Author: James Henretta

a professor emeritus of history at the University of Maryland
ENTRY

Salutary Neglect

Salutary neglect was Britain’s unofficial policy, initiated by prime minister Robert Walpole, to relax the enforcement of strict regulations, particularly trade laws, imposed on the American colonies late in the seventeenth and early in the eighteenth centuries. Walpole and other proponents of this approach hoped that Britain, by easing its grip on colonial trade, could focus its attention on European politics and further cement its role as a world power. Because the policy was unwritten, it went unnamed until March 22, 1775, when Edmund Burke, addressing Parliament, cited British officials’ “wise and salutary neglect” as the prime factor in the booming commercial success of the country’s North American holdings. Indeed, salutary neglect enabled the American colonies to prosper by trading with non-British entities, and then to spend that wealth on British-made goods, while at the same time providing Britain with raw materials for manufacture. But the policy had an unintended side effect: it enabled the colonies to operate independently of Britain, both economically and politically, and to forge an American identity. Some historians argue that this loose hold on the colonies, which George III and his ministers tightened in 1760, gave them the freedom to pull away from Britain and start down the path to revolution.

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