The Molasses Act of 1733, (also sometimes referred to as the Sugar Act of 1733) was one of the later laws directed against colonial trade that influenced greatly the relation between the colonists and Great Britain.
This law was enacted by Parliament in 1733 in response to a demand made by the planters of the English sugar islands in the West Indies, who claimed that they were suffering from the practice of colonial shippers' buying their sugar and molasses in the French and other foreign islands. The act had little to do with raising new revenue; instead it was to make importation from competitors economically impossible. Parliament proposed to prohibit the colonists from buying sugar and molasses from foreign islands, thus giving the English sugar planters the monopoly of the colonial trade.
When the colonists learned of this proposal, they protested. Pennsylvania merchants, for example, objected on the ground that the English sugar planters were unwilling to buy colonial products in quantities sufficient to pay for the sugar and molasses desired by the colonists. They frankly acknowledged that they had been trading with the foreign islands simply because it was only there that they could dispose of their surplus food supplies and lumber. Another protest laid before Parliament went to the heart of the matter by declaring that the ability of the colonies to buy manufactured goods from England depended in large part on their trade with the foreign islands where they received money for their products. It pointed out that this trade "centers in Great Britain, by means of the Balance of Trade; For their Industry chiefly centers in this, viz. to make Returns to Great Britain to purchase its Manufactures; and the more they are enabled to make Remittances home, the greater their Demand will be of those Commodities."
In spite of these and other protests, Parliament in 1733 imposed a tax on rum, molasses, and sugar imported from Dutch, Spanish, and French West Indian possessions into the continental colonies; nine pence on each gallon of rum, six pence on each gallon of molasses, and five shillings on each hundredweight of sugar.
Effect on Trade
The navigation acts proper, and other restrictive acts, such as the one relating to sugar and molasses, affected colonial trade and industry in various ways. The act of 1651, which was intended primarily to regulate commerce between Britain and her colonies, stimulated colonial shipbuilding and the colonial carrying trade by giving English and colonial ship owners the monopoly of this commerce. Later acts, as we have seen already, went farther and restricted the freedom of colonial trade. In the act of 1660 the only North American product affected by the enumerated list was tobacco. Even though the English lawmakers prohibited its exportation to other countries, they compensated the colonies for the loss of their markets by encouraging its re-exportation from England to the rest of Europe, by prohibiting its cultivation in England, and by placing a heavy tax on tobacco imported into England from other countries. In both these respects the American colonies appear to have been benefited by the colonial policy of Britain.
The non-enumerated articles, which included almost every colonial product of any great importance, were excluded from the English markets, and, after 1766, even from the markets of France, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries. Such a policy of exclusion, however, did not within itself seriously injure the industrial progress of the colonists. To avoid the tax, products were smuggled in from the West Indies and southern Europe instead of with Britain. They were injured, however, when the English government required them to import their European goods from England and their rum, molasses, and sugar from the English plantations in the West Indies. The first requirement often compelled the colonial ship captain, after unloading a cargo of non-enumerated articles in southern Europe, to sail to England for a load of colonial imports, or to return home with an empty hold. The second requirement cut off the supply of money from the foreign West India islands, which the colonists had used to buy manufactured goods from England.
- History of Domestic and Foreign Commerce of the United States: American commerce to 1789, by E. R. Johnson.
- The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin
- History of the United States
- "Proceedings and Debates of the British Parliaments respecting North America", Leo Francis Stock, p. 182
- Origins of the American Revolution, John C. Miller, p. 99
- The Molasses Act, Full Text