Describe how the Dutch, English, and French developed colonial trading empires in the seventeenth century, and explain the impact of mercantilist doctrine on how they dealt with one another.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mercantilism is rooted in the idea that nations must compete with each other in a zero-sum game of accumulating wealth. For one nation to gain wealth, another must lose some of theirs. Power and wealth were one and the same. This led to intense competition between European powers, namely the French, Dutch, and English, from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries.

As nations without a large amount of natural resources at home, France, the Netherlands, and Great Britain set about establishing colonies abroad. From these places, they gathered raw materials for manufacturing and export and set up new markets for their goods. This often involved exploiting or displacing indigenous populations.

The mercantilist powers often had competing agendas. They enacted laws that promoted their own economic interests. For instance, the English Parliament passed a law in 1651 that outlawed the shipping of imports to Britain on foreign ships. France, Britain, and the Netherlands (along with the Spanish and Portuguese) were also in a constant arms race to build larger and more sophisticated navies. At times, this boiled over into all-out warfare, such as the four Anglo-Dutch Wars. At various times, these nations formed alliances when it suited them. For example, the secret Treaty of Dover between Britain and France resulted in a war against the Dutch in the 1670s.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team