King George Establishes ‘The American Prohibitory Act’, Forbidding the Americans from All Trade and Commerce

American Prohibitory Act

“It throws thirteen colonies out of the royal protection, levels all distinctions, and makes us independent in spite of our supplications and entreaties… It may be fortunate that the act of independency should come from the British Parliament rather than the American Congress.”

John Adams on the American Prohibitory Act

“That as to the king, we had been bound to him by allegiance, but that this bond was now dissolved by his assent to the late Act of Parliament by which he declares us out of his protection.”

—from “Proceedings from the Second Continental Congress” (referring to the American Prohibitory Act)

FIRST PRINTING. The American Prohibitory Act of 1776 prohibited the American colonies from “all manner of trade and commerce” and declared that any ships found trading “shall be forfeited to his Majesty, as if the same were the ships and effects of open enemies.” This fateful Act declared all Americans to be outlaws beyond the king’s protection even while conservative American leaders were working with their British counterparts to craft a settlement to present to the King and Parliament that would end the fighting between colonial and royal forces, protect the colonists from unconstitutional parliamentary legislation while at the same time stopping short of a declaration of independence.

The American Prohibitory Act ended any chance for reconciliation. The following excerpt illustrates the importance of this act to American history. The excerpt is from a letter written in early 1776 by Joseph Hewes, a North Carolina merchant and, as of December 1775, a prominent opponent of independence:

The Act of Parliament prohibiting all trade and commerce between Great Britain and the colonies has been lately brought here by a Mr. Temple from London… I fear it will make the breach between the two countries so wide as never more to be reconciled… I see no prospect of reconciliation. Nothing is left now but to fight it out.

(letter to Samuel Johnston, dated March 20, 1776, reprinted in English Historical Documents, volume IX, pp 863.)

While it was Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense that proved crucial in mobilizing public opinion in favor of independence, no document played a more decisive role in the debate over independence at the Second Continental Congress than the American Prohibitory Act.

London: Charles Eyre and William Strahan, Printers to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty, 1776. 16 Anno Regni Georgii III, cap 5. Complete volume. Volume also contains two additional acts relevant to the American Revolution, “An Act punishing Mutiny and Desertion” and “An Act to enable His Majesty…to call out and assemble militia in all cases of rebellion.” Folio, contemporary full calf, red leather spine label. Bookplate of Rt. Honourable Earl of Portsmouth. A few stray scrapes to binding, light occasional wear. Overall very attractive in contemporary binding.


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