Boycotts, Colonial

Method used by colonists to protest and influence British commercial policies.
A boycott is the act of abstaining from using, buying, or dealing with something or someone as a means of protest and coercion. During the late colonial era, Americans commonly used boycotts as a powerful way of expressing disagreement with and anger over England’s attempt to regulate commerce and increase its revenue. As the colonies grew, Americans came to realize that they provided a major market for English manufactures and believed they could easily exert real leverage on economic policy by boycotting British products rather than appealing through political channels. Boycotts spread through nonimportation agreements, in which groups organized in opposition to British actions and persuaded individuals not to buy, or merchants not to sell, British goods. These “agreements” appealed to a person’s sense of patriotism but were also commonly enforced via threats and overt acts of violence against violators.
The influence of boycotts on British policymaking remained indirect yet effective. The Stamp Act provides the best example of a boycott influencing imperial policy. Generally, Parliament demonstrated little concern with colonial opinions about fiscal measures or commercial regulation. However, government officials remained sensitive to and greatly influenced by the economic interests of British merchants and manufacturers, who suffered economically when American colonists boycotted British goods. The widespread colonial boycott that emerged in 1765 coincided with an economic depression in England, which compounded problems for British industry and shipping. With profits plummeting and warehouses full of unsold merchandise, British merchants generated strong political opposition to the act, forcing Parliament to repeal it the following year. The repeal of the Stamp Act by the British further fueled the belief among colonists that economic coercion would influence commercial policy. Colonists repeatedly implemented boycotts over the next decade in response to Parliament’s tightening of the imperial system.
Although they were ineffective in changing the long-term course of British policy concerning taxation, boycotts remained important to the development of social and political cohesion in the 1760s and 1770s. Boycotts politicized the population by making the individual’s decision to import or purchase an item a political statement and proved crucial to creating widespread opposition to British rule. They enabled leaders to consolidate and direct opposition to the imperial system. Although boycotts were initially local efforts in seaport cities, after 1765 they became government policy as colonial legislatures imposed nonimportation acts. These acts forged a sense of common identity across colonial borders and stimulated a commitment to domestic manufacturing and economic self-sufficiency.

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