Did countries like England, France, and Spain's attempts to apply mercantilism to their colonies work?

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Yes and no. The major colonialist powers—Great Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal—all tried to create some form of mercantile system in their colonies. These were very beneficial systems to implement if they worked correctly, and, a direct result of their efforts is that the vast majority of countries previously under...

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Yes and no. The major colonialist powers—Great Britain, France, Spain, and Portugal—all tried to create some form of mercantile system in their colonies. These were very beneficial systems to implement if they worked correctly, and, a direct result of their efforts is that the vast majority of countries previously under the rule of those colonialist powers have now embraced free market trade systems and are able to trade fairly well throughout the world.

However, because of the size and range of the colonies, it was very difficult to enforce mercantilism. The controlling countries wanted to have power and influence over the goods that were traded into and out of the countries, as well as desiring having priority for the goods of their choosing (such as coffee, sugar, and tobacco). It was very difficult to establish effective trade at the time because of the cost of building and staffing shipping empires to travel to a wide variety of countries, and because of the distance from the ruling powers, it was extremely difficult to enforce tariffs or trade restrictions on other countries.

So, while there was some benefit, and overall it was effective, it was a lot more loosely regulated and not entirely successful.

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Countries such as Great Britain, France, and Spain that used the mercantile system had partial success in using this system. The purpose of the mercantile system was to economically help the colonizing country. These countries would be able to get raw materials at a lower cost from their colonies than if they had to buy them from other countries. The colonies also provided the colonizing country a guaranteed market for the finished products that were made in its factories. As a result, businesses were able to make significant profits, and the colonizing country benefitted economically.

However, there were problems with the mercantile system. The rules that were developed, such as requiring all trade to go through the colonizing country, requiring the colonies to ship products on ships only from the colonizing country, or placing tariffs on imports from other countries, were difficult to enforce. In many instances, these rules weren’t strictly enforced, if they were enforced at all. As a result, some profits were lost when the colonists smuggled various products into the colonies. When the colonizing country tried to more strictly enforce these laws, the colonists often resisted because they had become accustomed to the lax enforcement of these rules. The attempt to more strictly enforce these rules often helped contribute to the colonists' desire to become independent.

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These attempts did work to some extent, but not completely.

All of these countries tried to make their colonies trade only with the mother countries.  This made sense to them because it allowed the mother country to be the only one to benefit from the colony's resources.  This system did help all of these countries get richer.

However, the systems were not easy to enforce.  There was a great deal of smuggling to evade it.  The mercantilist systems also helped to annoy the colonists and you can argue that mercantilism helped lead to the colonies' efforts to become independent.  In these ways, the attempts to apple mercantilism did not work.

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