Sugar Act Explained — Section 38

April 5, 1764

Section 38 of the Sugar Act of 1764 defines the financial penalties for fraud regarding payment and collection of taxes related to shipping 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. There is also a list of primary documents related to the Sugar Act listed at the bottom of this article.

Section 38 — Penalties for Fraud

XXXVIII. And it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That from and after the twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, if any officer of his Majesty’s customs shall, directly or indirectly, take or receive any bribe, recompence, or reward, in any kind whatsoever; or connive at any false entry, or make any collusive seizure or agreement; or do any other act or deed whatsoever by which his Majesty, his heirs or successors, shall or may be defrauded in his or their duties, or whereby any goods prohibited shall be suffered to pass either inwards or outwards, or whereby the forfeitures and penalties inflicted by this or any other act of parliament relating to his Majesty’s customs in America may be evaded; every such officer therein offending shall, for each and every offence, forfeit the sum of five hundred pounds, and be rendered incapable of serving his Majesty in any office or employment civil or military: and if any person or persons whatsoever shall give, any officer, or promise to give, any bribe, recompence, or reward, to any officer of the customs, to do, conceal, or connive at, any act, whereby any of the provisions made by this or any other act of parliament relating to his Majesty’s customs in America may be evaded or broken, every such person or persons shall, for each and every such offence (whether the same offer, proposal, or promise, be accepted or performed, or not) forfeit the sum of fifty pounds.


Section 38 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains the penalties for customs officers and others involved in bribery, corruption, or fraud related to customs duties. It maintains the integrity of customs operations and discourages corruption. The key points are:

  1. Effective Date — Starting on September 29, 1764.
  2. Prohibited Actions for Customs Officers
    1. Taking or receiving any bribe or reward.
    2. Allowing false entries in records.
    3. Making fake seizures or agreements.
    4. Performing any act that defrauds the Crown of duties or allows prohibited goods to pass through customs.
    5. Evading the penalties and forfeitures outlined in the customs laws.
  3. Penalties for Customs Officers
    1. A fine of £500 for each offense.
    2. Disqualification from serving in any civil or military office under the Crown.
  4. Prohibited Actions for Other Individuals
    1. Offering, promising, or giving any bribe or reward to customs officers to perform, conceal, or ignore any act that would evade or break customs laws.
  5. Penalties for Other Individuals
    1. A fine of £50 for each offense, regardless of whether the bribe or promise is accepted or carried out.


The Sugar Act established a system for detecting and enforcing fraud. Section 38 lists the fines associated with “prohibited actions.” 

The penalties for fraud under the Sugar Act were primarily enforced through the use of Vice Admiralty Courts, which operated without juries. These courts were responsible for prosecuting violations related to the Navigation Acts

Because they operated without juries, the Vice Admiralty Courts were more likely to find defendants (American merchants and captains) guilty of charges brought against them by British Customs Officers. This made it highly unlikely that Customs Officers would ever have to pay fines.

The Sugar Act also provided other protections for Customs Officers. For example, if a Vice Admiralty Court found a defendant not guilty of the charges, the merchant could not sue the Customs Officer who levied the accusations.

This created a system where a Customs Officer could accuse anyone of breaking the law, without any legal penalty.


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.

  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Bribe — Money or other inducements offered or given to persuade someone to act dishonestly.
  • Civil — Relating to ordinary citizens and their concerns, as distinct from military or ecclesiastical matters.
  • Collusive — Involving secret or illegal cooperation, especially to cheat or deceive others.
  • Connive — Secretly allow something considered immoral, illegal, or harmful to occur.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • Defraud — To deceive someone in order to gain money or other benefits.
  • Duties — Taxes imposed on imports and exports.
  • Evasion — The action of avoiding something, especially by deceit or trickery.
  • Forfeit — To lose or be deprived of something as a penalty for wrongdoing.
  • Heirs — People legally entitled to the property or rank of another upon that person’s death.
  • Indirectly — Not directly; in a roundabout way.
  • Military — Relating to soldiers, arms, or war.
  • Offense — A breach of a law or rule; an illegal act.
  • Prohibited — Forbidden by law.
  • Provisions — The action of providing or supplying something for use.
  • Recompence — Compensation or reward given for loss or harm suffered or effort made.
  • Rendered — Made or caused to become.
  • Reward — Something given in recognition of service, effort, or achievement.
  • Seizure — The action of capturing or taking something by force.
  • Succession — The action or process of inheriting a title, office, property, etc.
  • Suffered — Allowed or permitted.
  • Whatsoever — At all; of any kind.

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 38
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 38 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 2, 2024