The Sugar Act 1764
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The Sugar Act
Continually trying to raise more revenue, the English Parliament imposed a new law, The Sugar Act, on the colonies. Many of the provisions did not settle well with the colonists.

England was still seeking to raise revenue. The English national debt wasn't shrinking as quickly as Parliament wanted it to. So in 1764, Parliament passed The Sugar Act.

The Sugar Act had a couple parts to it. The first part lowered the taxes on molasses from six pence to three per gallon. This was a meager attempt to discourage the widespread smuggling going on. The next part was a problem for the colonies. The Act said the Americans could freely export many of their products but ONLY if they passed through English ports first. It also imposed a heavy tariff on Madeira wine from Portugal. Before this wine was duty free.

To put some teeth into the shipping part of the Act, American shippers had to complete a number of forms to legalize their shipments. And with even the smallest error, an entire cargo could be seized. Some feared the English would apply the law to local trade along the east coast.

Then to add insult to injury, the Act allowed the custom officials to move the legal cases from local jurisdiction with juries to vice-admiralty courts in Halifax, Nova Scotia without a jury of your peers. And until 1768, actually awarded the judge five percent of all confiscated cargo and ships. No five percent unless the smuggler was found guilty. And traditional judicial tradition was reversed, it was up to the accused to prove his innocence not for the court to prove the guilt.

The English Navy enforced the law enthusiastically under orders from English Prime Minister, George Grenville. Smuggling of molasses continued until 1766 when the tariff was dropped to one penny. During the years between 1766 and 1775, 30,000 pounds were raised in duties on molasses.

Widespread discontent existed but the colonies were not organized enough to show a united front to England. There was also fear of taking a stand against the English Parliament. And the only people that were directly affected were in New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

To the colonists, the Sugar Act was a major step to giving the English Parliament and the King a greater hand in colonial affairs. Add to that the requirement to ship American goods through English ports and the colonists could see the economic and political ropes tightening.

In reality, England wanted to tow in the colonies more but the Sugar Act was a means to raise more money. Parliament reasoned that if the Americans had to move their products through English ports, they would do more business with those English merchants and raise more tax revenue. Parliament also figured by lowering the duty on molasses the colonists would pay the three pence. That didn't work since the American merchants could pay the custom agent one and half pence. At one pence the merchants paid the duties.

What really rubbed the colonist the wrong way was the elimination of a trial by jury under the Sugar Act. That was a definite betrayal of the rights of Englishmen. Guilty until proven otherwise.


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