Colonial America During the Salutary Neglect Era
The term “salutary neglect” was first used by British politician Edmund Burke, in a speech he gave before the House of Commons on March 22, 1775. However, the Era of Salutary Neglect started — and ended — well before that date.
During the Salutary Neglect Era, Americans gained a sense of self-reliance and independence. Although England — later Britain — passed laws to restrict American manufacturing and trade, the weak enforcement of laws gave merchants and colonial leaders the leeway they needed to find solutions to the problems they faced.
The freedom Americans found due to Salutary Neglect was heightened by the individualism and independent thought created by the First Great Awakening. This contributed to a common American identity that spread throughout the colonies, culminating in the American Revolution and the War for Independence.
October 9, 1651 — Navigation Act of 1651
The Navigation Act of 1651 prohibited Dutch ships from transporting goods from the American Colonies to England. Colonial merchants were forced to ship their goods to England on English ships.
September 13, 1660 — Navigation Act of 1660
This Navigation Act gave England more control over the raw materials that were produced by the colonies. Seven “enumerated goods” were identified that could only be shipped to England. Those items were: tobacco, sugar, rice, cotton wool, ginger, and dyes like indigo.
July 27, 1663 — Staple Act
Parliament passed the Navigation Act of 1663, also known as the Staple Act. It modified existing trade regulations and required all shipments of goods that were headed to the American Colonies to go to England first, so the taxes could be paid. After the taxes were paid, the ship could sail to the colonies. This increased the time and cost of shipping and that cost was passed on to the consumers in the colonies. As a result, colonists paid more for the products they bought.
1673 — Plantation Duty Act
The Plantation Duty Act was passed to help reduce the smuggling of tobacco and other enumerated goods by prohibiting colonial merchants from trading directly with foreign nations. The colonies were allowed to trade with each other but were required to pay customs duties on shipments.
There were significant objections to the tax on tobacco. In Albemarle County, North Carolina, the planters felt having to pay the customs duties threatened the profits they made from trading tobacco with Massachusetts and Rhode Island. It eventually led to Culpepper’s Rebellion in North Carolina in 1677.
1675 — Lords of Trade Appointed
In 1675, King Charles II established the Lords of Trade and Plantation, which consisted of 21 members of the Privy Council. Nine of them were responsible for paying attention to the needs of the colonies. The Lords of Trade was a permanent committee that provided guidance to the Privy Council but had no legislative power.
1676–1677 — Bacon’s Rebellion
Bacon’s Rebellion was an uprising in Virginia led by Nathaniel Bacon against Governor William Berkeley. The uprising was caused by a dispute over how to deal with Native Tribes that were conducting raids on Virginia’s western frontier. The Governor wanted to form an alliance with some Tribes, but Bacon and others wanted to wage a war against them because they believed victory would produce land and slaves for the colony. A civil war broke out between the followers of Bacon and the followers of Berkeley. The Governor was eventually forced to leave Jamestown. Later on, Bacon’s army burned Jamestown. Although Bacon died in October 1676 the fighting continued until Britain sent troops to put down the rebellion and restore order.
1677–1678 — Culpeper’s Rebellion
There were significant objections to the customs duties on tobacco that had been levied by the Plantation Duty Act of 1673. In Albemarle County, North Carolina, the planters felt having to pay the customs duties threatened the profits they made from trading tobacco with Massachusetts and Rhode Island.
Several men, including John Culpeper, arrested Governor Thomas Miller and other government officials. Culpeper and his men took control of the government. At the time, North Carolina was controlled by eight Lords Proprietors, who resided in England. They called Culpeper to England, where he was arrested for treason. The Lord Proprietors were concerned they would lose their charter, so they defended Culpeper, which led to his acquittal.
In 1679, John Harvey, a prominent planter from Albemarle, was appointed Governor, and order was restored in the colony, bringing an end to Culpeper’s Rebellion.
December 16, 1689 – English Bill of Rights
The English Bill of Rights ended the concept of the divine right of monarchs throughout England and its colonies. It created a separation of powers, provided for the democratic election of officials, and provided freedom of speech.
May 15, 1696 – Board of Trade and Plantations
On May 15, 1696, King William III established the Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations as a permanent legislative body to oversee the colonies. It is also known as the Board of Trade and Plantations, or simply as the Board of Trade. The Board was responsible for the development and oversight of British policies that dealt with the American Colonies. The goal was to keep them under British control and to make them profitable.
The Board was made up of 16 members who were selected by the Privy Council. Eight of them were responsible for attending meetings as much as possible and paying attention to colonial affairs. The head of the group of eight was called the First Lords Commissioner and the other seven were known as the Lords Commissioner.
As Parliament passed legislation that dealt with the American Colonies, the responsibilities of the Board of Trade expanded.
1696 – Navigation Act of 1696 (Plantation Trade Act)
This Navigation Act required ships to register with customs. It also gave Customs Officials in the colonies the same authority as those in England and established more Admiralty Courts to help enforce the laws and collect customs duties.
1699 — Restraining Act of 1699 (Wool Act)
When American merchants started selling clothing to foreign nations, King William III declared the Restraining Act of 1699, which forced all wool and wool products produced in America to be shipped to England. Duties were levied on the goods when they were shipped from America and when they arrived in England. The Wool Act effectively restrained the manufacturing of wool products in American Colonies.
1721 — Robert Walpole Becomes Britain’s First Prime Minister
Robert Walpole became Britain’s first Prime Minister and focused on European affairs, which allowed the American Colonies to ignore trade laws and govern themselves as they saw fit.
1732 — Hat Act and Debt Recovery Act
The Hat Act placed restrictions on American hat manufacturers that reduced the number of hats they could produce. It also forced fur traders to sell more of their beaver skins to Britain. British hat manufacturers benefited from the law and were able to produce higher-quality hats they could sell in Europe and in America.
The Debt Recovery Act gave creditors the authority to seize property — lands and possessions — from people who failed to pay on their loans. The Debt Recovery Act considered enslaved people as property, not just in Colonial America, but throughout the entire British Empire. Prior to the Debt Recovery Act, enslaved people were not used as a means to pay off debt.
May 17, 1733 — Molasses Act
In an effort to protect the plantations in the British West Indies, Parliament passed the Navigation Act of 1773. The title of the act was “An act for the better securing and encouraging the trade of his Majesty’s sugar colonies in America” and is more commonly known as the Molasses Act. It was passed on May 17, 1733. The new taxes upset American merchants, especially in New England, who were afraid it was going to do significant damage to the rum industry. They dealt with the Molasses Act by bribing British Customs Officials and increasing smuggling so they could avoid paying the higher taxes.
1750 — Iron Act
The Iron Act prohibited the production and manufacture of finished iron goods in the colonies. However, it allowed iron ore to be mined, smelted, and exported to Britain.
1754–1763 — French and Indian War
The French and Indian War was the North American portion of the global Seven Years’ War that was fought between Britain, France, Spain, and other nations. In North America, the fight was for control of territory.
In 1759, British forces led by Major General James Wolfe defeated the French at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, outside of Quebec City. The victory gave Britain control of Canada.
The conflict officially came to an end when the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763. In the agreement, France ceded most of its territory in North America, including New France, to Britain. The war was costly and left Britain with massive debt and a significant amount of new territory to protect in North America.
May 7, 1763 — Pontiac’s Rebellion
Native Tribes led by Pontiac conducted raids against British forts and settlements on the western frontier. It is known as Pontiac’s Rebellion or Pontiac’s War. The first attack was on May 7, 1763, when Pontiac led Ottawa warriors against Fort Detroit.
October 7, 1763 — Proclamation Line of 1763
In order to keep the peace between Britain and the Native Tribes, King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, which established a line that prohibited colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Eventually, Parliament would decide a standing army needed to be stationed in the colonies, in order to protect the western frontier from attacks by Native Tribes and foreign enemies.
April 5, 1764 — Sugar Act
The Sugar Act lowered the customs duties on imported molasses, but customs duties to other products — for the purpose of raising revenue. It marked the first time that Parliament explicitly passed a law governing the colonies for the purpose of raising revenue. The revenue was to be used to pay for the new army. The Sugar Act also set up more Vice-Admiralty courts and gave the Royal Navy the authority to enforce the Navigation Acts and crackdown on smuggling. Americans responded to the Sugar Act by writing pamphlets that accused Parliament of violating their rights as Englishmen under the Bill of Rights. It gave rise to the slogan, “No taxation without representation.” The bill was the brainchild of George Grenville, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
March 22, 1765 — Stamp Act and Stamp Act Crisis
The Stamp Act was passed for the sole purpose of raising revenue and required many printed materials to use special paper that was embossed with a stamp. The paper had to be purchased from appointed Stamp Distributors, and the paper was produced in London. The outrage throughout the colonies led to political and social unrest. Many colonies passed resolutions condemning the Stamp Act, such as the Virginia Resolves. The Sons of Liberty formed in Boston and additional groups were formed throughout the colonies. They were responsible for threats of violence against anyone involved in the use of the stamped paper and coordinated riots against government officials.
The Stamp Act Crisis led Massachusetts to call for a colonial congress, to provide a unified response to the Stamp Act. The Stamp Act Congress was held in New York in October 1765 and nine colonies sent delegates. The Congress produced a Declaration of Rights and Grievances and sent petitions to the King, the House of Commons, and the House of Lords. All three petitions were rejected.
March 1766 — Stamp Act Repealed and the Declaratory Act Passed
Parliament was forced to repeal the Stamp Act due to pressure from British merchants. However, it also passed the Declaratory Act, which stated it had the authority to pass any laws it felt were necessary to govern the colonies.
1767 — Townshend Acts
Starting in 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which replaced the Stamp Act as a means of generating revenue, and to help support the struggling British East India Company. The new laws suspended the New York Assembly for failing to comply with the Quartering Act of 1765 and set up the American Customs Board, which was located in Boston. Americans objected to the Townshend Acts, primarily through political means and pamphlets. However, there were instances of resistance and violence that compelled Britain to send troops to Boston to help maintain control and to support the new Customs Commissioners.
January 1770 — The Battle of Golden Hill
The Battle of Golden Hill, also known as the “Golden Hill Riot,” took place in New York City in January 1770. Citizens and workers of New York and members of the Sons of Liberty, led by Isaac Sears, John Lamb, and Alexander McDougall, fought with British Redcoats in the streets of the city — almost two months before the Boston Massacre.
March 5, 1770 — Boston Massacre
The presence of troops in Boston created tension that resulted in the Boston Massacre. The incident was a riot that ended with British troops firing into a crowd and killing five colonists.
1773 — Tea Crisis
The British East India Company had a significant amount of tea sitting in its warehouses because colonists refused to buy it. Instead, they were buying tea that was smuggled into the colonies. The East India Company was in danger of going bankrupt, so Parliament passed the Tea Act, which gave the company a monopoly on selling tea in the colonies. The company was also allowed to choose its own distributors, who would profit from the sale of the tea. Once again, there was outrage in the colonies. It culminated in the Boston Tea Party on December 16, 1773, when the Sons of Liberty coordinated a demonstration in which about 340 chests of tea were dumped into Boston Harbor.
March 25, 1774 – Coercive Acts
On March 25, 1774, Parliament passed the Boston Port Act, which was the first of the Coercive Acts. The Coercive Acts were a set of five laws. Four of them were used to punish Boston and Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. Parliament hoped that by making an example of Massachusetts, it would send a message to the other colonies and encourage them to comply with laws like the Tea Act. Instead, they had the opposite effect. The colonies rallied together to support Boston. Further, the fifth act, the Quebec Act, raised concerns throughout the colonies. It extended the Province of Quebec south to the Ohio River. It also provided religious freedom to Catholics in the province and instituted French civil law. The colonies responded by calling for the First Continental Congress, which convened in Philadelphia in September 1774.
March 22, 1775 — Edmund Burke Speech
Edmund Burke used the phrase “wise and salutary neglect” in his speech that called for conciliation with the colonies.
April 19, 1775 — War for Independence Begins
On the morning of April 19, British troops marched into Lexington where they were confronted by roughly 70 American militia led by Captain John Parker. The British commander, Major John Pitcairn, ordered the Americans to lay down their weapons and disperse. The Americans dispersed, but most of them took their weapons with them. Within moments, a shot was fired and both sides retaliated. The American Revolutionary War had begun.