How did the colonies prosper under mercantilism?

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One reason that colonies prospered is that they produced things for which there was a very high demand. This included such items as the cash crops grown in the southern colonies and the Caribbean. Sugar, tobacco, and rice in particular proved very profitable, making the planters of the Caribbean and...

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One reason that colonies prospered is that they produced things for which there was a very high demand. This included such items as the cash crops grown in the southern colonies and the Caribbean. Sugar, tobacco, and rice in particular proved very profitable, making the planters of the Caribbean and South Carolina in particular the richest men outside of Britain itself. Of course, their profits were based on the labor of enslaved people, and the mercantilist system that underwrote the Atlantic economy provided a ready supply of enslaved labor by granting monopolies to companies that controlled the trade in human beings. Timber in the Northeast and furs and deerskins from the backcountry throughout the colonies were also particularly profitable.

Another reason the colonies prospered under mercantilism is that they traded regularly outside the system of mercantilist regulations. Part of this was because they traded within the colonies themselves. Fish, rice, pork, and other goods were traded to the Caribbean in particular and proved a very lucrative trade. Another factor was that some of these items, as well as corn and other grains, were not enumerated by the Navigation Acts and subsequent regulations, so they could be traded without penalty to other European nations and their colonies. The final reason that the colonies were profitable under mercantilism was that the British were generally lax in their enforcement of mercantilist regulations, so smugglers operated with impunity. Also, domestic manufactures that were frowned upon by the British began to flourish. By the Revolutionary era, this approach was known as "salutary neglect," and it had become more or less formal policy. The British deviation from this policy during and after the Seven Years War caused friction with colonial leaders.

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There are a few different reasons why the American colonies were able to prosper even though the British government had a policy of mercantilism. 

One reason why the colonies were able to prosper is because much of what they made were not subject to mercantilist policies.  These include such things as fish, wheat, and corn.  The colonists were able to sell these things to whomever they liked, which meant that they were not burdened by the mercantilist policies.

A second reason why the colonies prospered is because they had some things that the English wanted.  There was a great deal of demand in England for ships because England engaged in so much shipping (the Navigation Acts required goods to be transported in English ships) and yet it lacked the materials to build as many ships as it needed.   This meant that the English bought many ships made in America.

Finally, the colonies prospered because mercantilist policies were not very well enforced.  The British engaged in “salutary neglect” of the colonies.  This meant that they really did not try to enforce many of the mercantilist laws.  Because they did not enforce the  laws, the colonists were easily able to evade them and prosper through relatively free trade.

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