The Navigation Acts Revisited

There have been debates on whether the presence of navigation acts contributed to the American Revolutionary war. Many believe that these navigation acts were among other causes that triggered war for independence. This assumption has lately been challenged since there have been discoveries of errors of logic and interpretation that were committed by the historians who were conducting and participating in the debate. To begin with, physical survival was the main issue that was facing settlers in America before the outbreak of the civil war in England. The Navigation Acts were then passed but their primary role was to try and reimpose control over the wayward colonies and to keep other nations out of the colonies after war.

The other role that the Navigation Acts played was that they authorized the subsidy of some commodities such as naval stores, fur hats as well as indigo in the colonies. With time people have also argued that those who participated in the revolution had economic motivations and not just political motivations. This was based on the fact that the colonies were undergoing economic hardships and it is these hardships that caused them to rebel. Some errors were also committed by Harper, Thomas and their followers who were examining the burdens of the Navigation Acts. They made an error when they measured the burden of the Navigation Acts on the colonies by comparing the actual pre 1776 colonial economy with the pre 1776 economy which was independent from Britain.

Since the colonists focused on the future gains of independence, the methodology that would be appropriate to use in the determination of the burden would be comparing the actual independent America after 1776 with the imaginary colonial America after 1776. The other criticism on the methodological used regards the distribution of the burden of the Navigation Acts. Thomas and his followers ignored the distribution issues dismissing the Navigation Acts based on the fact that the burden was a minute fraction of gross colonial income. The gross benefit and the gross burden of the Navigation Acts exceed the net burden.

Merchants, tobacco planters, rice planters and urban artisans bore important costs imposed by the Navigation Acts. The burden of re-export which was caused by the acts greatly affected tobacco and rice planters but this aspect was greatly ignored. This cut out the colonial merchants out of tobacco trade and these imposed costs inform of foregone profits by these merchants. These acts also reduced the cash incomes of the southern planters which forced them to highly depend on British merchants. On the other hand these acts also protected the American merchants from the French competition but they also exposed them to direct competition with the British merchants. The acts also prohibited the manufacture of some products in the colonies. These products were solely manufactured by the British merchants and they reaped the benefits alone.

In my own way of thought, the Navigation Acts had both positive and negative impacts on the colonies. In some way they also brought about war as the people in the colonies tried to liberate themselves but that doesn’t mean that they were the root causes of the war.



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