Pennsylvania Politics and the Growth of Democracy: 1740- 1776

By Theodore Thayer | Go to book overview

XI
THE TOWNSHEND ACTS. 1767-1770

B RITAIN WAS UNFORTUNATE in launching its new taxation and navigation program for America on the eve of an economic slump which came as the inevitable reaction to wartime inflation and abnormal demand for goods and services. If the program had been undertaken when business was good, the reaction in the colonies probably would have been more favorable. Contrary to the opinion of some historians, the new laws did not cause the depression. Already business had fallen off before the regulations went into force. In the months to follow, however, the new laws may have aggravated the distress experienced in America.1

The most harmful part of the Sugar Act of 1764 was that which related to the importation of molasses from the foreign West Indies, great quantities of which were consumed by the American distillers. Although the act reduced the duty by one-half, it was still considered higher than the industry could afford.2 This criticism, however, was largely removed in 1766 when Parliament lowered the duty from three to one pence per gallon on foreign molasses. Although British West Indian molasses became subject to the same duty, the fact that most of this commodity used in the colonies was of foreign origin rendered the changes more acceptable. James Pemberton no doubt echoed the sentiment of Philadelphia merchants when he declared that the new act was proof that Parliament continued to care for the interests of the American people.3

But there were other innovations incorporated in the Navigation Laws in 1764-1767 which produced new woes for the American colonies. More products were added to the enumerated list which could be shipped only to Great Britain. In addition, non-enumerated goods no longer could be sent to any country north of Cape Finisterre except by way of the British Isles. A false rumor had it in Philadelphia that the act also banned the shipment of flaxseed to Ireland. Flaxseed, customarily shipped to Ireland in large quantities, was rendered that year

____________________
1
Pa. Journal, Aug. 23, 1764; C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution, 103; Arthur M. Schlesinger, The Colonial Merchants and the American Revolution, 1763-1776, 57. Schlesinger attributes the hard times to the acts of 1764. The Sugar Act, however, did not go into effect until September 29, 1764.
2
Van Tyne, 126ff; Miller, 103-106; William MacDonald, Select Charters, 272-281.
3
Smith MSS., VII, 34, Ridgway Lib.; Van Tyne, 195-196; 6 Geo. III, c. 52.

-139-

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