History Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

Why did some American colonists engage in smuggling and piracy?

Expert Answers info

pohnpei397 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write35,413 answers

starTop subjects are History, Literature, and Social Sciences

The main reason why some American colonists turned to smuggling (more common) and piracy (less common) was economic.  Simply put, it was a good way to make money.  In addition, many people had so little respect for the laws they were breaking that they did not feel that it was morally wrong to do so.

In many (perhaps all) times and places, people have been motivated by the desire to get rich.  When people find a way that they can make money, they will want to pursue it.  Smuggling and piracy were good ways to make money.  Goods that were legally imported into the colonies tended to be expensive.  American goods sold through legal channels tended to get a lower price than smugglers could get if they sold directly to foreign buyers.  In other words, people could make a lot more money by smuggling or engaging in piracy than they could by obeying the law.  This is always a strong incentive to break the law.

It is also easier for most people to break the law if they do not have much respect for that law.  If people do not believe that laws are just, they will not feel morally bound to obey them.  Many colonists did not feel that the laws they were breaking were just.  They felt that it was wrong for the British government to be able to tell them who they had to buy from and sell to.  They did not feel it was all that wrong to rob foreigners, many of whom were their country’s enemies anyway.  Because they did not feel the laws were just, they were more willing to break them so long as they felt they could do so without getting caught.

In colonial times, many Americans smuggled and/or turned to piracy because those were lucrative things to do and because they did not feel morally bound by the laws that banned those activities.