Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Sir Dudley North 'In Loyal Principles Exceeding': A Political Merchant in the First Age of Party

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

Sir Dudley North 'In Loyal Principles Exceeding': A Political Merchant in the First Age of Party

Article excerpt

The seventeenth century saw England develop into a worldwide commercial power despite experiencing decades of revolution, civil wars, and political strife. With the rise of monopolies on certain regions or aspects of trade, known as Companies, wealthy merchants entered the political sphere, and their political capital increased as they provided a crucial service to the state--credit. Merchants, in exchange, required that the protection of their monopolies and stipulated that the Crown pursue a merchant-friendly foreign policy that demolished "the... corruption-ridden system of economic controls over internal trade, industrial production, land use, and interest rates." (1) Mercantile alliances allowed the king to circumvent Parliament and gain access to much-needed income, a practice which only escalated existing fears of despotism and arbitrary government. By the Restoration, London merchants were a politicized segment of society and commercial policy had become a matter for political debate.

Merchant involvement in Restoration national politics has been increasingly investigated in recent years, and historians have focused on issues such as the motivation to enter politics, the role in the development of political parties, the level of influence on national policies, and the emergence of party-aligned theories of political economy have been the driving force behind much of the new scholarship. (2) Overall, merchants were not a coherent political group, and nor did they share a monolithic political agenda. Economic gain and ambition were not the only motivations for political action. Merchants formed the leadership of both the emerging Whig and Tory parties in the late 1670s and early 1680s. Their actions as partisan leaders within the City of London helped to define a new political sphere, in which theories of the political economy became woven into larger Whig and Tory political ideologies. (3) Yet, as historian Perry Gauci points out, "we still know far more about attitudes toward the trader, rather than his outlook per se." (4) Each merchant who entered politics did so of his own accord, and therefore factors, such as age, social status, and religious convictions could provide the impetus for a political career. In order to fully understand the political activities and motivations of merchants, historians must take a step back from the merchant "group" and turn their attention to individual merchants who were acting politically.

Sir Dudley North is an intriguing case study for an exploration of a Tory political merchant during the reigns of Charles II and James II. Entering the national political sphere at the height of the Restoration Crisis, North remained politically active until after the Glorious Revolution. (5) Although his political life was short, it was quite controversial. By examining North's actions and his theory of political economy during his public career, this article will reveal that he was an embodiment of a strain of Tory ideology that upheld loyalty to the Crown and the Church of England. (6) He adopted policies that helped Charles engineer the consolidation of his monarchical authority. In return, Charles granted him a knighthood and positions within the Commission of Customs and the Treasury Commission, where he continued to demonstrate the same level of dedication in to James II. In these posts and in Parliament, North was able to merge his political ideology with his mercantile experience and agenda in his theories of political economy, which were both radical and inherently Tory, even though they did not align with other Tory political economy models. (7)

This article provides a brief examination of the historiographical treatment of merchants in politics as well as North's political role in the Restoration, and an in-depth analysis of his political career, including his entrance via a highly controversial election, his shrievalty, and his post-shrieval duties. This represents a fresh look at North as both a politician and an economist. …

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