Note for Teachers: The Consumer Revolution, America, and Britain
II. Secondary and Primary Sources Document list:
Document 1: Table 13.1 "Exports From Great Britain to the Continental Colonies" The table measures the average annual value of goods imported into the colonies from Great Britain. The right three columns indicate steady growth in spending in the colonies as a whole, as well as in each region. The growth rates and volume of spending, however, are not constant. While the Chesapeake colonies are the biggest consumers in 1720, by 1770 the Middle colonies have taken first place.
Document 2: Table 13.2 "Selected English Exports Sent to British America, 1770" This table indicates the large variety of goods¿food, clothing, manufactured products¿imported by the colonies from Great Britain in 1770. It also indicates how dependent British producers were on the American market. The colonies purchased a majority of the exports for nine of the products listed; as the most extreme example, the colonies consumed nearly 80% of Britain's linen exports. Clearly, the motherland and the colonies had become economically dependent upon each other in precisely the manner prescribed by mercantilist theory.
Document 3: British culture, T. H. Breen, Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence , (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 167-168. The general availability of British consumer goods to all of the colonies created a paradox: while the colonists were all busy imitating England and becoming more like the homeland, they were at the same time becoming more like each other.
Document 4: American demand for British goods, T. H. Breen, Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence , (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 61.
Document 5: Debt after the French and Indian War, T. H. Breen, Marketplace of Revolution: How Consumer Politics Shaped American Independence , (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 206.When an economic recession in the colonies followed the end of the French and Indian War, many Americans began to reassess the nature of their relationship with Britain. Some increasingly worried that Americans' consumer habits were making them weak and dependent on Britain. While they had formerly believed that they were equal trading partners, in fact, they were coming to believe, they were the weaker member in an unequal relationship.
Document 6: Elizabeth Murray, "Trade Bill," [ca 1750]. To stimulate demand for goods and to lure customers to one's own shop rather than a competitor's, shopkeepers advertised aggressively. They typically emphasized the London origin of the good, the variety of products available, and their generous terms of credit.
Document 7: Henrietta Maria East Caine, Boston Evening-Post, 11 June 1750, "Shop advertisement." See above note for document 6.
Document 8: An evil and adulterous generation. A sermon preached on the publick fast, April 19. 1753. By Andrew Eliot, M.A. Pastor of a church in Boston (Boston: Printed by S. Kneeland, for J. Winter, over against the King's Arms in Union-Street., 1753), p. 21. For many, consumer spending was a moral and spiritual issue, not simply an economic one. The desire for unnecessary items,"luxuries," was a way of satisfying sensual lusts to the detriment of one's spiritual wellbeing.
Document 9: Benjamin Franklin, Observations Concerning the Increase of Mankind, Peopling of Countries 1751. Labaree, Leonard W., et al., eds. The Papers of Benjamin Franklin. 35 vols. to date. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1959-1999), 4:225-234.
Document 10: Four dissertations, on the reciprocal advantages of a perpetual union between Great-Britain and her American colonies. Written for Mr. Sargent's prize-medal. To which (by desire) is prefixed, an eulogium, spoken on the delivery of the medal at the public commencement in the College of Philadelphia, May 20th, 1766. (Philadelphia: Printed by William and Thomas Bradford, at the London Coffee-House, 1766), p. 55.Not all Americans were critical of the colonies¿ economic dependence on Britain. Thomas Fitch argues that both will prosper from the trade relationship: Britain will grow in wealth and power; the colonies will gain the protection of the powerful British military, as well as gaining access to cheaper, higher-quality goods than they could produce themselves.
Document 11: Thomas Fitch, Four dissertations, on the reciprocal advantages of a perpetual union between Reasons why the British colonies, in America, should not be charged with internal taxes, by authority of Parliament; humbly offered, for consideration, in behalf of the colony of Connecticut. 1764. In this excerpt of his lengthy pamphlet, Connecticut governor Fitch appeals to the self-interest of the British homeland in his opposition to taxation. He argues that taxation will be detrimental to Britain herself. The colonies are at present a great market for British manufactured goods, and will continue to be so as long as they prosper. If taxes are imposed, however, the colonies will be weakened and consequently unable to purchase as many British goods.