The Era of the American Revolution: Studies Inscribed to Evarts Boutell Greene

By Richard B. Morris | Go to book overview

Labor and Mercantilism in The Revolutionary Era

RICHARD B. MORRIS

TO DISCOVER the reason for the introduction during the American Revolution of a system of controls for the regulation of commodities and labor services we must first ascertain the climate of economic practice and opinion in which the program evolved.1 The labor problem was only one phase of the general problem of economic regulation under mercantilism, and a study of the labor codes apart from these general controls would serve to give to labor matters a false emphasis for that time and place. Mercantilism in England may be said to have rested upon two main pillars--the Acts of Trade and the Tudor labor statutes. The first provided for the external regulation and control of foreign trade and the subordination of colonial interests to those of the mother country.2 The second comprised the industrial code and, as the chief of a goodly number of internal economic controls which characterized mercantilist policy, patterned colonial legislation and administrative practice.

The economic practices which prevailed in the American colonies in the seventeenth century combined medieval town regula-

____________________
1
Grateful acknowledgment is due the Social Science Research Council for a grant- in-aid which made possible the completion of this study. The writer also wishes to express his indebtedness to Professor Eli F. Heckscher, of the University of Stockholm, for valued suggestions, and to three former students, Lester Jashnoff, of the New York bar, Jonathan Grossman, and Martin Kleinbard.
2
For consideration of the effects of this program the reader is referred to pp. 2-39. Certain mercantilist legislation affecting colonial labor, such as the Hat Act, could be paralleled by internal English regulations such as the statute of 2 and 3 Philip and Mary, c. 11, providing that country weavers could keep only one loom and city weavers two, and by English guild regulations limiting the number of apprentices which a master might have. The courts tended to disregard such limitations. See Highamshire v. Baskin, 12 Mod. 46 ( 1693).

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