What was "salutary neglect" from the British perspective in 17th century?

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larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The policy of Salutary Neglect was perhaps best expressed by its author, British statesmen Edmund Burke, who said:

That I know that the colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that, through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection; when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt, and die away within me.

In essence, the British Parliament believed that the colonies might actually prosper and have better relations with the mother country if control over the colonies, specifically the Navigation Acts, were not strictly enforced. Aside from Burke's position, Parliament was so preoccupied with internal affairs (primarily the succession and the Glorious Revolution of 1688) that it had little time to devote to the colonies. So the British attitude was generally rationalized as the colonies could manage just fine, and perhaps function better without strict Imperial control. This was likely because Parliament had neither the means nor the inclination to enforce the acts. With the conclusion of the Seven Years War, however, Prime Minister George Grenville felt the colonies should be placed "in proper perspective within the Empire," the result of which was increased enforcement of the Navigation Acts and passage of the Stamp Act.

teachkwon | Student

The first American colonies were established as private commercial ventures, some covers used by religious and political dissidents. The colonies were left to run themselves. They invented their own local legislatures. They set up their own churches. They formed their own armed militias. So long as the colonies presented no expense to the royal treasury, the king and the Church of England were largely content to neglect them. This attitude of “salutary neglect” persisted until 1660, when the British monarchy realized that the colonies now posed a threat to the balance of the British economy. Between 1663 and 1772, American purchases of British goods rose from 3 percent of all British exports to nearly 50 percent, and one-third of all British imports came from America. Almost one-third of Britain’s merchant fleet had been constructed in its American colonies. Immigration from Britain and the German states and a healthy birthrate had increased the work force from 250,000 in 1700 to almost 2 million by 1763.