The term salutary neglect stems from the colonial era. Even though England believed in a system of mercantilism where the colonies existed for the benefit of the mother country, Sir Robert Walpole decided to try something different to stimulate commerce.
A View of Salutary Neglect
Walpole, the first Prime Minister of Great Britain, espoused a view of salutary neglect whereby the actual enforcement of external trade relations was lax. In other words, the British did not strictly enforce commerce laws with the colonies. As Walpole said, “If no restrictions were placed on the colonies, they would flourish.” This unofficial British policy was in effect from 1607 to 1763.
The Navigation Act and Trading
Companies, merchants and independent corporations went about their business in these colonies on their own without a lot of overlook from the British government. The beginning of trade regulation started with the Navigation Act in 1651. This allowed goods to be transported to the American colonies on English ships and prevented other colonists from trading with anyone other than England.
Passed but Not Heavily Enforced
While there were several renditions of these acts, the policy was expanded to include certain products that were only allowed to be transported on English ships, such as indigo, sugar and tobacco products. Unfortunately, the act was often not enforced due to difficulties with finding enough customs officials to handle the management. Because of this, goods were often snuck in with other countries including the Dutch and the French West Indies. This was the very beginning of the triangular trade between the North American colonies, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe.
The Triangular Trade
Britain had the upper hand when it came to the illegal triangular trade. Despite it going against the Navigation Acts, here are a few ways Britain benefited:
- The trade allowed New England merchants to get wealthy. In turn, merchants bought manufactured goods from the British.
- Despite Walpole attempting to solve this issue by offering positions of government, these officials granted had often taken bribes from merchants.
- The colonies were supplied with enslaved people on top of being given a market for raw goods.
- The colonies received finished European products that they were unable to make themselves.
Calls for Independence
The salutary neglect period ended as a consequence of the French and Indian War, also known as the Seven Years War, from years 1755 to 1763. This caused a large war debt that the British needed to pay off, and thus the policy was destroyed in the colonies. Many believe that the French and Indian War affected the relationship between the British and the colonists by leading to the revolution. This is because the colonists were not worried about France if breaking away from Britain.
Once the British government became stricter in their enforcement of commerce laws after 1763, protests and eventually calls for independence became more pronounced amongst the colonists. This would, of course, lead to the American Revolution.