Sugar Act

Sugar Act

The enforcement of the Sugar Act was an important phase in the history of the US. It eventually led to an outburst in the form of the American Revolution. Read on to know more about this influential legislation...
The Sugar Act of 1764 was aimed at increasing revenue. It is considered as one of the most important acts in America's colonial history. The Sugar Act, also known as the American Duties, or American Revenue Act, was a modified form of the Molasses Act of 1733. The collection of revenue as per the provisions of the Molasses Act hadn't taken place effectively.

What was the Sugar Act?

The origins of this act can be traced back to the British West Indian sugar growers' demand of restricting the business that took place between the North American colonies and the Spanish and French. The French and Spanish sugar was priced lower than that from the West Indies; it was but natural that the business of the West Indian sugar growers suffered. Help of the British Parliament was, therefore, sought by the West Indians. As the West Indian colonies were on good terms with the Kingdom, their plea was answered by the Molasses Act of 1733. This act, as stated above, proved ineffective in reviving the trade between North American colonies (especially New England). These colonies worked their way around the prohibitions by means of smuggling, bribing custom officials, and other means.

Neglect by the British Kingdom
The six-pence tax imposed by British Parliament was harsh on the business in New England. Had the law been enforced strictly, the distilleries in this region would have suffered massive losses. The rum produced in these distilleries would have become overpriced, and gone out of the average person's reach. Rum being a high-demand beverage in the lower strata of the society, increasing its price would have resulted in social unrest. The British Parliament, therefore, neglected the strict implementation of this six-pence tax levy. Moreover, merchants in both America and Europe benefited from the business. It was considered a wise move by the British to levy a tax and simultaneously neglect its strict enforcement.

Revival of the Molasses Act
The end of the French and Indian War was when George Grenville, the British Prime Minister, started facing the heat from the accumulation of huge public debts. It was at this time that the revival of the Molasses Act would have brought in revenues to the Kingdom. Thus, the Sugar Act came into force. The following points should help understand this 1764 Act more clearly.
  • The six-pence tax was brought down to half, i.e., 3 pence. The important thing to note, however, was that the government intended to enforce this act strictly.
  • The number of taxable goods/items under this act were increased. Apart from sugar, items like coffee, wine, cloth, silk, and tropical foods were also included in this list.
  • Supervision of exports from American colonies was made stricter. Lumber and iron were the important items under supervision. Procedure/formalities to be followed before loading cargo were made cumbersome for shippers.
Consequences of the Sugar Act
The economic hardships resulting from this act surfaced almost immediately in the Middle colonies, and especially in New England. There was a drop in the American exports, and distilleries suffered to a great extent. With the trade slowing down, people began saving money; this led to currency contraction, and the financial problems of colonies grew even worse. The boycott of British goods followed; the Bitter Yankee Distillers played an important part in this move. Americans were not against any kind of trade regulations carried out by the British Parliament. The motive of the Kingdom to increase revenue by such means (enforcing the Sugar Act) was, however, doubted. Moreover, the taxes levied by local assemblies (which represented Americans in a true sense) were not at all a cause of concern. The act therefore, received stiff opposition.

The unrest generated by this Act was a major precursor to the Boston Tea Party, and the coining of the iconic phrase, 'No taxation without Representation'.