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Salutary Neglect

By | September 2011
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Salutary neglect was an undocumented, though long-standing, British policy of avoiding strict enforcement of parliamentary laws, meant to keep the American colonies obedient to Great Britain. Prime Minister Robert Walpole stated that "If no restrictions were placed on the colonies, they would flourish".[1] This policy, which lasted from about 1607 to 1763, allowed the enforcement of trade relations laws to be lenient. Walpole did not believe in enforcing the Navigation Acts, established under Oliver Cromwell and Charles II and designed to force the colonists to trade only with England, Scotland and Ireland,which were also under Britain's control. Successive British governments ended this policy through acts such as the Stamp Act and Sugar Act, causing tensions within the colonies.

Salutary neglect occurred in three time periods. From 1607 to 1696, England had no coherent imperial policy. From 1696 to 1763, England (and after 1707 the Kingdom of Great Britain) tried to form a coherent policy through the Navigation acts but did not enforce it. Lastly, from 1763 to 1775 Britain began to try to use a coherent policy driven in part through the outcome of the Seven Years War in which Britain had gained large swathes of new territory in North America at the Peace of Paris in 1763. Successive British government passed a number of acts designed to regulate their American colonies including the Stamp Act and Quebec Act.

Salutary neglect was a large contributing factor that led to the American Revolutionary War. Since the imperial authority did not assert the power that it had, the colonists were left to govern themselves. These essentially sovereign colonies soon became accustomed to the idea of self-control. The effects of such prolonged isolation eventually resulted in the emergence of a collective identity that considered itself separate from Great Britain.

The term "salutary neglect" arises from Edmund Burke's 'Speech for the Conciliation with the Colonies'...

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