Sugar Act Explained — Section 6

April 5, 1764

Section 6 of the Sugar Act of 1764 explained the changes to taxes on foreign molasses and syrups. It reduced the tax on molasses by 50%, from six pence per gallon to three pence per gallon.

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 6 — Changes to Taxes on Foreign Molasses and Syrups

And it be further enacted by the authority aforesaid, That in lieu and instead of the rate and duty imposed by the said act upon molasses and syrups, there shall, from and after the said twenty ninth day of September, one thousand seven hundred and sixty four, be raised, levied, collected, and paid, unto his Majesty, his heirs and successors, for and upon every gallon of molasses or syrups, being the growth, product, or manufacture, of any colony or plantation in America, not under the dominion of his Majesty, his heir or successors, which shall be imported or brought into any colony or plantation in America, which now is, or hereafter may be, under the dominion of his Majesty, his heirs or successors, the sum of three pence.


Section 6 of the Sugar Act of 1764 replaces the previous tax rate on molasses and syrups with a new rate. It identifies the new tax rate for these items. The key points are:

  1. Replacement of Previous Tax — The previous tax rate on molasses and syrups is being replaced.
  2. Effective Date — The new rates start on September 29, 1764.
  3. Scope — The tax applies to molasses and syrups produced in any American Colony not under British control when these products are imported into any colony that is under British control.

Taxes on Foreign Molasses Imported into the Colonies

Good or ProductTaxes
Molasses or syrupsPer gallon, three pence.


While Prime Minister George Grenville and Parliament expected American merchants to embrace the lower tax on molasses, it was not the case. Instead, Americans responded in various ways, which is known as the Sugar Crisis, and was the precursor to the Stamp Act Crisis.

Outrage in America

When the news arrived in May 1764 that the taxon molasses was set at 3 pence per gallon, Americans were taken by surprise. They had anticipated a lower tax, based on rumors suggesting it might be set at 1 or 2 pence per gallon. Governor Francis Bernard and other colonial leaders had warned that 3 pence would be too high and lead to protests.

Impact on the Molasses Trade and the Triangular Trade System

American merchants were concerned about the economic impact of the tax on molasses. They believed that while a 1 or 2-pence tax might have been acceptable, a 3-pence duty was no different than the 6-pence tax. The higher tax threatened the profitable molasses trade and, by extension, the Rum Distilling Industry, which was important to the Triangular Trade System.

Logistical Concerns

The strict enforcement measures that accompanied the Sugar Act, such as the involvement of the British Royal Navy and the requirement for detailed documentation, threatened to impact the colonial economy. Local trade was severely disrupted, as merchants and small traders faced increased costs from the extra time it took to comply with the regulations.

Legal and Constitutional Concerns

Beyond the economic impact, American colonial leaders such as James Otis, Stephen Hopkins, and Samuel Adams were also concerned about the constitutionality of the Sugar Act. They saw many of the provisions as violations of their rights as Subjects of the King, and it started the argument against Taxation Without Representation.

Political and Civic Protests in America

Various colonies, including Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York, sent remonstrances and protests to England, both against the Sugar Act and the proposed stamp tax (see Stamp Act Overview and Stamp Act Facts). North Carolina went as far as to deny Parliament’s right to impose any taxes without representation and argued it could only be done by its legislature. In places like Boston, Philadelphia, Newport, and Charleston, merchants and political leaders started to congregate. This led to the organized political resistance such as the Stamp Act Congress and civic unrest, which was driven by the Sons of Liberty.


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.
  • Collected — Gathered or received.
  • Dominion — Control or sovereignty over a territory.
  • Effective Date — The date when a law or regulation begins to apply.
  • Enacted — Made into law.
  • Gallon — A unit of liquid capacity equal to four quarts, used in both the US and UK.
  • Heirs — People legally entitled to the property or rank of another upon that person’s death.
  • Imposed — Set or applied as a requirement.
  • Levy — To impose or collect (a tax).
  • Molasses — A thick, dark syrup produced during the refining of sugar.
  • Perpetual — Continuing forever or for an indefinite period.
  • Raised — Collected (in terms of taxes).
  • Rate — The amount of a charge or payment relative to some basis (e.g., per gallon).
  • Syrups — Thick, sweet liquids made by dissolving sugar in boiling water, often flavored or containing medicinal ingredients.

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 6
  • Date April 5, 1764
  • Author
  • Keywords Sugar Act, What did Section 6 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