Mercantilism: A Popular Economic Philosophy

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The British had an empire to run. The way that they kept their economy healthy was through a system called mercantilism. Mercantilism was a popular economic philosophy in the 17th and 18th centuries. In this system, the British colonies were money makers. The British put restrictions on how their colonies spent their money so that they could control their economies. They put limits on what goods the colonies could produce, whose ships they could use, and with who they could trade with. The British even put taxes called duties on imported goods to discourage them. This pushed the colonists to buy only British goods, instead of goods from other European countries.

The distance from Britain and the size of the British Empire was an advantage for the colonies. It was expensive to send British troops to the colonies. This meant that they would pass laws to regulate trade in the colonies, but they did not do much to enforce them. British knew that the colonies were benefiting from goods from the Dutch, French, and Spanish. Eventually, in 1763, they began to enforce many of the trade restrictions and even passed new ones.

The Navigation Acts and the Sugar Act were two of the laws enacted to restrict colonial trade. Acts like these led to rebellion and corruption in the colonies. Colonists, particularly in New England, rebelled against these acts by illegally smuggling goods in and out of the colonies. Ships from the colonies often loaded their holds with illegal goods from the French, Dutch, and Spanish West Indies. The smugglers would pay bribes to British customs officials who were hired to regulate trade in the colonies. These officials also made a modest salary from the British, so they were benefitting from all sides. The American juries that tried smugglers, in times when they were actually caught, rarely found them guilty. Because they were gaining so much power, smugglers increased their secret trade to almost every port in the colonies. It is estimated that...
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