A central question that predominates in this discussion: What was the role of the colonies in the British mercantilist system? The researcher states that though the British mercantilist system catalyzed the creation of a strong British Empire, loopholes in it strengthened colonies…
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This research will begin with the statement that in the early 17th century, England was a second rate producer, merchant and naval force. By the end of the century, it pushed out its first class competitors, such as the Dutch and the French, through its military prowess and economic ingenuity. King James II, a firm believer in the divine right of a ruler, solidified the colonial rule. Though his successors, who would loosen the grip on the power over colonies, the British Empire was based on commerce and thus its protection through military prowess. British Empire expanded using its colonies as a source of economic progress and status symbol among other countries. With King James II, British colonies turned into a source of profit and power for the British Empire. King James II attempted to create a centrally managed Atlantic Empire. Though the Glorious Revolution weakened royal grip on power, King James II put forth the foundations of mercantilism, such as the need to expand economically in order to be a glorious empire. British colonies thus served to improve British economic status among other monarchies and independent states and towns in Europe. Mercantilism was a policy promoting self-sufficiency among countries of the day. According to Nettels, “[t]he policy aimed to gain for the nation a high degree of security or self-sufficiency, especially as regards food supply, raw materials needed for essential industries, and the sinews of war”. With this goal in mind, the British aristocracy pursued colonies which could produce sugar, tobacco and other food products. In exchange, they were required to buy English manufactured goods, or use the English merchants as intermediaries (Henretta & Brody 69). This practice was prescribed by the Staple Act of 1663, according to which colonial planters bought most of the needed manufactured goods from England (Nettels 109). England prohibited trade with other European countries, as it could not impose favorable terms of trade (Nettels 105). English government designed laws that would keep colonies dependent upon English economy: “Slaves must be bought from English slave traders. The area must depend upon English sources for capital and credit, and the planters could not avail themselves of legal devices in order to ease their burdens of debt” (Nettels 109).
Industrial development overwhelmingly took place in England. English policies were to encourage industrial development by any means possible, such as “tariffs, bounties and other forms of state aid” (Nettels 113). Unlike the English manufacturers, colonial manufacturers received no such subsidies (Nettels 113). English government ensured the policy was followed by forbidding colonial governments to assist colonies with any help whatsoever in the field of manufacturing (Nettels 113).
The British aristocracy encouraged conquest of new colonies, and imposed itself as a naval power (Nettels 106). Mercantilists viewed it a government’s duty to guard favorable terms of trade and to store an adequate amount of gold and silver (Nettels 106). Therefore, according to the Navigation Act of 1661, the mercantilist government prohibited its citizens all trade with foreign merchants and vessels (Nettels 109). Its military ensured the law was obeyed and they even imposed it on the Dutch and the French.
However, the mercantilist government did not create activities in the colonies. According to Nettels, economic activities sprang up from colonists, who decided which economic activity was necessary for their survival in new lands (108). As a result, the government only controlled a certain economic activity once it had proven itself to be profitable.
The British government retarded the economic growth of plantations. The mercantilist system in England did not aim to promote economic development in its colonies. Mercantilism aimed to extract wealth from
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“The Role of the Colonies in the British Mercantilist System Essay”, n.d. https://studentshare.org/history/1457221-the-role-of-the-colonies-in-the-british-mercantilist-system.
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