Sugar Act Explained — Section 39

April 5, 1764

Section 39 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains why Colonial Governors were required to take an oath, promising to enforce the Navigation Acts.

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 39 — Oath Required by Governors and British Officials

XXXIX. And whereas by an act of parliament made in the seventh and eighth year of the reign of King William the Third, intituled, An act for preventing frauds, and regulating abuses, in the plantation trade, all governors or commanders in chief of any of his Majesty’s colonies or plantations, are required to take a solemn oath, to do their utmost that all the clauses, matters, and things, contained in that act, and several other acts of parliament therein referred to, relating to the said colonies and plantations, be punctually and bona fide observed, according to the true intent and meaning thereof: and whereas divers other good laws have been since made, for the better regulating and securing the plantation trade: be it further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That all the present governors or commanders in chief of any British colony or plantation shall, before the twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, and all who hereafter shall be made governors or commanders in chief of the said colonies or plantations, or any of them, before their entrance into their government, shall take a solemn oath, to do their utmost that all the clauses, matters, and things, contained in any act of parliament heretofore made, and now in force, relating to the said colonies and plantations, and that all and every the clauses contained in this present act, be punctually and bona fide observed, according to the true intent and meaning thereof, so far as appertains unto the said governors or commanders in chief respectively, under the like penalties, forfeitures, and disabilities, either for neglecting to take the said oath, or for wittingly neglecting to do their duty accordingly, as are mentioned and expressed in the said recited act made in the seventh and eighth year of the reign of King William the Third; and the said oath, hereby required to be taken, shall be administered by such person or persons as hath or have been, or shall be, appointed to administer the oath required to be taken by the said act made in the seventh and eighth year of the reign of King William the Third.

Explanation

Section 39 of the Sugar Act of 1764 requires governors of British colonies to take an oath to ensure the enforcement of various trade regulations. It holds Colonial Governors accountable for enforcing the Navigation Acts in the American Colonies. The key points are:

  1. Historical Context — Refers to an earlier law from the reign of King William III, which required governors of British colonies to take an oath to enforce trade laws.
  2. New Requirement
    1. All current governors or commanders in chief of any British colony must take a solemn oath before September 29, 1764.
    2. Future governors or commanders-in-chief must take this oath before starting their duties.
  3. Oath Details — The oath requires them to:
    1. Do their utmost to ensure that all clauses and matters in any act of Parliament relating to the colonies are observed faithfully.
    2. Ensure that the clauses in the current act (Sugar Act of 1764) are also observed faithfully.
  4. Penalties for Non-compliance — Governors who neglect to take the oath or who knowingly neglect their duties will face the same penalties, forfeitures, and disabilities as specified in the earlier law from the reign of King William III.
  5. Administration of the Oath — The oath will be administered by the same person or persons who are appointed to administer the oath required by the earlier law from King William III’s reign.

Context

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.

Vocabulary

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.

  • Appertains — Relates or pertains to.
  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Bona Fide — Genuine or real, without fraud.
  • Clauses — Specific provisions or sections within a larger document or law.
  • Commanders in Chief — Highest-ranking officers in charge of the military or a region.
  • Disabilities — Legal disqualifications or restrictions.
  • Divers — Several or various.
  • Enforce — To compel observance of or compliance with a law or rule.
  • Faithfully — In a loyal and trustworthy manner.
  • Forfeitures — Penalties involving the loss of property or money due to a breach of law or regulations.
  • Governors — Officials appointed to oversee and manage a colony or territory.
  • Neglect — Fail to care for properly or fail to do something.
  • Observed — Complied with or followed.
  • Oath — A solemn promise, often invoking a divine witness, regarding one’s future action or behavior.
  • Penalties — Punishments or sanctions for breaking a law or rule.
  • Punctually — On time; promptly.
  • Recited — Referred to or mentioned.
  • Regulating — Controlling or supervising by means of rules or regulations.
  • Solemn — Formal and dignified.
  • Trade — The activity of buying and selling goods and services.
  • Utmost — To the greatest or highest degree.

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 39
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 39 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

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