What Was The Role Of The Colonies In The British Mercantilist System?

2 Answers

askteacherz's profile pic

askteacherz | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Adjunct Educator

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First and foremost understanding the concept of mercantilism is essential. Mercantilism is intended to function as an economy by which a nation, such as England or Great Britain obtains colonies throughout the world. Those colonies in return are to supply the mother country with wealth. The American colonies role in mercantilism was to do this very thing; early on, dating back to Jamestown, the colonies provided tobacco; eventually other valuable cash crops were sent back such as indigo. The other arena of this topic is just simply the vast amount of natural resources the colonies could also provide. Such resources as lumber were extremely valuable to British trade because of their limited amount of it in Europe. Lastly, one cannot go without understanding that the colonies also acted as very lucrative market place for British goods. Britain, in a mercantilistic economy, took raw materials and made them into finished products and then sold them back to the colonists. When the colonist later in the colonial era began to trade with other areas world themselves, and bypassed direct trade with England, trade restrictions were placed upon the the Colonies to prevent this occurring. This of course demonstrates the importance of the Colonies in British mercantilism.

pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Under the mercantilist system, the role of a colony was to help its "mother country."  The mother country wanted to export things that were more valuable than whatever it had to import.  The American colonies' role in the British mercantilist system was to help make this happen.  They were supposed to provide products that could be exported by England and they were supposed to buy valuable things from England.

This meant a couple of things.  First, it meant that the colonies would not be allowed to export things directly to other countries.  Instead, they had to send them to England first so England could benefit when the goods were exported.  Second, it meant that the colonies were not allowed to make things that would compete with things made in England.  England wanted the colonists to import things, not to make their own.

All in all, then, the colonies' role was to provide things that the British could export and buy things from Britain.  In both ways, they would help England be able to export more than it imported.