From 1607, with the establishment of the first permanent English colony in Jamestown, to 1621, the British government kept a close eye on their North American colonial possessions. Beginning in 1621, and lasting till around 1750, England changed this policy, and began employing a concept that came to be known as salutary neglect. Salutary neglect was adopted by the British government for a variety of reasons. Among these were internal political problems caused by the English Civil War and Glorious Revolution, and external problems caused by foreign wars with the Dutch and French. It was also believed that increased economic freedom would stimulate commerce and increase economic growth in the colonies.
The policy of salutary neglect had a profound effect on the development of American society. Left to largely fend for themselves throughout the 1600’s and 1700’s, colonial America became accustomed to governing itself, with little interference from the British crown. Because Britain’s influence was only lightly felt, the individual colonies were able to develop legislatures, pass their own laws, collect their own taxes, experience religious freedom, and develop commercial and business ventures. Colonists were able to ignore mercantilist restrictions, become more self-sufficient, and develop a feeling of individuality. Under this arrangement, relations between the British government and the colonies, while strained at times, remained friendly for an extended period of time. In large part, this was due to the economic benefits both sides enjoyed by maintaining the status quo.
For their part, the colonists began to assume that the freedom they experienced under the policy of salutary neglect was guaranteed to them as English citizens. The British government did not share this view, however. As the colonial economy grew stronger the British government began to see it as a threat to their policy of mercantilism. To deal with this growing economic threat, they would abandon their policy of salutary neglect, and begin to pursue a course of action designed to bring the colonial economy under complete British control. The abandonment of salutary neglect, and the enforcement of mercantilist policies, created a sense of hostility in the colonists as they began to feel that their independence and way of life was being threatened.