What Were The Navigation Acts?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The Navigation Acts were laws that were meant to restrict trade to and from the American colonies.  They did this so that the colonies’ trade would be more beneficial to England.

In colonial times, essentially all European powers believed in the idea of mercantilism.  This was a doctrine that held that countries needed to export more than they imported.  It was believed that this was the only way that a country could become rich and powerful.

To comply with the ideas of mercantilism, countries had to try to limit their imports.  They would also want to limit the amount of goods that any of their colonies imported as well.  This was the background of the Navigation Acts.  The British wanted to prevent the American colonies from importing goods from other countries.  Therefore, they enacted these laws, preventing the colonies from importing many goods.  The laws also required the colonies to sell many of the goods they produced to England and not to any other country.

The Navigation Acts were also meant to help strengthen the British merchant fleet.  They tried to ensure that all goods coming to and from the colonies would be carried in British ships, manned by British crews.  This would give Britain a greater degree of potential naval power.

So, the Navigation Acts were laws that were meant to make sure that the colonies’ economic activities would end up helping England, and not any other country, live up to the goals of mercantilism.

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laurto | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The Navigation Acts were laws that restricted foreign shipping for trade between England and its colonies. They were passed by the English Parliament in the 17th century. It was an attempt to put mercantilism into practice. 

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Yojana_Thapa | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The navigation acts were a series of laws beginning in 1651 that restricted foreign shipping. The first navigation acts (1651)

  • only English ships could transport goods from outside Europe
  • that goods from inside Europe could only be shipped by English ships and ships from the originating country.
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Jyotsana | Student, Grade 10 | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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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.

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.

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fact-finder | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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The Navigation Acts were a series of twenty-nine laws passed by the British Parliament to control trade conducted by its colonies. These acts, passed between 1645 and 1761, required that any goods sent to England, Ireland, or the English colonies had to be carried on English (or English colonial) ships. To prevent colonies from trading directly with other nations, England required that the colonies sell their materials to English merchants or pay duties (taxes) on goods (such as sugar, cotton, tobacco, indigo, rice, molasses, apples, and wool) sold to other countries. European merchants also had to pay taxes on the products they sold to the English colonies. To counter these laws, merchants often smuggled products into and out of the colonies.

Further Information: "Navigation Acts." Electric Library. [Online] Available http://www.encyclopedia.com/articles/09056.html, October 16, 2000; United States of America Chronology—Navigation Acts. [Online] Available http://campus.northpark.edu/history/WebChron/USA/Navigation.html, October 16, 2000.

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