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Commercial conflict and regulation in the discourse of trade in seventeenth-century England

Leng, T. (2005) Commercial conflict and regulation in the discourse of trade in seventeenth-century England. The Historical Journal, 48 (4). pp. 933-954. ISSN 0018-246X


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This article seeks to re-examine the intellectual context of commercial policy and regulation in seventeenth-century England. It questions a common assumption about so-called ‘mercantilist’ writers: that they saw trade as in some way finite and therefore won by one nation at the expense of another. Instead, it proposes that the often belligerent attitude of the ‘mercantilists’ towards trade was rooted in an understanding of the nature of international commerce as both communication and competition. Although writers acknowledged the mutual aspect of trade, they did not see this exchange as automatically equal, but saw it as possible for one party to exploit the other.

This situation demanded state action to protect national trading interests in the disputed area of commerce, and thus this ‘discourse of trade’ was linked to political and juridical discourses about international relations. The article shows how this understanding of trade influenced debates about commercial governance in the critical middle decades of the seventeenth century, culminating in the attempt to create a national monopoly through the navigation acts, ‘securing sovereignty’ over the nation's trade. The second half of this article examines this in more detail with reference to the ideas of a prominent defender of the 1651 Navigation Act: Benjamin Worsley.

Item Type: Article
Copyright, Publisher and Additional Information: © 2005 Cambridge University Press. Reproduced in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.
Institution: The University of Sheffield
Academic Units: The University of Sheffield > Faculty of Arts and Humanities (Sheffield) > Department of History (Sheffield)
Depositing User: Repository Assistant
Date Deposited: 01 Dec 2006
Last Modified: 05 Jun 2014 12:00
Published Version: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0018246X05004863
Status: Published
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Refereed: Yes
Identification Number: 10.1017/S0018246X05004863
URI: http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/1632

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