Sugar Act Explained — Section 43

April 5, 1764

Section 43 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains how British officials will be compensated for expenses incurred while enforcing 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 43 — Reimbursing Customs Officials

XLIII. Provided always, and it is hereby further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That if the produce of any seizure made in America, shall not be sufficient to answer the expences of condemnation and sale; or if, upon the trial of any seizure of any ship or goods, a verdict or sentence shall be given for the claimant, in either of those cases, the charges attending the seizing and prosecuting such ship or goods shall and may, with the consent and approbation of any four of the commissioners of his Majesty’s customs, be paid out of any branch of the revenue of customs arising in any of the British colonies or plantations in America; any thing in this or any other act of parliament to the contrary notwithstanding.


Section 43 of the Sugar Act of 1764 addresses the financial aspects of seizures made in America under customs laws. It ensures that customs officials have a way to cover expenses even when the proceeds from seized goods are insufficient. The key points are:

  1. Financial Shortfall in Seizures — If the proceeds from the sale of seized goods in America are not enough to cover the costs of condemning and selling them.
  2. Verdict for Claimant — If the court rules in favor of the claimant (the person claiming ownership) of the seized ship or goods.
  3. Covering Costs — In either case, the costs of seizing and prosecuting the ship or goods can be covered from any branch of customs revenue in the British colonies in America.
  4. Approval Needed — This payment of costs requires the consent and approval of any four of the commissioners of His Majesty’s customs.
  5. Override of Other Laws — This provision applies even if other acts of Parliament state otherwise.


The Sugar Act set up a controversial system for handling accusations regarding customs violations, including seizures of ships and goods, per the provisions of the Sugar Act. While cases in Great Britain were handled through the usual courts, cases in the American Colonies were directed to the Vice Admiralty Courts. 

In these courts, provisions were made to reimburse British Customs Officials for the costs they incurred while enforcing the Sugar Act and other Navigation Acts. 

Overall, the system entailed:

Admiralty and Vice Admiralty Courts

These courts had jurisdiction over maritime issues and trade disputes.

  1. Admiralty Courts — These courts had jurisdiction over maritime navigation and trade issues, such as violations of customs laws. They were responsible for adjudicating cases of seized ships and goods, ensuring compliance with the laws regulating trade and duties.
  2. Vice Admiralty Courts — These were similar to Admiralty Courts but operated in the American Colonies. They handled cases involving maritime trade, including the enforcement of the Sugar Act and the Navigation Acts.

Legal Process

The courts had the authority to hear and determine cases of customs violations, including disputes over whether duties had been paid, whether goods were lawfully imported or exported, and the legitimacy of seized goods.

When goods or ships were seized, the courts would decide whether the seizure was lawful. If it was found lawful, the goods would be forfeited. If the seizure was deemed unjustified, the claimant (the owner) could contest it in these courts but was limited.

Certification and Penalties

The courts were responsible for certifying whether there was probable cause for the seizure. If probable cause was established, the seizing officer would be protected from lawsuits, and the costs of the legal action would be limited for the claimant. The courts could order the payment of prosecution costs from customs revenue if the proceeds from the sale of seized goods were insufficient.

Controversy Over the Admiralty and Vice Admiralty Courts

The use of Admiralty and Vice Admiralty Courts in the American colonies created controversy for many reasons:

  • Lack of Jury Trials — One of the main points of contention over the Sugar Act was that these courts did not use jury trials. Each case was decided by judges who were appointed by the Crown. Because of this, the judges were considered biased against American merchants. This was seen as a denial of the colonists’ rights, which traditionally included the right to a trial by jury.
  • Consolidation of Authority — The Vice-Admiralty Courts centralized judicial power in the hands of a few Crown-appointed judges. At the time, colonial courts had authority over local cases, and the use of the Vice-Admiralty Courts for violations of the Sugar Act was viewed as an overreach of British authority that undermined the local courts. 
  • Harsh Penalties and Procedures — The penalties imposed by these courts were often severe. This included the forfeiture of ships and goods and large monetary fines. The requirement for claimants to provide security before contesting the seizure of ships and goods was another problem and made it hard for many colonists to defend themselves in court.
  • Perception of Corruption and Unfairness — Many colonists believed that the courts were corrupt and unfair, favoring British Customs Officials and merchants over American merchants. The protections given to Customs Officials, making it difficult for them to be charged with harassment, made the entire system suspect in the minds of Americans.
  • Economic Impact — The strict enforcement of the Sugar Act disrupted colonial trade and commerce and had a significant impact on the Rum Production 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.

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 43
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 43 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