Kirstin Lawson
Social Science
Material Type:
  • English Interregnum
  • Navigation Acts
  • Proprietary Colonies
  • Quaker
  • Restoration Colonies
  • Salutary Neglect

    The Restoration and the Navigation Acts

    The Restoration and the Navigation Acts


    By the end of this section, you will be able to:

    • Analyze the causes and consequences of the Restoration
    • Identify the Restoration colonies and their role in the expansion of the Empire

    A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1660, Charles II ascends the English throne and the Restoration begins; a portrait of Charles II is shown. In 1681, William Penn founds Pennsylvania Colony; a portrait of William Penn is shown. In 1688–1689, the Glorious Revolution overthrows King James II; a portrait of King James II is shown. In 1689, the Bill of Rights establishes constitutional monarchy in England; the Bill of Rights is shown. In 1733, James Oglethorpe founds Georgia for the “worthy poor”; a portrait of James Oglethorpe is shown. In 1739, slaves revolt in the Stono Rebellion. In 1741, suspicious fires lead to the New York Conspiracy Trials. In 1754, the French and Indian War (Seven Years’ War) begins. In 1763, the Treaty of Paris eliminates New France.

    When Charles II ascended the throne in 1660, English subjects on both sides of the Atlantic celebrated the restoration of the English monarchy after a decade of living without a king as a result of the English Civil Wars. Charles II lost little time in strengthening England’s global power. From the 1660s to the 1680s, Charles II added more possessions to England’s North American holdings by establishing the Restoration colonies of New York and New Jersey (taking these areas from the Dutch) as well as Pennsylvania and the Carolinas. In order to reap the greatest economic benefit from England’s overseas possessions, Charles II enacted the mercantilist Navigation Acts, although many colonial merchants ignored them because enforcement remained lax.



    Charles I ascended the English throne in 1625 and soon married a French Catholic princess, Henrietta Maria, who was not well liked by English Protestants because she openly practiced Catholicism during her husband’s reign. The most outspoken Protestants, the Puritans, had a strong voice in Parliament in the 1620s, and they strongly opposed the king’s marriage and his ties to Catholicism. When Parliament tried to contest his edicts, including the king’s efforts to impose taxes without Parliament’s consent, Charles I suspended Parliament in 1629 and ruled without one for the next eleven years.

    The ensuing struggle between the king and Parliament led to the outbreak of war. The English Civil War lasted from 1642 to 1649 and pitted the king and his Royalist supporters against Oliver Cromwell and his Parliamentary forces. After years of fighting, the Parliamentary forces gained the upper hand, and in 1649, they charged Charles I with treason and beheaded him. The monarchy was dissolved, and England became a republic: a state without a king. Oliver Cromwell headed the new English Commonwealth, and the period known as the English interregnum, or the time between kings, began.

    Though Cromwell enjoyed widespread popularity at first, over time he appeared to many in England to be taking on the powers of a military dictator. Dissatisfaction with Cromwell grew. When he died in 1658 and control passed to his son Richard, who lacked the political skills of his father, a majority of the English people feared an alternate hereditary monarchy in the making. They had had enough and asked Charles II to be king. In 1660, they welcomed the son of the executed king Charles I back to the throne to resume the English monarchy and bring the interregnum to an end (Figure). The return of Charles II is known as the Restoration.

    Painting (a) is a portrait of Oliver Cromwell. Painting (b) is a portrait of King Charles II.

    The monarchy and Parliament fought for control of England during the seventeenth century. Though Oliver Cromwell (a), shown here in a 1656 portrait by Samuel Cooper, appeared to offer England a better mode of government, he assumed broad powers for himself and disregarded cherished English liberties established under Magna Carta in 1215. As a result, the English people welcomed Charles II (b) back to the throne in 1660. This portrait by John Michael Wright was painted ca. 1660–1665, soon after the new king gained the throne.

    Charles II was committed to expanding England’s overseas possessions. His policies in the 1660s through the 1680s established and supported the Restoration colonies: the Carolinas, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania. All the Restoration colonies started as proprietary colonies, that is, the king gave each colony to a trusted individual, family, or group.



    Creating wealth for the Empire remained a primary goal, and in the second half of the seventeenth century, especially during the Restoration, England attempted to gain better control of trade with the American colonies. The mercantilist policies by which it tried to achieve this control are known as the Navigation Acts.

    The 1651 Navigation Ordnance, a product of Cromwell’s England, required that only English ships carry goods between England and the colonies, and that the captain and three-fourths of the crew had to be English. The ordnance further listed “enumerated articles” that could be transported only to England or to English colonies, including the most lucrative commodities like sugar and tobacco as well as indigo, rice, molasses, and naval stores such as turpentine. All were valuable goods not produced in England or in demand by the British navy.

    Other Navigation Acts included the 1663 Staple Act and the 1673 Plantation Duties Act. The Staple Act barred colonists from importing goods that had not been made in England, creating a profitable monopoly for English exporters and manufacturers. The Plantation Duties Act taxed enumerated articles exported from one colony to another, a measure aimed principally at New Englanders, who transported great quantities of molasses from the West Indies, including smuggled molasses from French-held islands, to make into rum.

    Despite the Navigation Acts, however, Great Britain exercised lax control over the English colonies during most of the eighteenth century. Between 1721 and 1742, the Prime Minister governed according to his belief that commerce flourished best when it was not encumbered with restrictions. Historians have described this lack of strict enforcement of the Navigation Acts as salutary neglect. In addition, nothing prevented colonists from building their own fleet of ships to engage in trade. New England especially benefited from both salutary neglect and a vibrant maritime culture made possible by the scores of trading vessels built in the northern colonies. The case of the 1733 Molasses Act illustrates the weaknesses of British mercantilist policy. The 1733 act placed a sixpence-per-gallon duty on raw sugar, rum, and molasses from Britain’s competitors, the French and the Dutch, in order to give an advantage to British West Indian producers. Because the British did not enforce the 1733 law, however, New England mariners routinely smuggled these items from the French and Dutch West Indies more cheaply than they could buy them on English islands.

    Section Summary

    After the English Civil War and interregnum, England began to fashion a stronger and larger empire in North America. In addition to wresting control of New York and New Jersey from the Dutch, Charles II established the Carolinas and Pennsylvania as proprietary colonies. Each of these colonies added immensely to the Empire, supplying goods not produced in England, such as rice and indigo. The Restoration colonies also contributed to the rise in population in English America as many thousands of Europeans made their way to the colonies. Their numbers were further augmented by the forced migration of African slaves. Starting in 1651, England pursued mercantilist policies through a series of Navigation Acts designed to make the most of England’s overseas possessions. Nonetheless, without proper enforcement of Parliament’s acts and with nothing to prevent colonial traders from commanding their own fleets of ships, the Navigation Acts did not control trade as intended.