Sugar Act Explained — Section 31

April 5, 1764

Section 31 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains exceptions for ships carrying certain goods and products

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 31 — Exemptions for Missing Documentation

XXXI. Provided always, That this act shall not extend, nor be construed to extend, to forfeit, for want of such cocket or clearance, any salt laden in Europe for the fisheries in New England, Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Nova Scotia, or any other place to which salt is or shall be allowed by law to be carried; wines laden in the Madeiras, of the growth thereof; and wines of the growth of the Western Islands, or Azores, and laden there; nor any horses, victuals, or linen cloth, of and from Ireland, which may be laden on board such ships or vessels.


Section 31 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains specific exemptions, ensuring that certain goods are not subject to forfeiture due to missing documentation. It helps clarify the rules and protect lawful trade of the specified goods. The key points are:

  1. Exceptions to Forfeiture — Certain goods are exempt from being forfeited due to a lack of cocket or clearance certificates.
  2. Exempt Goods and Conditions
    1. Salt — Salt loaded in Europe intended for fisheries in New England, Newfoundland, Pennsylvania, New York, and Nova Scotia, or any other legally permitted destinations.
    2. Wines — Wines loaded in the Madeiras (Madeira Islands) and wines from the Western Islands (Azores) are exempt.
    3. Horses, Victuals, or Linen Cloth — These items from Ireland, when loaded onto ships, are also exempt from forfeiture for lacking the required documentation.
  3. Legal Transport — These goods are legally allowed to be carried and will not be forfeited even if the cocket or clearance is missing.


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.

  • Act — A written law passed by a legislative body.
  • Azores — A group of islands in the Atlantic Ocean, part of Portugal.
  • Cocket — An official document issued by customs certifying that duties have been paid and listing details about the shipped goods.
  • Clearance — Official permission for a ship to leave port.
  • Exempt — Free from an obligation or liability imposed on others.
  • Extend — To cover or apply to.
  • Forfeit — To lose or be deprived of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Ireland — An island in the North Atlantic, west of Great Britain.
  • Laden — Loaded with cargo.
  • Linen Cloth — A type of fabric made from the fibers of the flax plant.
  • Madeiras — The Madeira Islands, an archipelago in the North Atlantic Ocean, part of Portugal.
  • New England — A region in the northeastern United States, comprising six states.
  • Newfoundland — An island off the east coast of Canada.
  • Nova Scotia — A province in eastern Canada.
  • Pennsylvania — A state in the northeastern United States.
  • Salt — A mineral used for seasoning and preserving food.
  • Victuals — Food or provisions.
  • Wines — Alcoholic beverages made from fermented grapes.

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 31
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 31 of the Sugar Act do
  • Website Name American History Central
  • Access Date July 22, 2024
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update June 14, 2024