A petition against the Iron Act (1750)


In 1750 the British parliament was considering the Iron Act, a piece of legislation intended to restrict industrial production and manufacture in the American colonies. The following petition was received by the parliament, probably from an agent representing interests in the southern colonies (its actual source is unknown). The petition seeks to have a clause of the Iron Act removed or amended:


“If the clause be taken in a strict sense, all iron work for building ships, houses, mills, and even what is necessary for instruments to till the ground will be forbidden to be made there [in America]; whereby it will become impracticable to live in the plantations, because this sort of iron manufacture must be made on the spot, that it may be framed and fitted to the Size of the Work.

1. To forbid His Majesty’s Subjects the making any sort of iron wares, when it is for their own necessary use, and not for exportation, seems to bear hard on the common rights and liberties of Mankind; especially, when the ore is what their own soil yields, and is found but in small quantities…

2. If such a prohibition be thought just, to prevent the plantations from interfering with the iron workers in this Kingdom, all other tradesman may expect, in their turns, to be forbid working at their respective callings. For, by the same reason, the people may be forbidden from making cheese or cider, for fear of prejudicing the manufactures in Cheshire and Herefordshire.

3. It is humbly conceived [that] there is no occasion for this clause. All labour is so excessively dear in the plantations that no manufacture of the lesser iron wares can vend, or ever does there…

4. The encouragement given in the Bill for the importation of bar iron from the plantations, by taking off the duty … of three pounds per ton, is not sufficient to bring it in … a ton of iron is worth sixty pounds in New-England, their money, and but twenty pounds here, to say nothing of the chargeable freight…

5. It seems a farther hardship that subjects abroad should be permitted to forge their ore into bars, but not to run or cast it into pots and other implements, because the same fire … will suffice for both.

It is therefore humbly prayed that the Clause prohibiting any kind of iron wares to be made in the plantations, tho’ for their own use and not for exportation, be left out of the Bill.”