Enforcement Britain’s colonial enforcer was the Board of Trade and Plantations, established only in 1696. The board was noted for lax enforcement, and its principle contribution to colonial affairs was to promote lawbreaking, contempt for officialdom, and occasional connivance of customs officials, maybe even an occasional governor, with the lawbreakers. The Admiralty Courts established to increase adherence to the laws were no better; local juries were reluctant to convict their neighbors of offenses they engaged in themselves. Until the end of the French and Indian War (known as the Seven Years’ War in Europe), the controls were tolerable, because they were not enforced. When the British government attempted to recover the costs of the war, however, friction ensued. Prior to the war, colonials had a lighter tax burden than residents of England. The English thought that the colonials should pay a fair share of the war debt, as well as the new costs of administering the enlarged empire. Parliament began enforcing the old acts and imposing new ones. The acts were sound from a mercantilist perspective, providing for the well-being of the mother country and compensating for colonies that might prove a drain on the home government. The Sugar Act of 1764 attempted to protect the struggling sugar economy of the British West Indies by taxing foreign sugar and molasses (highly important to New England). The Currency Act of 1764 limited the power of the colonies to issue paper money. The Stamp Act of 1765 was simply for revenue, requiring a stamp on legal documents. Other objectionable acts of the period were the Quartering Act of 1765, the Townshend Acts of 1767, and the Tea Act of 1773. Colonists also objected to the Quebec Act of 1774, which attempted to control the frontier and cut costs. Its actual effect was to disturb colonials who wanted to settle on Native American and old French lands, as well as compete in the area set aside for the Hudson’s Bay Company. The new laws gave the Middle colonies and New England a better appreciation of older Southern grievances about the burdens of mercantilist policies. Boycotts and other resistance became popular. When resistance led to repeal of the Townshend and Stamp Acts, colonists learned that stubbornness worked. The British, on the other hand, decided that a stronger colonial administration, with troops to back it, might be in order. On the financial side, mercantilism worked nicely. Trade in 1772 was three times what it was in 1702. Shipping in 1788 was over a million tons. On the eve of the American Revolution in 1776, only one-third of British trade was within Europe; in 1700, the reverse had been true. The West Indian trade mushroomed as well, with a fivefold increase in exports and a fourfold increase in imports. In 1759, New England’s balance of trade was a negative 561,000 pounds. Obviously, New Englanders could not afford to sustain such deficits for any length of time. Many were compensating off the books by means of the timeworn custom of smuggling. But overall British mercantilism seemed to bear out Mun’s deemphasis of bullionism.
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