Trade and Empire in the Eighteenth-Century Atlantic World
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
Free trade has become a highly politicized term, but its origins, historical context, and application to policy decisions have been largely overlooked. This book examines the relationship between liberal political economy and the changing conception of empire in the eighteenth century, investigating how the doctrine of laissez-faire economics influenced politicians charged with restructuring the transatlantic relationship between Britain and the newly independent America. As prime minister during the peace negotiations to end the American Revolution in 1782â3, Lord Shelburne understood that the British Empire had to be radically reconceived. Informed by the economic philosophies of Adam Smith, he envisioned a new commercial empire based upon trade instead of the archaic model of territorial conquests. Negotiations between Shelburne and the American statesmen Benjamin Franklin and John Adams demonstrate the application of Smithâs commercial theories to the British-American peace settlement. By tracing the genealogy of laissez-faire, this book locates the historical background from which modern ideas of free trade, empire, and cosmopolitanism emerged. Benjamin Vaughan, confidential secretary to Shelburne during the peace talks, is established as an important historical figure, and his treatise, New and Old Principles of Trade Compared (1788), is identified as a significant contribution to the literature of political economy. An interdisciplinary study integrating history, economics, and philosophy, Trade and Empire offers a new perspective on the intellectual history of the eighteenth-century Atlantic world.
Shelburne composed a letter to Morellet on political economy: I have not changed an atom of the principles I first imbibed from you and Adam Smith. They make a woeful slow progress, but I cannot look upon them as extinct; on the contrary they must prevail in the end like the sea. What they lose in one place they gain in another.31 Shelburne’s theory of informal empire Through his connections with political economists and other theorists of the age, Shelburne developed an attitude toward
Territory is but a secondary Point, and is consider’d as more or less valuable, as it is subservient to the Interest of Commerce which is now the great Object of Ambition.37 35 Clarence Walworth and Clarence Edwin Carter, ed., Trade and Politics, 17671769 (Springfield: Illinois State Historical Library, 1921), Collections of the Illinois State Historical Library, vol. XVI, British Series, vol. III, pp. 78-79. 36 Dictionary of National Biography (1917), vol. XV, p. 1005. 37 Shelburne Papers,
Priestley’s mentor.”18 While the initial relationship was formed around joint scientific interests, the two also held political views in common, and often met at gatherings of the Club of Honest Whigs. As Priestley’s biographer, Anne Holt, explained, Benjamin Franklin, the most important American in England at this time, had been Priestley’s intimate friend for many years, and both were members of the Club of Honest Whigs, as Franklin called it, that met at the London Coffee House. While
at Franklin’s death. Not many days after the Bache copies were sent to Europe, Samuel came to Franklin at his bedside and the two friends visited. Samuel was on his way to London, but remained in Philadelphia for the public tribute to Franklin. As Murray described, “a sentimental radical, Samuel was pleased to have obtained a lock of Franklin’s hair, ‘to add to that of King William III.’ ”63 The Wedderburn Affair Besides translating the most accurate and authoritative version of Franklin’s
parcel was from John Hurford Stone and included a note to Benjamin Vaughan reporting that the time was right for an invasion of England, and requesting that Vaughan send materials for making gunpowder.100 The letters in the parcel were reprinted on both sides of the Atlantic, and Porcupine printed the “explanatory” notes in the packet, in which Priestley was said to be attempting “to disunite the people [of America] from their government, and to introduce the blessings of French anarchy.”101