were all attempts to prevent manufacturing in the English colonies that might threaten the industrial economy of England.

These Acts were a development of the mercantile system, an economic policy prevailing in Europe throughout the 16th. 17th. and 18th. Century's CE. The regulations had clear advantages for English subjects in the American colonies. American shipbuilding prospered because of the requirement that all vessels be English built. Producers of most of the named articles found a stable protected market in England and their sister colonies. A system of export bounties and rebates was set up and actually kept prices of English goods lower than those that would have prevailed under a system of open competition.

During the period of the French and Indian Wars (1755-1763 CE) however when Parliament was forced to seek increased revenues to pay costs of defending the American colonies English officials determined to levy heavier duties under the provisions of the Navigation Acts. American colonists found these duties onerous and they are considered among the indirect causes of the American Revolution (1775-1783 CE). The Navigation Acts were repealed in 1849 CE.

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