Sugar Act Explained — Section 25

April 5, 1764

Section 25 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the penalties for smuggling goods to the American Colonies.

Sugar Act, 1764, Date, Taxes, Reaction, Grenville Acts, AHC

George Grenville, Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer, was responsible for the Sugar Act of 1764, starting the movement in the 13 Colonies against Taxation Without Representation.

Understanding the Sugar Act of 1764

This entry is part of a series that explains the Sugar Act of 1764, including, rules, regulations, and penalties. To learn more, see History of the Sugar Act and Facts About the Sugar Act. Vocabulary, key people, and primary documents related to the Sugar Act are listed at the bottom of this article.

Section 25 — Penalties for Transporting Illegal Goods

XXV. And it is hereby further enacted, That if any British ship or vessel laden, as aforesaid, with any goods of the produce or manufacture of any British colony or plantation in America, or having on board any molasses or syrups the produce of any foreign colony or plantation, shall be discovered by any officer of his Majesty’s customs within two leagues of the shore of any British colony or plantation in America, and the master or person taking charge of such ship or vessel shall not produce a certificate that bond has been given, pursuant to the direction of this or any other act of parliament, as the case may require; or if he shall not produce certificate to the collector or other chief officer of the customs where he shall arrive, either in Great Britain or any British American colony or plantation, such ship or vessel, with her tackle, apparel, and furniture, and all the goods therein laden, shall be forfeited, and shall and may be seized and prosecuted as herein after is directed.


Section 25 of the Sugar Act of 1764 establishes penalties for British ships transporting goods without proper certification, which is intended to present the illegal transportation of goods. The key points are:

  1. Applicability — This applies to any British ship or vessel loaded with goods produced or manufactured in a British colony in America, or carrying molasses or syrups from foreign colonies.
  2. Proximity to Shore — If such a ship is found by a customs officer within two leagues (approximately six nautical miles) of the shore of any British colony in America.
  3. Certificate Requirement — The ship’s master (captain) or person in charge must produce a certificate confirming that the required bond has been given according to this or any other relevant act of Parliament.
  4. Arrival Requirement — The master must also produce this certificate to the customs officer at the port of arrival, whether in Great Britain or any British American colony.
  5. Penalty for Non-Compliance — If the master fails to produce the certificate:
    1. The ship, along with its tackle, apparel, furniture, and all goods on board, will be forfeited.
    2. The ship and goods can be seized by customs officers and prosecuted according to the procedures outlined later in the act.


The Sugar Act put an elaborate system in place that was intended to verify and track each shipment of goods to the American Colonies. The system ended Salutary Neglect by enforcing the Navigation Acts and supported Mercantilism in the colonies. The system also included: 

  • Documentation — The Sugar Act introduced an elaborate system of bonds and cockets to accurately document the cargo of vessels and ports of call. This system was meant to make it more difficult for merchants to engage in smuggling by providing a detailed paper trail that customs officials could use to verify the legality of goods being traded.
  • Naval Enforcement — Naval officers were instructed to assist in collecting customs duties and patrolling American waters smugglers. This was intended to establish ongoing enforcement of the Sugar Act, however, many officers abused their authority. This contributed to the Gaspee Affair (1772).
  • Admiralty Courts — Accusations of violating the Sugar Act were to be prosecuted in the Admiralty Courts. These courts did not use juries, and the judges had full authority. Parliament considered these courts more reliable than common law courts and would ensure strict enforcement of the law. However, the financial incentives provided to judges by the Sugar Act increased the likelihood they would seize cargo regardless of the evidence.
  • Customs Officer Accountability — The Sugar Act required British Customs Officers to perform their duties in person or forfeit their jobs. Before this, Customs Officers usually lived in England and hired someone in the American Colonies to perform the duties of the position. Requiring Customs Officers to live in the Colonies was intended to reduce corruption and increase effectiveness. However, customs officers were given immunity from counter-suits by merchants, encouraging them to enforce the regulations without fear of legal repercussions.
  • Colonial Governor Reporting — Colonial Governors were required to report on smuggling. They were also required to swear an oath that they would enforce the Sugar Act.


These terms and definitions provide more context for students studying the Sugar Act. For more on the Sugar Act as it relates to the AP US History curriculum, see Sugar ACT APUSH Review.

  • Apparel — The clothing or coverings, particularly for a ship.
  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Bond — A formal agreement to pay a certain amount as a guarantee.
  • Certificate — An official document attesting a fact, in this case, confirming compliance with customs regulations.
  • Collector — A customs officer responsible for collecting duties and taxes.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • Discovered — Found or detected.
  • Forfeited — Given up as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Furniture — The movable equipment and fittings of a ship.
  • Goods — Items or products for sale or trade.
  • Laden — Loaded with cargo.
  • Leagues — A unit of distance, approximately three nautical miles per league.
  • Master — The captain or person in charge of a ship.
  • Molasses — A thick, dark syrup produced during the refining of sugar.
  • Penalty — A punishment or sanction for breaking a law or rule.
  • Produce — To create or bring forth goods.
  • Prosecution — Legal proceedings against someone in respect of a criminal charge.
  • Proximity — Nearness in space, time, or relationship.
  • Seized — Taken possession of by force or legal authority.
  • Ship — A vessel used for transporting goods across water.
  • Syrups — Thick, sweet liquids made by dissolving sugar in boiling water, often flavored or containing medicinal ingredients.
  • Tackle — The equipment used on a ship.
  • Vessel — A ship or large boat.

Key People

  • Samuel Adams — Adams helped lead opposition to the Sugar Act in Massachusetts. Went on to become a leader of the Boston Sons of Liberty and one of the most influential men behind the movement for independence.
  • George Grenville — Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Responsible for the design of the Sugar Act and introducing it to Parliament.
  • Stephen Hopkins — Governor of Rhode Island. Critic of the Sugar Act and its impact on the Rhode Island economy and colonial rights.
  • James Otis — Early advocate of the rights of Americans as British subjects. Argued against Writs of Assistance (1761) in the Paxton Case.

Primary Documents

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations, including APA Style, Chicago Style, and MLA Style.

  • Article Title Sugar Act Explained — Section 25
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 25 of the Sugar Act do
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date June 21, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 10, 2024