The Transatlantic Economy

Transatlantic trade between Great Britain and the American colonies, as well as between the colonies and Europe, was the driving force behind the British Empire's astonishing economic growth from 1727 (the accession of George II) and 1754 (the beginning of the Seven Years War). As England's traditional strength in the European wool trade and other products waned, American colonial markets waxed considerably. Imports from Britain into the mainland colonies quadrupled over the period, while exports to the West Indies doubled.

London remained the commercial center of the empire but its share of the transatlantic trade steadily fell off, giving way to western ports such as Bristol, Liverpool, and Glasgow — the biggest economic success stories of the eighteenth century (primarily due to the Atlantic slave and tobacco trades). Exports to the colonies also invigorated development of the areas surrounding the cities as smaller towns and hamlets created new production networks to meet increasing colonial demand for goods, especially newer ones such as those produced by England burgeoning iron industry. Export of nails and wrought iron products, for example, doubled and trebled, respectively, with almost two thirds of the export going to the 13 American colonies.

It is no coincidence that such growth was accompanied, even fostered, by Parliamentary action and policymaking by ministers. Edmund Burke was hardly correct when, looking back at the period from a distance of more than 20 years, he called it one of "salutary neglect" by the British government. The Walpole administration, in particular, can be credited with actively shaping mercantilism into a working commercial system that benefitted the empire as a whole with its balance of protective legislation, such as the Chesapeake's monopoly on growing tobacco in the empire and providing it for the English market, and promotion of provincial products, like providing bounties for naval stores, indigo, and Irish linen. Most notable — and controversial — of these was the Molasses Act of 1733, that sought to protect the British sugar colonies by restricting trade between mainland America and the French West Indies, as well as the various Navigation Acts, designed to protect British commerce from foreign competition.

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