Who Did Mercantilism Benefit in the American Colonies?

The mercantile system, or mercantilism, benefited English trade interests in the American colonies. Colonial America also benefited from British mercantilism, but to a lesser degree.

Mercantilism was a theoretical economic system that emphasized the trade and financial practices that most benefited the state. In the colonies, this theory was realized by the colonists shipping raw materials to English merchants, and those merchants shipping manufactured goods back to the colonies. The colonists were obligated to purchase the goods as well as to ship their raw materials exclusively to Britain.

The British government devised this system as part of a much larger foreign trade policy some time during the 16th century. Its purpose was to strengthen the British economy under government control and to protect British trade interests from the growing dominance of the Hapsburg Empire of Spain and Austria.

Mercantilism also was popular among the absolutist European monarchs of the Old Regime. Spanish and Portuguese rulers used mercantilism to administer their colonies in the New World, Asia and Africa, and the French began using the system with their first Bourbon Ruler, King Henry IV, who ruled from 1589 to 1610. They continued to use it to some degree until the storming of the Bastille in 1789.