The Foundations of American Nationality

By Evarts Boutell Greene | Go to book overview

CHAPTER IX
IMPERIAMLISM AND SELF-GOVERNMENT

DURING the first two thirds of the seventeenth century, England had acquired, in more or less haphazard fashion, a great overseas empire, chiefly in America though with important commercial interests in Africa and the East Indies. During the greater part of that period, the novelty of the experience and the long conflicts between King and Parliament prevented the working out of any real imperial plan. There were certain general ideas about the economic function of colonies, but little was done to give those ideas any practical effect. By the time of the Restoration a new spirit was clearly at work; there was a good deal of fumbling still, but there was evidently a serious and fairly consistent policy taking shape whose purpose was to weld the scattered parts of the empire into an effective union. Though the driving force of this seventeenth-century imperialism was economic, it could not be carried through without political reorganization, the substitution of a uniform system of colonial government for the hit-or-miss methods of earlier times.

England's overseas empire.

The economic principles of the old English imperialism were embodied in the so-called Navigation Acts or "acts of trade." These, however, cannot be understood without some knowledge of seventeenth-century economics and of the prevailing ideas about the purposes for which colonies were established. According to the orthodox, or mercantile, theory, which emphasized the control of individual enterprise in the national interest, the wealth and power of a nation were

The mercantile theory

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