Prohibitory Act

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Act of Parliament
Long titleAn act to prohibit all trade and inter-courses with the colonies of New Hampshire, Massachuset's [sic] Bay, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, the three lower counties on Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, during the continuance of the present rebellion within the said colonies respectively; for repealing an act, made in the fourteenth year of the reign of his present Majesty, to discontinue the landing and discharging, lading or shipping, of goods, wares, and merchandise, at the town and within the harbor of Boston, in the province of Massachuset's Bay; and also two acts, made in the last session of parliament, for restraining the trade and commerce of the colonies in the said acts respectively mentioned; and to enable any person or persons, appointed and authorised by his Majesty to grant pardons, to issue proclamations, in the cases, and for the purposes therein mentioned.
Citation16 Geo. 3 c. 5
Territorial extent British America and the British West Indies
Royal assent22 December 1775
Other legislation
Repealed byStatute Law Revision Act 1861
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Prohibitory Act was British legislation in late 1775 that cut off all trade between the Thirteen Colonies and England and removed the colonies from the King's protection.[1] In essence, it was a declaration of economic warfare by Britain as punishment to the American colonies for the rebellion against the King and British rule that became known as the American Revolutionary War.

The Prohibitory Act references two acts passed by the last session of Parliament that were known as the Restraining Acts 1775. It was referenced as one of the 27 colonial grievances of the American Declaration of Independence.


In October 1775, the Parliament of Great Britain, under Lord North, First Lord of the Treasury, decided that sterner measures would be taken to subdue the rebellion now underway in the 13 North American colonies. To that end, they decreed a blockade against the trade of the 13 colonists by passing the Prohibitory Act. "All manner of trade and commerce" would be prohibited, and any ship that was found trading "shall be forfeited to his Majesty, as if the same were the ships and effects of open enemies."

The goal was to destroy the American economy by prohibiting trade with any country. The Act, being a virtual declaration of war, furnished the colonists with an excuse for throwing off all allegiance to the king. John Adams regarded the Act as the straw that broke the camel's back.[2]


The Prohibitory Act served as an effective declaration of war by Great Britain since a blockade is an act of war under the law of nations. The colonies and Congress immediately reacted by issuing letters of marque, which authorised individual American shipowners to seize British ships in a practice known as privateering. Further, the Act moved the American colonists more towards the option of complete independence, as the King had now declared his "subjects" out of his protection and levied war against them without regards to distinction as to their ultimate loyalty or their petitions for the redress of grievances.

At the same time, the British had imported bands of foreign auxiliaries, including the Hessians, into the American colonies to suppress the rebellion. The British had also stirred up hostile bands of Native Americans on the frontier by the King's men to raid the colonists. Concluding that they no longer had the King's protection, the colonists responded with the Declaration of Independence.

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.[3]


  1. ^ Gillon, S. "Congress opens all U.S. ports to international trade". A&E Television Networks. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  2. ^ Forman, Samuel Eagle (1922). Our Republic: A Brief History of the American People. Century. p. 71. Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  3. ^ From John Adams to Horatio Gates, 23 March 1776

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