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Angela Jong


October 21, 2008

Salutary Neglect Essay

British Prime Minister, Robert Walpole once said, “ If no restrictions were placed on the

colonies, they would flourish". Based on this belief, the undocumented policy of salutary neglect

developed. The lax enforcement of parliamentary laws and lack of interference in colonial affairs

employed to keep the colonists loyal to Britain and to gain more profits had profound influence

upon America’s legislature, commerce, and religion.

Without Britain’s controlling influence, colonists were given free reign to create their

own legislature. Based on English principles such as the Magna Carta and Rights of Englishmen,

colonies developed parochial, decentralized governments. The first representative legislature that

was created was the House of Burgesses in 1619 in Virginia. Following this trend, the town

meetings were formed in the north, representing some of the most fundamental democratic

principles including freedom of speech through open discussions to legislate policy and taxation

with representation by allowing the people to vote for representatives or allowing them to

directly voice their opinions. Although Britain had some influence in colonial legislature through

royal governors, the colonists held the power of the purse to withhold the governor’s pay, thus

manipulating the government to follow the wishes of majority. The decentralized governmental

system foundation proved to influence a strong anti-federalist advocates later and the assertion of

state rights.
Originally guided by the principles of mercantilism, Britain’s desire to stimulate trade

and create more profits led to the unofficial policy of salutary neglect. Under the mercantilism

system, colonists gained little profit and had no incentive to work, thus resulting in loss

investments. However, through the implementation of salutary neglect, the lax enforcement of

many of the mercantilism policies such as Navigation Acts, permitted trade opportunities with

foreign nations. Some important developments were trade and agriculture. Almost everything

that was grown was shipped out. An example of a lucrative dependence on trade was the

Triangle Trade in which the colonists traded molasses, rum, and slaves. Overall, salutary neglect

promoted dependence on the foreign trade.

Through salutary neglect, religious tolerance was endorsed. Many unorthodox religious

leaders such as William Penn left England to escape persecution and to practice their religion

with more freedom than tolerated in England. Salutary Neglect indirectly sanctioned religious

tolerant governments by not specifying or dictating prohibited religions, but rather gave the

colonists freedom to do as they wished. The emergence of religious tolerance can be seen in

Maryland’s Toleration Act passed in 1916 that allowed all Christians the freedom worship

instead one group. Another example is Rhode Island’s lack of state church or compulsory

worship but rather the hodgepodge religions. Early religious tolerance can be deemed influential

to the freedom of worship that is an essential element of the American society.

Britain’s desire for more profit and colonial loyalty led to a dramatic and influential

affect upon the colonist’s development through the creation of representative legislative bodies,

foreign trade reliance, and religious tolerance that has become some of the key characteristics of

the United States, as we know it today.