The English Navigation Laws: A Seventeenth Century Experiment in Social Engineering

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Author: Harper, Lawrence Averell (1929-1989) inscribed

Year: 1939

Publisher: Columbia University Press

Place: New York


xiv+503 pages with tables, bibliography, appendices and index. Royal octavo (9 1/4" x 6 1/4") bound in original blue buckram with gilt lettering to spine and blind-stamped insignia to cover. Inscribed by the author. First edition.

The Navigation Acts were a series of English laws that restricted colonial trade to England. They were first enacted in 1651 and throughout that time until 1663, and were repealed in 1849. They reflected the policy of mercantilism, which sought to keep all the benefits of trade inside the Empire, and to minimize the loss of gold and silver to foreigners. They prohibited the colonies from trading directly with the Netherlands, Spain, France, and their colonies. The original ordinance of 1651 was renewed at the Restoration by Acts of 1660, 1663, 1670, and 1673, with subsequent minor amendments. The Acts formed the basis for English overseas trade for nearly 200 years. Additionally the Acts restricted the employment of non-English sailors to a quarter of the crew on returning East India Company ships. The Acts caused Britain's shipping industry to develop in isolation. However, it had the advantage to English shippers of severely limiting the ability of Dutch ships to participate in the carrying trade to England. By reserving British colonial trade to British shipping, the Acts may have significantly assisted in the growth of London as a major entrepôt for American colonial wares at the expense of Dutch cities. The maintenance of a certain level of merchant shipping and of trade generally also facilitated a rapid increase in the size and quality of the Royal Navy, which eventually (after the Anglo-Dutch Alliance of 1689 limited the Dutch navy to three-fifths of the size of the English one) led to Britain becoming a global superpower, which it remained until the mid-20th century. That naval might, however, never limited Dutch trading power — because the Dutch enjoyed enough leverage over overseas markets and shipping resources (combined with a financial power that was only overtaken by Britain during the 18th century) to enable them to put enough pressure on the English to prevent them from sustaining naval campaigns long enough to wrest maritime concessions from the Dutch. The Navigation Acts, while enriching Britain, caused resentment in the colonies and contributed to the American Revolution. The Navigation Acts required all of a colony's imports to be either bought from England or resold by English merchants in England, no matter what price could be obtained elsewhere.


Inscribed on front endpaper. Some foxing to end papers and paste downs, spine ends moderately rubbed else a very good copy.

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