Sugar Act Explained — Section 4

April 5, 1764

Section 4 of the Sugar Act of 1764 extended and updated the 1733 Molasses Act. By extending the Molasses Act, Parliament gave merchants time to prepare for the new laws, regulations, and taxes of the Sugar Act.

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 4 — The Molasses Act of 1733

And whereas an act was made in the sixth year of the reign of his late majesty King George the Second, intituled, An act for the better securing and encouraging the trade of his Majesty’s sugar colonies in America, which was to continue in force for five years, to be computed from the twenty fourth day of June, one thousand seven hundred and thirty three, and to the end of the then next session of parliament, and which, by several subsequent acts made in the eleventh, the nineteenth, the twenty sixth, and twenty ninth, and the thirty first years of the reign of his said late Majesty, was, from time to time, continued; and, by an act made in the first year of the reign of his present Majesty, was further continued until the end of this present session of parliament; and although the said act hath been found in some degree useful, yet it is highly expedient that the same should be altered, enforced, and made more effectual; but, in consideration of the great distance of several of the said colonies and plantations from this kingdom, it will be proper further to continue the said act for a short space, before any alterations and amendments shall take effect, in order that all persons concerned may have due and proper notice thereof; be it therefore enacted by the authority aforesaid, That the said act made in the sixth year of the reign of his late majesty King George the Second, intituled, An act for the better securing and encouraging the trade of his Majesty’s sugar colonies in America, shall be, and the same is hereby further continued, until the thirtieth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four.


Section 4 of the Sugar Act of 1764 refers to the 1733 Molasses Act, which was enacted to secure and encourage trade within the British Sugar Colonies in the Americas. It explains the Sugar Act amends and extends the Molasses Act. The key points are:

  1. Extensions of the Law — Over time, the Molasses Act was extended or continued several times during the reign of King George II. These extensions occurred in the eleventh (1738), nineteenth (1746), twenty-sixth (1753), twenty-ninth (1756), and thirty-first (1758) years of his reign. The Molasses Act was also extended in 1760, the first year of the reign of King George III, until the end of the present session of Parliament.
  2. Final Extension — The Molasses Act was extended again, to September 30, 1764.
  3. Need for Changes — Although the Molasses Act was somewhat useful, it needs to be changed, enforced more strictly, and made more effective.
  4. Notification Period — Considering the great distance of the colonies from Britain, it is important to continue the current law for a short period before making any changes. This will give everyone affected by the law enough time to be properly informed about the upcoming changes.
  5. Previous Law — The original act was passed in the sixth year of King George II’s reign (1733) to support and protect trade in the Sugar Colonies in America. It was supposed to last for five years.


The Sugar Act was the direct successor to the Molasses Act and included rules, regulations, and procedures that were intended to create a system that could be more easily enforced. Due to Salutary Neglect, American merchants often avoided paying the required taxes on shipments of molasses. They did so by bribing British Customs Officials or secretly landing shipments outside of major ports. While Americans viewed it as doing good business, British officials viewed it as smuggling and breaking the law.

The Molasses Act of 1733 attempted to control the molasses trade by imposing a high tax on molasses imported from non-British colonies. This Act was meant to benefit British plantation owners in the British West Indies by making their molasses less expensive. However, the British plantation owners were not able to produce enough molasses, so American merchants continued to buy from foreign plantations in the West Indies.

The Molasses Act was violated by many American merchants, who found it more profitable to smuggle foreign molasses and bribe customs officials. Because of this, the Molasses Act failed to raise the money it was expected to.

The Sugar Act extended and strengthened the Molasses Act. Parliament lowered the duty on foreign molasses from 6 pence to 3 pence per gallon, hoping it would make legal trade more attractive to American merchants than smuggling.

However, the Sugar Act expanded beyond molasses, placing taxes on additional goods like wine, coffee, and textiles, and implementing stricter enforcement of the rules. For example, the British Royal Navy was given authority to stop any vessels it suspected of smuggling. The financial incentives offered by the Sugar Act led to an abuse of this authority.

The complex system of documentation, the involvement of the Navy, and prosecution in the Admiralty Courts were supposed to convince American merchants to comply with the law. However, Americans viewed many of the new rules as violations of their rights as British subjects.

While American merchants were able to avoid compliance with the Molasses Act, the new Sugar Act threatened their trade, along with businesses that relied on molasses, including the Rum Distillation Industry in the New England Colonies.


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.
  • Authority — The power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.
  • Colonies — Territories under the control of a distant country; in this context, the American colonies under British rule.
  • Computed — Calculated or reckoned.
  • Enforced — Ensured that a law or rule is obeyed.
  • Extended — Made longer in duration.
  • Expedient — Convenient and practical, although possibly improper or immoral.
  • King George II — British monarch from 1727 to 1760.
  • King George III — British monarch from 1760 to 1820.
  • Majesty — A title used to address or refer to a sovereign, especially a king or queen.
  • Parliament — The highest legislative authority in Britain, consisting of the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the Sovereign.
  • Session of Parliament — The period during which Parliament meets to conduct its business.
  • Sugar Colonies — Colonies primarily engaged in the production of sugar.
  • Trade — The action of buying and selling goods and services.
  • Useful — Capable of being used advantageously.

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 4
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 4 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 5, 2024