Salutary neglect was an undocumented, though long-standing British policy of avoiding strict enforcement of parliamentary laws, meant to keep the American colonies obedient to Great Britain. Prime Minister Robert Walpole stated that "If no restrictions were placed on the colonies, they would flourish". This policy, which lasted from about 1607 to 1763, allowed the enforcement of trade relations laws to be lenient. Walpole did not believe in enforcing the Navigation Acts, established under Oliver Cromwell and Charles II and designed to force the colonists to trade only with England, Scotland and Ireland. Successive British governments ended this policy through acts such as the Stamp Act and Sugar Act, causing tensions within the colonies.
Salutary neglect occurred in three time periods. From 1607 to 1696, England had no coherent imperial policy. From 1696 to 1763, England (and after 1707 Britain) tried to form a coherent policy (navigation acts), but did not enforce it. Lastly, from 1763 to 1775 Britain began to try to use a coherent policy.
Salutary neglect was a large contributing factor that led to the American Revolutionary War. Since the imperial authority did not assert the power that it had, the colonists were left to govern themselves. These essentially sovereign colonies soon became accustomed to the idea of self-control. The effects of such prolonged isolation eventually resulted in the emergence of a collective identity that considered itself separate from Great Britain.
The turning point from salutary neglect to an attempt to enforce British policies was the Seven Years' War (French and Indian War). Great Britain was fighting France for imperial control of the known world (including North America, where the war was started (see Jumonville affair)) and was losing very badly until Secretary of State William Pitt took charge. To help the war effort, Pitt tried to seize supplies from the colonies, force colonial men into service, and take control of military issues. The colonists strongly resented his interference, and soon Pitt eased his policies.
Nevertheless, the Seven Years' War fostered resentment in the American colonists toward the British and contempt in Britain toward the Americans. These tensions caused England to abandon its policy of salutary neglect, which led directly to the American Revolution.
The term "salutary neglect" arises from Edmund Burke's 'Speech for Conciliation with the Colonies' given in the House of Commons March 22, 1775.
"That I know that the colonies in general owe little or nothing to any care of ours, and that they are not squeezed into this happy form by the constraints of watchful and suspicious government, but that, through a wise and salutary neglect, a generous nature has been suffered to take her own way to perfection; when I reflect upon these effects, when I see how profitable they have been to us, I feel all the pride of power sink, and all presumption in the wisdom of human contrivances melt, and die away within me." (Burke p. 186)
Navigation Acts 1651 (Cromwell/English Civil War)
The British Empire at the time operated under the mercantile system, where economic assets, or capital, are represented by bullion (gold, silver, and trade value) held by the state, which is best increased through a positive balance of trade with other nations (exports minus imports). Mercantilism suggests that the ruling government should advance these goals through playing a protectionist role in the economy, by encouraging exports and discouraging imports, especially through the use of tariffs. Great Britain regulated the economies of the colonies through the Navigation Acts according to the doctrines of mercantilism. Widespread evasion of these laws had long been tolerated. Eventually, through the use of open-ended search warrants (Writs of Assistance), strict enforcement of these Acts became the practice. In 1761, Massachusetts lawyer James Otis argued that the writs violated the constitutional rights of the colonists. He lost the case, but John Adams later wrote, "American independence was then and there born"
French and Indian War, 1754-1763
British fighting against France in Europe at the same time; 7 Years War
Stamp Act, 1765 (Declaratory Act, Townshend Acts)
Stamp: (1765) British parliamentary measure to tax the American colonies. To pay for costs resulting from the French and Indian War, the British sought to raise revenue through a stamp tax on printed matter. A common revenue device in England, the tax was vigorously opposed by the colonists, whose representatives had not been consulted. Colonists refused to use the stamps, and mobs intimidated stamp agents. The Stamp Act Congress, with representatives from nine colonies, met to petition Parliament to repeal the act. Faced with additional protests from British merchants whose exports had been reduced by colonial boycotts, Parliament repealed the act (1766), then passed the Declaratory Act.
Declaratory: (1766) Declaration by the British Parliament that accompanied repeal of the Stamp Act. It stated that Parliament's authority was the same in America as in Britain and asserted Parliament's authority to make laws binding on the American colonies.
Townshend: (1767) British parliamentary measures to tax the American colonists. The series of four acts imposed duties on imports of lead, paint, glass, paper, and tea and established a board of customs commissioners to enforce collection. Colonial quartering of British troops was also revived. The colonists protested the new measures as taxation without representation and resisted compliance. Nonimportation agreements among colonial merchants cut British imports in half by 1769. In 1770 all the duties except the tax on tea were repealed.
Boston Massacre 1770 (Samuel Adams rebel rouser)
Skirmish on March 5, 1770, between British troops and a crowd in Boston. After provocation by the colonists, British soldiers fired on the mob and killed five men, including Crispus Attucks. The incident was widely publicized by Samuel Adams, Paul Revere, and others as a battle for American liberty, and it contributed to the unpopularity of the British in the years before the American Revolution.
Boston Tea Party, 1773
(1773) British legislation giving a tea monopoly in the American colonies to the British East India Co. It adjusted the duty regulations to allow the failing company to sell its large tea surplus below the prices charged by colonial competitors. The act was opposed by colonists as another example of taxation without representation. Resistance to the act resulted in the Boston Tea Party.
Intolerable Acts (Coercive Acts), 1774
(1774) Four punitive measures enacted by the British Parliament against the American colonies. Boston's harbour was closed until restitution was made for the tea destroyed in the Boston Tea Party; the Massachusetts colony's charter was annulled and a military governor installed; British officials charged with capital offenses could go to England for trial; and arrangement for housing British troops in American houses was revived. The Quebec Act added to these oppressive measures. The acts, called "intolerable" by the colonists, led to a convening of the Continental Congress.
Quebec: (1774) British statute establishing Quebec's government and extending its borders. It provided for a governor and appointed council, religious freedom for Roman Catholics, and use of the French civil code. The act attempted to resolve the problem of making the colony a province of British North America and tried to build French-Canadian loyalty to the British. It also extended the borders of Quebec to include the land between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, a region claimed by American colonists.
First Continental Congress, 1774
First Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in September 1774, was called by the colonial Committees of Correspondence. The delegates adopted a declaration of personal rights, denounced taxation without representation, petitioned the British crown for a redress of grievances, and called for a boycott of British goods.
American Revolution, 1775-1783
Conservative movement to return the colonies to the intended liberty and representative government from the salutary neglect period under the British Empire.
First Chapter of 46 Pages: Thomas Paine, Common Sense, and the Turning Point to Independence
2nd Continental Congress, 1775-1783
Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking up Arms and the Olive Branch Petition
Thomas Paine’s Common Sense turned the tide….January 10, 1776; written by Thomas Jefferson but 85 drastic changes by Continental Congress
Articles of Confederation, 1783-1787
2nd Continental Congress was the wartime government; Written by John Dickinson (Farmer)
The Articles were written during the early part of the American Revolution by a committee of the Second Continental Congress of the now independent thirteen sovereign states. The head of the committee, John Dickinson, who had refused to sign the Declaration of Independence, nevertheless adhering to the will of the majority of the members of the Continental Congress, presented a report on the proposed articles to the Congress on July 12, 1776, eight days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Dickinson initially proposed a strong central government, with control over the western lands, equal representation for the states, and the power to levy taxes.
Because of their experience with Great Britain, the 13 states feared a powerful central government. Consequently, they changed Dickinson's proposed articles drastically before they sent them to all the states for ratification in November 1777. The Continental Congress had been careful to give the states as much independence as possible. The Articles deliberately established a confederation of sovereign states, carefully specifying the limited functions of the federal government. Despite these precautions, several years passed before all the states ratified the articles. The delay resulted from preoccupation with the revolution and from disagreements among the states. These disagreements included quarrels over boundary lines, conflicting decisions by state courts, differing tariff laws, and trade restrictions between states.
The small states wanted equal representation with the large states in Congress, and the large states were afraid they would have to pay an excessive amount of money to support the federal government. In addition, the states disagreed over control of the western territories. The states with no frontier borders wanted the government to control the sale of these territories so that all the states profited. On the other hand, the states bordering the frontier wanted to control as much land as they could.
Eventually the states agreed to give control of all western lands to the federal government, paving the way for final ratification of the articles on March 1, 1781, just seven and a half months before the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his British Army at Yorktown, October 19, 1781, the victory ended fighting in the War of Independence and virtually assured success to the American cause. Almost the entire war for five long years had been prosecuted by the members of the Second Continental Congress as representatives of a loose federation of states with no constitution, acting at many times only on their own individual strengths, financial resources and reputations.
Shays' Rebellion, the post-Revolutionary clash between New England farmers and merchants that tested the precarious institutions of the new republic, threatened to plunge the "disunited states" into a civil war. The rebellion arose in Massachusetts in 1786, spread to other states, and culminated in the rebels' march upon a federal arsenal. It wound down in 1787 with the election of a more popular governor, an economic upswing, and the creation of the Constitution of the United States in Philadelphia.