Salutary Neglect Apush Essay

Mercantilism is the economic idea that a country’s wealth is measured by the amount of gold it owns. The goal of mercantilist economic policy is to export more goods than you import, so that you bring more money into the country than you send out to other nations.

The goal of mercantilist economic policy is to export more goods than you import, so that you bring more money into the country than you send out to other nations.

Under mercantilism, national governments were deeply involved in the economic development of the country, largely through protectionist trade policies; governments placed high tariffs on imported goods to discourage citizens to buy foreign, imported goods and thus keep money from within the country.  The system developed during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries as powerful nation-states emerged in Western Europe. Each of these new European states attempted to gain dominance over their rivals through political, military, and economic means. As European nations began to develop their economies, the idea of mercantilism drove these European nations to establish colonies throughout the world; the purpose of these colonies was to support the economy of the mother country.

As European nations began to develop their economies, the idea of mercantilism drove these European nations to establish colonies throughout the world; the purpose of these colonies was to support the economy of the mother country.

Great Britain was especially aggressive in pursuing colonies.  As a part of the British Empire, the British North American colonies were expected to contribute to the accumulation of wealth for their mother country.  Ultimately, British attempts to enforce mercantilist policies in the colonies contributed to the rift between the two that led to the American Revolution; Britain hindered the colonist pursuit of trade with other countries. While this was helpful for Britain, it was frustrating and harmful for the American colonists as they could not trade with other countries.

Beginning with the foundation of Jamestown in 1607, Britain lacked a true policy of economic control over their colonies in America.  Instead English parliament operated under the guidelines of mercantilism throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. Mercantilism was an economic policy designed to take advantage of the natural resources, raw materials, and the collection of gold and silver of colonized lands in order to consolidate economic power and wealth for the home country.  While mercantilist policies vary by country, the basic premise is to collect gold and silver, import raw materials while exporting finished goods, and regulate the trade of your colonies goods to the home country in order to maximize their benefits.

While mercantilist policies vary by country, the basic premise is to collect gold and silver, import raw materials while exporting finished goods, and regulate the trade of your colonies goods to the home country in order to maximize their benefits.

England developed an official trade policy concerning North America in 1651 with the passage of the Navigation Acts. The Navigation Acts were some of the first parliamentary laws to more strictly regulate trade with the American colonies. Originally aimed at controlling the influence of competing European influence, cutting down on colonial smuggling, and tightening control over its imperialistic ventures, the Navigation Acts served as a protection of British business interests in North America. European competition from the French, Dutch, and Spanish challenged English opportunities on the continent. Colonial goods of sugar, indigo, rice, and tobacco were specifically targeted under the series of Navigation Acts due to their popularity and profitability to the mother country.  However, despite passing the Navigation Acts the British government rarely enforced these regulations resulting in a period of time known as ‘salutary neglect’.

Despite passing the Navigation Acts the British government rarely enforced these regulations resulting in a period of time known as ‘salutary neglect’.

Salutary neglect was an unofficial policy of non-enforcement of the trade regulations passed by British Parliament. Along with the economic freedoms experienced by merchants came access to greater political freedoms through the development of local legislatures. This was done with the long term goal of controlling the imperial colonies in America through granting access to limited freedoms. British Prime Minister Robert Walpole (1721-1742) believed the American colonies should be let alone to export raw materials and import various manufactured goods from England. American goods such as timber, fish, tobacco, and rice were highly valuable to England and Warpole believed that American merchants should be free to export raw materials to England for needed finished products. Warpole believed that a certain degree of non-intervention was necessary to ensure the cooperation and obedience of colonists much to the benefit of England.  If the colonist believed that they were able to practice some level of self-determination, then it would serve to keep them more loyal to the crown. Unlike those that may see the crown as being too authoritarian in their governance of the colonies.

However, the policy of ‘salutary neglect’ was seen as a necessary way of easing the fears of colonial merchants who were themselves afraid of royal overreach and looking to maximize economic opportunities.

Though often avoided due to increased smuggling and non-compliance, the regulations imposed by the Navigation Acts became increasingly important to the economic strength and stability of the British Empire because of the access to raw materials found in North America; resources desperately needed in England.  However, the policy of ‘salutary neglect’ was seen as a necessary way of easing the fears of colonial merchants who were themselves afraid of royal overreach and looking to maximize economic opportunities.  Salutary neglect was essential in allowing merchants to independently and freely determine the path of their businesses, which in turn kept them satisfied.

Salutary neglect was essential in allowing merchants to independently and freely determine the path of their businesses, which in turn kept them satisfied.

During this era the colonists began to sow the seeds of economic and governmental self-determination that would eventually set the stage for the American Revolution. Local colonial assemblies formed throughout America. The House of Burgess in Virginia, Delegates in Maryland, or Representatives in Massachusetts were chosen by popular votes. Access to the right to vote was often time restricted to land holding whites, but there was elected representatives none the less. Determining local political and economic policy due to the absence of British influence thanks to salutary neglect shaped American beliefs in self-rule and self-governance.

Following the events of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) the British Empire was left in tremendous financial debt and the continuing practice of salutary neglect was no longer an option.

More frequent conflicts with local Indian tribes due to the colonists’ efforts to push west in an attempt to acquire more land once again put Berkeley at odds with Bacon and his followers. Conflicts with local tribes were expensive and destructive and didn’t support the policies of the emerging planter elite who made up Berkeley’s base of power in Virginia. The established wealthy planters wanted to protect their interests by restricting access to land that would allow for the creation of plantations to rival their own. Bacon and his followers saw these actions as corrupt because Berkeley did not allow them to pursue their own economic interests as others maintained a stranglehold on the tobacco profits.

The established wealthy planters wanted to protect their interests by restricting access to land that would allow for the creation of plantations to rival their own.

Bacon and his followers saw these actions as corrupt.

Bacon and his followers levied charges of political corruption against both Governor Berkeley and the House of Burgesses. These charges ultimately led to a battle for political control between the two strong-willed men. Bacon wanted swift and harsh action to be taken against the native tribes for their attacks on local settlements which Berkeley refused. Berkeley urged for a more cooperative relationship with the natives and a restriction of expansion plans by those in the west. Neither of those options was satisfactory to Bacon and simply furthered the divide between the two men.

By 1670, the Virginia House of Burgesses had restricted the vote of landless free white men who now made up more than half of the population in an effort to quell the growing voices of dissent.

 

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