Sugar Act Explained — Section 45

April 5, 1764

Section 45 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explains how the Burden of Proof in court cases falls on the defendant, who has been accused of smuggling or otherwise violating 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 45 — Burden of Proof

XLV. 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 ship or goods shall be seized for any cause of forfeiture, and any dispute shall arise whether the customs and duties for such goods have been paid, or the same have been lawfully imported or exported, or concerning the growth, product, or manufacture, of such goods, or the place from whence such goods were brought, then, and in such cases, the proof thereof shall lie upon the owner or claimer of such ship or goods, and not upon the officer who shall seize or stop the same; any law, custom, or usage, any law, custom, or usage, to the contrary notwithstanding.


Section 45 of the Sugar Act of 1764 specifies who holds the burden of proof in disputes regarding seized ships or goods. It explains that the defendant (the person accused of smuggling) must provide evidence (burden of proof) that their goods are legal. The key points are:

  1. Effective Date — Starting on September 29, 1764.
  2. Seizure for Forfeiture — If a ship or goods are seized because they are believed to be forfeitable.
  3. Disputes — If there is a dispute about:
    1. Whether customs and duties for the goods have been paid.
    2. Whether the goods have been lawfully imported or exported.
    3. The origin, production, or manufacture of the goods.
    4. The place from which the goods were brought.
  4. Burden of Proof — The responsibility to prove that the goods are lawful lies with the owner or person claiming the ship or goods, not with the customs officer who seized them.
  5. Overriding Other Laws — This requirement applies regardless of any other laws, customs, or practices.


By placing the Burden of Proof on the defendant, the Sugar Act made it nearly impossible for them to undergo a fair legal process. It meant that individuals accused of violating customs regulations had to prove their innocence, rather than the authorities proving their guilt. It also created additional issues:

  1. Admiralty Courts — Cases of customs violations were prosecuted in the Admiralty Courts, which were overseen by British judges and did not use juries of peers. This made it more difficult for defendants to receive a fair trial.
  2. Presumption of Guilt — The presumption of guilt placed the accused in a disadvantaged position from the outset. Defendants had to provide evidence that their goods were not smuggled, which could be challenging and costly.
  3. Legal and Financial Burden — Proving innocence required access to legal resources and documentation that many colonists might not have readily available. This legal and financial burden was especially difficult for small merchants and people with limited means, such as farmers.
  4. Immunity for Customs Officers — British Customs Officers were given immunity from retaliatory damage suits by merchants. If a Customs Officer or member of the British Royal Navy seized a ship but failed to prove his case, he was not liable for his error, provided the judge was satisfied there had been a probability of guilt. This protection encouraged aggressive enforcement and placed even more pressure on the accused to prove their innocence.
  5. Economic Disruption — The requirement to prove innocence disrupted economic activities, as merchants had to divert time and resources to defend themselves in court. This affected individual merchants and the colonial economy because it disrupted the flow of goods and products.


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.
  • Burden of Proof — The obligation to prove one’s assertion.
  • Cause of Forfeiture — A reason or condition under which goods or property can be legally taken away.
  • Customs — The government agency responsible for regulating the import and export of goods and collecting duties.
  • Duties — Taxes imposed on imports and exports.
  • Forfeitable — Subject to being taken away as a penalty.
  • Imported — Brought into a country for sale.
  • Lawful — In accordance with the law.
  • Notwithstanding — In spite of; regardless of.
  • Officer — A person holding a position of authority, especially in law enforcement or customs.
  • Origin — The place or situation in which something begins or is created.
  • Owner — The person who possesses something.
  • Place of Manufacture — The location where goods are produced.
  • Proof — Evidence or argument establishing a fact or the truth of a statement.
  • Seized — Taken possession of by force or legal authority.
  • Usage — The way in which something is used or understood.

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 45
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 45 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 3, 2024