The Royal Colony of North Carolina

The Sugar Act (1764)


Guided by Prime Minister George Grenville, Parliament enacted the Sugar Act in 1764. This measure amended the Molasses Act of 1733, which had imposed a 6 pence import duty on foreign molasses. The Sugar Act lowered the duty to 3 pence, in an effort to make the British sugar industry competitive without completely wrecking the mainland export trade or distilling industry. As such, it was never really designed as a revenue act, but, like its predecessor, as a means to regulate trade.

Colonists generally understood such regulatory powers as a legitimate authority of Parliament. The Sugar Act inspired minor protest in specific states (Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania), where distillers and merchants were hardest hit. Men like John Hancock of Boston, who had made their fortunes smuggling French molasses, emphasized financial hardship more than philosophical objections to tax policy.

A more far-reaching consequence of the Sugar Act involved its transfer of smuggling cases from provincial courts to vice-admiralty courts. Friendly local juries did not render decisions in vice admiralty courts; instead, royally-appointed judges handed down decisions under a system that provided a financial incentive to find guilt. Trials were not based on common law, but decided entirely on the basis of Parliamentary legislation. The Sugar Act also shifted the burden of proof to accused merchants, who had to demonstrate the legality of their trade under the Navigations Acts.

However, the Sugar Act had very little impact on everyday life in both North Carolina and South Carolina, so there were no demonstrations or even a major protest from these two colonies.

© 2007 - J.D. Lewis - PO Box 1188 - Little River, SC 29566 - All Rights Reserved