Board of Trade Established
The Board of Trade was not a committee of the Privy Council, as its predecessors had been. The new board was composed of eight members, each of whom earned an annual salary of 1,000 pounds (except for the board's president, who earned more). Its responsibilities included managing English trade, both domestic and foreign; overseeing the care and employment of the poor; and supervising colonial affairs. This last duty included corresponding with the colonies on behalf of the Crown, reporting the information they received from the colonies to the king, reviewing laws passed by colonial assemblies, and nominating colonial officials for royal appointment—all with the goal of ensuring the colonies' commercial profitability for England.
Yet these circumstances did not result in the systematically sustained committee work that one might have expected. Despite the promising developments in the colonial world, the board's work began to decline, perhaps because of numerous ministerial changes in the British government at that time. Indeed, after 1714, the board sank into decades of inactivity, which may have helped contribute to Britain's unofficial policy of salutary neglect.
Colonial Involvement Increases
The board's increased involvement was a surprise to colonial assemblies. In 1748–1749 the General Assembly decided to undertake a full revision of Virginia's laws—the first in more than forty years. The body submitted its work to the Board of Trade expecting the customary response: no response at all. Prior to Halifax's tenure the Board of Trade had reviewed colonial laws, but for the most part took no action. The idea was that not confirming or disallowing a particular law reserved the agency's right to do so in the future. (This policy was adopted to ensure colonial dependence on the Crown, but in fact it had the opposite effect: colonial assemblies became increasingly self-reliant and efficient at passing legislation.)
Instead, the board deliberated over the revisions between March 14 and 23, 1751. They confirmed fifty-seven of the revised acts; disallowed ten ab initio, or from the enactment date; assigned fifteen a probationary status; and referred three to the Lords of the Treasury. Most notably, the board made clear its intentions to forbid the alteration of previous laws if they did not contain a suspending clause. This meant that any revision of almost any Virginia law, no matter how practical, could be disallowed from its inception if it was found noncompliant with the interests of the Crown. It limited not only the General Assembly's authority, but also its flexibility. It was a sign that that the board intended to play a much larger role in colonial legislation than it had in years past.
The General Assembly received the Crown's report in 1752—three years after it had completed the revision—and was forced to reinstate old laws and repeal new ones that had already been in place for years. The Virginia assembly petitioned against the mandatory use of the suspending clause, but to no effect. Meanwhile, the Board of Trade was so pleased with the results of the Virginia law revision that it ordered the other American colonies to undergo the same procedure.
Decline of the Board of Trade in the Colonies
Halifax served more than a dozen years, but after he left the board in 1761, successive committees of trade fragmented again. Halifax's successors served only one or two years each, if that. William Petty, earl of Shelburne, left his post after only a few months because he could not get along with his colleagues; Wills Hill, earl of Hillsborough, served two years as board president before resigning over its policy regarding western lands.
May 1696 - King William III appoints a body of eight commissioners, known as the Board of Trade, to supervise colonial laws, particularly those that might contradict imperial trade policy.
1714 - The Board of Trade's level of colonial involvement declines.
1748–1749 - The General Assembly undertakes a full revision of Virginia's laws.
October 7, 1748 - George Montagu-Dunk, earl of Halifax, is appointed president of the Board of Trade and ushers in an era of renewed involvement in colonial activity.
March 14–23, 1751 - The Board of Trade deliberates over the revisions made by the General Assembly to Virginia's laws. It confirms fifty-seven of the revised acts, disallows ten ab initio, assigns fifteen a probationary status, and refers three to the Lords of the Treasury.
March 21, 1761 - George Montagu-Dunk, earl of Halifax, steps down as president of the Board of Trade.
1768 - The office of secretary of state for the colonies is established. This cabinet position absorbs control of colonial affairs from the Board of Trade.
July 4, 1776 - The Second Continental Congress issues the Declaration of Independence, which labels King George III a tyrant and calls him "unfit to be the ruler of a free people."
1782 - An act of Parliament abolishes the Board of Trade.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Olson, A. G. The Board of Trade and Colonial Virginia. (2015, January 8). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Board_of_Trade.
- MLA Citation:
Olson, Alison G. "The Board of Trade and Colonial Virginia." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 8 Jan. 2015. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: December 16, 2013 | Last modified: January 8, 2015
Contributed by Alison G. Olson, professor emeritus of history at the University of Maryland.