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British Economy in the 18th Century. Essay

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The Age of Mercantilism

The basis of the British Empire was founded in the age of mercantilism, an economic theory that stressed maximizing the trade inside the empire, and trying to weaken rival empires. The modern British Empire was based upon the preceding English Empire which first took shape in the early 17th century, with the English settlement of the eastern colonies of North America, which later became the United States, as well as Canada's Maritime provinces, and the colonizations of the smaller islands of the Caribbean such as Trinidad and Tobago, the Bahamas, the Leeward Islands, Barbados, Jamaica and Bermuda. These sugar plantation islands, where slavery became the basis of the economy, comprised Britain's most lucrative colonies. The American colonies also utilized slave labour in the farming of tobacco, indigo and rice in the south. Britain's American empire was slowly expanded by war and colonization. Victory over the French during the Seven Years' War gave Britain control over almost all of North America.

Mercantilism was the basic policy imposed by Britain on its colonies. Mercantilism meant that the government and the merchants became partners with the goal of increasing political power and private wealth, to the exclusion of other empires. The government protected its merchants—and kept others out—by trade barriers, regulations, and subsidies to domestic industries in order to maximize exports from and minimize imports to the realm. The government had to fight smuggling—which became a favorite American technique in the 18th century to circumvent the restrictions on trading with the French, Spanish or Dutch. The goal of mercantilism was to run trade surpluses, so that gold and silver would pour into London. The government took its share through duties and taxes, with the remainder going to merchants in Britain. The government spent much of its revenue on a superb Royal Navy, which not only protected the British colonies but threatened the...

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