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Coming of the American Revolution: Document Viewer
Massachusetts Historical Society
America's oldest historical society, founded 1791.

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Two Acts of Parliament: One Passed in the Sixth Year of the Reign of King George the Second ...

Two Acts of Parliament: One Passed in the Sixth Year of the Reign of King George the Second ...

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An Act with Teeth
Just as the king has a duty to defend the empire's lands from foreign attack, Parliament has a duty to safeguard its commerce. Having successfully concluded the French and Indian War, England is struggling with the dual responsibilities of managing a vastly expanded territory and paying down a debt that has almost doubled in the last decade. In 1764, George Grenville, First Lord of the Treasury, proposes to strengthen the mother country's hold on its American investment and to reinvoke a duty on sugar and molasses first imposed in 1733. The earlier act, designed to protect British West Indian planters from Dutch and French competition, has largely been ignored by colonial merchants. Determined that the present legislation be enforced, and eager to reassure tax-burdened Englishmen that colonists will contribute to their own defense, Grenville gives his act teeth.

Questions to Consider

1. When will the Sugar Act go into effect?

2. Parliament has long held, and the colonies well respected, its right to regulate trade in the empire. In the second paragraph of the Sugar Act, however, Parliament announces an intention that goes beyond imposing customs duties. What is that intention? Why does the legislation call this new intention "just and necessary"?

3. What products besides sugar and molasses will Parliament tax (see second paragraph)?

4. Many customs officers stationed in the colonies had been known to take a bribe to ignore smuggling. How do sections XXXVIII and XLII address that problem?

5. In an attempt to crack down on illegal smuggling, Parliament gives the customs officers a great deal of latitude. Read sections XLV and XLVI, and explain the rights of those who have been wrongfully accused.

Further Exploration

6. Do you think that it is fair that the British ask the colonists to contribute to their own defense? Why or why not? After you have answered this question, look at the Massachusetts Gazette of 31 May 1764. Do you agree with the Bostonians?

7. Merchants are dismayed to discover that violations of the Sugar Act will be tried in vice admiralty courts (see section XLI). Consult a dictionary of the American Revolution to learn more about the courts of vice admiralty. Why did colonists object to these courts?