Sugar Act of 1764

(United Reader) – As we know, before the United States was established and recognized as an independent nation, it was under British rule. While it’s true that the colonists governed themselves, they were still susceptible to British regulations and taxes. One of these was the Sugar Act of 1764.


On April 5th, 1764, Parliament signed an alternate version of the Sugar and Molasses Act to replace the expiring act. Under the old act, colonial merchants required six pence per gallon for the importation of molasses. However, due to corruption, the intention of the tax was undercut, with most merchants evading it. Related issues damaged the British West Indies trade market.

A beefed-up Navy presence grew more active in customs enforcement in an attempt to bring the colonies in line with paying taxes. Finally, Parliament decided it may be a good idea to make some changes to trade regulations.

Sugar Act

The Sugar Act would reduce the taxes on molasses from the original six pence per gallon to three pence per gallon. The act also affected taxes on sugar, coffee, printed and cambric calico and other foreign goods; iron and lumber also saw increases in export regulations. Upon further stipulation set forth by the act, Americans could still export these goods to foreign countries as long as they passed through British ports.

Complications arose for American shippers, who had to fill out several forms to legalize their shipments. Even the smallest inconsistency could result in the loss of their vessels and cargo. The act affected trade locally, as well as along the east coast, resulting in unrealistic restrictions.


Several of the colonists felt that the new Sugar Act not only brought unfair restrictions to trade, but that it created unfair justice as well. The Sugar Act allowed customs enforcement to transfer smuggling cases away from colonial courts and to vice-admiralty courts in Nova Scotia. Judges would be awarded 5% of the confiscated cargo up until 1768, which greatly increased the chances of guilty verdicts. Defendants were also burdened with proving their innocence rather than being innocent until proven guilty.


The Sugar Act was the first sign of the British Parliament’s plan to grip the colonies tighter and control their trade further. It served as another stepping stone for stronger British control over the colonies in general. The act wasn’t seen as just trade regulation restricting the economy; the colonists also saw the act as a way for the British to expand their involvement in the colonies.

The act was seen as a violation of the rights of Englishmen, specifically the right to a fair and just trial. While colonist leaders were angered, there was hesitation to claim the act was unconstitutional, as it was perceived simply as an amendment to the Molasses Act of 1733. Pennsylvania, New York and Massachusetts suffered the most burden through the new taxes. So, while many of the states agreed the Sugar Act was less than desirable, their incentive wasn’t strong enough to push back, resulting in a lack of organized opposition.

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