Colonial History


During the 1500's to 1800's, the strength and stature of a
country depended upon its political power, which can be
traced to how self-sufficient it was. Striving to be
self-sufficient was what nations sought after; dependency
was not a characteristic of a powerful nation. Raw
materials were the most required item to strengthen the
central government, and deter interactions, such as trade
with other nations. The first country to introduce
mercantilism in America was Spain. The spanish american
colonies were not allowed to trade directly with Europe.
Instead they had to funnel all of the sugar and tobacco,
two common commdities of the new land, through Spain. When
this was done, heavy custom duties were imposed and the
central government gained. Spanish American colonies were
forced into providing precious metals and raw materials to
the mother country. These colonies existed only to enrich
spain, even if the economic policies adversly effected the
well-being of the colonies. This grip caused the central
economy of Spain to grow at the expense of the colonies.
During the duration of this period, the 1500's through the
1700's, mercantilism had a major effect on the economies in
the new world. English speaking colonies were effected by
England's policies and acts. These policies and acts were
means of controling the economy of the colonies in America
and strengthen the central government of England. Dutch
traders had the commercial vessel market well cornered in
the 1640's. It was very difficult for English colonies to
compete with the Dutch. With owning 75 percent of Northern
Europes' vessels, being well-financed and experienced, the
Dutch were going to stay in control of the market unless
European Parliament intervined. In 1651 the European
parliament enacted the first Navigation Act to undercut the
Dutches domination. England was hoping that this Act would
exclude the Dutch from trade with the English and force its
own merchant marine to grow. This act was the first attempt
to enforce merchantilism by England. The act proclaimed
that all trade between France and English colonies, Europe
and English colonies, and the colonies with themselves must
be conducted on an english ship (Kurland). The British were
hoping that this would boost the economy and expand the
mercant marine. The failure of this act was caused by
inadequate machinery to enforce the law. The english
colonies publicly defied the act and kept on trading with
the Dutch. The restoration of Charles II brought about
major changes in 1660. All of the acts of the Commonwealth
Parliament, including the Navigation Act of 1651, were
considered illigal under his rule (Kurland). Charles II did
not intend on doing away with the act, but revising it. The
Navigation Act of 1660 was a restatement of the 1651 act,
but it also established a list of items including: tobacco,
cotton, wool, and indigo, that couldn't be shipped outside
of the British empire (Barck and Lefler). This Act made the
english colonies frusterated for they could get a higher
price for these items outside of the british empire. The
Navigation Act worked as a disadvantage to the colonies,
but helped the central economy and government of the
british by excluding such raw materials from trade to other
countries. The Staple Act of 1663 was an offshoot of the
Navigation Acts. It stated that all European goods bound
for the American colonies must first land at an english
port and then be reshipped to America in English vessels
(Kurland). The British would benefit from this act by
imposing custom duties on goods, which cost would be passed
to the american consumer. The english merchants would
profit from handling, insurance, and shipping fees. This
Act also provided for a naval officer in all colonial ports
to insure the upholding of the mercantile law. From the
American stand point, the Staple Act meant higher prices
and a blatant attempt of the British to exploit America for
the benefit of the english merchants. There was no need for
the Staple Act to be passed. The Act served no other
purpose other than the enrichment of the British people and
strengthening of the central government. Another example of
the British trying to exert control over America was with
the Molasses Act of 1733. This Act imposed a duty of nine
pence per gallon on rum, six pence per gallon on molasses,
and five shillings per hundredweight of sugar imported from
French or Spanish colonies. The was no tax put on british
rum, molasses, or sugar imported from British Colonies. The
British, trying to control the american colonies, were
largely ineffective. The act was vastly ignored by the
Americans. The Americans were not going to obey a law
passed by the english, when the english had no way of
enforcing it. The english colonies were pulling away from
the alligence to Britain. The British wanted the colonies
to build the political power of Britain, without getting
anything in return. The British wanted to use up all of the
resources and raw materials of America, without the
colonies resisting. After the British recognized that the
Molasses Act was ineffective, they amended it with the
Suger Act (Morison and Commager). Bribing customs officals
into taking 1 and a half pence per gallon not to notice the
cargo being unloaded was how the Molasses Act failed. To do
away with this problem, the British cut the tax by fifty
percent and strickly enforced it. Now the colonies were
objecting to the decreased tax. Before, the tax was not
collected or enforced so the Americans were happy. Now that
the tax was collected the Americans were feeling the threat
of British rule. The British government was regarding the
colonies as a source of revenue. The colonies also noticed
how the money was being spent and objected to it. The
British talked of how they needed money to support troops
in America. The troops were not there to protect the
colonies, but to enforce British rule. The troops were
stationed at ports, not in the interior where the threat of
attack was the greatest. America existed for the sole
purpose of strengthening the central government of England.
Unlike the rest of the Acts passed for the improvement of
the british government, the Stamp Act caused the biggest
political storm. Everyone from small farmers to merchants
were effected. The parliament wanted the colonist to pay
for some imperial expenses. To do this, parliament passed
the Stamp Act in 1765. This law made it illigal to puchase
any paper, newspapers, customs documents, various licenses,
college diplomas, and numerous legal forms for recovering
debts, buying land, and making wills without a stamp bought
buy the British. The law enabled the British not only to
generate revenues, but censor all materials going into the
public. The British would simply not stamp any material,
such as a newspaper, that were putting any comments about
the British that were bad. The American colonies did not
reciate this law at all. They protested it with a vengance
claiming, "Taxation without representation is slavery." The
working-class's approach to this problem is to riot, gather
great mobs and burn things, and beat up the tax collectors.
The upper-class's way of handling this was to make reforms
and go about changing this in a civilized manner. Everyone
in the colonies could agree that the Stamp Act was a
selfish law made by the British to control the media and
aquire revenues at the expense of the colonies. During 1790
to 1795, mercantilism helped spark the economy of America
under Hamiltons authority. Hamilton wanted all foreign
debts, amounting to 11.7 million, to be payed off in full
(Kurland). This would establish a very high credit rating
with other nations and help the government create political
power. Other debts the Hamilton required to be payed off or
assumed were the 40 million in Confederation war bonds and
28 million in debts of individual states (kurland). For the
good of the creating a cash economy and strengthing the
U.S. credit rating, Hamilton wanted to induce a Bank of the
United States under the "implied powers" clause. The system
of banking he purposed was very similar to that of
Englands. Founded in 1791, the Bank of the United States
had the duties of financing the federal government during
war, regulating credit, and producing sound currency.
Hamilton also had the idea of making the bank privately
owned, so it would run proficiently. This would give the federal government a backbone during times of war or
emergencies and make it much more powerful. Hamilton also
called for American self-sufficiency. The report on
Manufactures of 1791, written by Hamilton, promoted tariffs
on imports to protect manufacturing and create national
wealth. America was building its political power by
manipulating its economy. What the British were once doing
to the colonies, the colonies were now doing to themselves.
America was using the idea of mercantilism to run the
country and build political power. In conclusion, the whole
purpose for England to develope and carry out the Acts they
passed were to stay in control of the colony's economy and
better their central government. The British troops were
not there to protect, but to carry out english laws. The
Stamp Act was developed to control the media and legal
documents so the colonies wouldn't stray away and acquire
their own system. The Navigation Act was to stop the
dominating Dutch from taking over the commercial vessel
industry and build up Englands merchant marine. The
Molasses and Sugar Acts were to make America pay for its so
called troops and help British merchants. Britains
mercantilistic ideas in these Acts show their disregard for
the new colonies and the exploitation of their resources.
After the War for Independence, America took some
mercantilistic ideas to begin building their political
power and economy. 


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