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1651 — Navigation Acts

By the early 1620s as Britain was coming out of severe recession, merchants and politicians started discussing trade policy. They came to the conclusion that in order to be a healthy nation their exports should exceed their imports and the balance should be invested in military strength. Their fiercest and strongest competitor was the Dutch who dominated the navigation trade. In 1650 parliament passed an ordinance forbidding any foreign ships in British colonies.

Colonial Trade in the 1660s.

The following year parliament, under the leadership of Oliver Cromwell, passed the first of the Navigation Acts which existed for almost two centuries to be fully repealed in 1849. The laws were designed to protect British economic interests in colonial trade and to protect its industry against the rapidly growing Dutch navigation trade. The law essentially reinforced the 1650 ordinance under which no foreign ships were allowed in British colonies, furthermore the act added that British owned vessels be operated by a crew composed of at least fifty percent English men including colonials. Favorably for American colonies, English referred to the nationality not the place of residence thus including colonial ships and residents to conduct inter colonial trade. This law restricted trade of Asian and African goods going to British Islands and American colonies; conversely West Indies and American goods could not be shipped in foreign ships to the rest of the world. European goods could be traded in British ships or ships of the producing country. Subsequent Navigation Acts would change this last provision. Additionally, a system of duties and rebates was set up to give British goods a price advantage in its own colonies.

Effect on American colonies and the West Indies

As the Navigation Act took effect producers and merchants in the colonies were angered at the new restrictions. Trade of sugar in the West Indies, tobacco in Virginia and fish in New England were flourishing industries for which the Dutch provided the best shipping rates. In 1651 England had to dispatch a naval troop to Virginia and Barbados as they were rebelling against the acts; Virginia by not recognizing Charles II as king and Barbados by proclaiming its independence; however they continued to trade with the Dutch as there were no officials to enforce policy.

Sugar plantations in the West Indies

The first Anglo-Dutch War  

The Dutch played a key role in the developing trade in the West Indies, armed with capital resources, an advanced maritime fleet and commercial facilities they outbid British, Spanish and French rivals. The Dutch lacked the manpower to settle plantations of their own but they took advantage of their competitive position to profit from other countries’ colonies. Their commercial success was a point of contention for the British government. In 1652 England was at war with Holland, the first of the Anglo-Dutch Wars that lasted until 1654. The war began with English attacks on Dutch trading vessels ignoring the new shipping restrictions of the 1651 Navigation Act. Ultimately the Dutch were forced to accept the English trade monopoly with England and its colonies. England and Holland were involved in three more wars.

The first of the Anglo-Dutch wars lasted from 1652 until 1654.

Restoration Navigation Acts

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