The Era of the American Revolution: Studies Inscribed to Evarts Boutell Greene

By Richard B. Morris | Go to book overview

The Effect of the Navigation Acts on the Thirteen Colonies

LAWRENCE A. HARPER

THE ENGLISH Navigation Acts have long been a topic of great interest to both British and American historians, but there has been no agreement as to their effect upon the colonies. The opposite extremes are represented by George Bancroft, who viewed the Acts as horrible instruments of English tyranny against which the colonies nobly arose to throw off the oppressive yoke, and George Louis Beer, who veered to the other extreme in pointing out that the measures were not unfair and who maintained that the old colonial system was so nicely balanced that both the colonies and the mother country bore burdens for the good of the Empire and shared in the general advantages.

The ultimate answer to the question must be deferred until more detailed knowledge of colonial trade and commerce is available. Work which has been done and research now in progress make it possible at this time to outline the factors involved in the problems and to formulate tentative hypotheses.1 The difficulties are many, but most critics of attempts to solve the problem empha

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1
For many years George Louis Beer excellent volumes The Old Colonial System ( 2 vols., New York, 1912) and British Colonial Policy, 1754-1765 ( New York, 1907) have supplied our best account of the Acts. No modern work has been devoted to the laws themselves except the fourth volume of C. M. Andrews The Colonial Period of American History ( New Haven, 1938), which only recently appeared, and L. A. Harper's The English Navigation Laws (in press). Neither, however, treats at length the effect of the laws upon the colonies, each examining the legislation primarily from the point of view of English administration and policies. The present study has been facilitated by the use of basic data now being compiled by WPA Project No. 10482-A-10, which has been supplemented for present purposes by student help supplied by the National Youth Administration. Thanks are also due to the Social Science Research Council of the University of California for financial assistance and to Miss Frances Burke and Dr. Gerald White for help in collecting and analyzing statistics and laws.

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