When the Thirteen Colonies established themselves, it became incredibly difficult to compete with their mother country, Great Britain, due to the practice of mercantilism that had kept the Great British Empire so powerful throughout its history. Mercantilism, as a concept, dictated that economic strength comes from exporting more than you import (Schultz, 2014, p. 110). To that end, Great Britain established many different laws in the colonies that they ruled which greatly favored Britain in their dealings. In essence, America would export raw goods to Britain, which turned those materials into goods that they could then export back to America and to other countries. Since America just supplied raw materials, they had no hope of competing with Britain, as they did not have the manufacturing infrastructure of such an economic giant. Because of their practice of mercantilism, countries would simply just work with Britain, as they had superior ships and merchants. No one else could compete with that command over the market (Nettels, 1952, p. 105).
The Thirteen Colonies, England and various other countries participated in what is known as the Triangular Trade. The West Indies and Africa traded various goods with America, which they would then give to England. The Colonies would produce rum in New England, which would then get shipped to Africa, which would then get traded for slaves. These slaves were then transported to the West Indies, where they would be traded for molasses and rum. These goods then went to New England. However, the United States would give lumber and fish to England, who would use the lumber to create manufactured goods to send to the West Indies (also for molasses and sugar) and America (Nester, 2002). This cyclical method of trade permitted Great Britain to have all the power, because of its aforementioned ability to manufacture; it was the machine by which manufactured goods got to the Americas, Africa and the West Indies.
In addition to triangular trade, mercantilism also created a substantial amount of control over the Americas, leading to economic sanctions whenever the colonies acted up. After the Boston Tea Party, the British government attempted to crack down on subversion. To that end, they passed the Coercive Acts (also known as the Intolerable Acts). In March 1774, the Boston Port Bill closed down all harbors. In May 1774, the Massachusetts assembly was made no longer independent through the Massachusetts Government Act (Nettels, 1952, p. 112). These were all attempts for Parliament to try to gain authority over their colonies once more. Meetings of people in towns were forbidden, and the popularly elected council members were replaced with King-appointed councils. The Intolerable Acts were, in a way, another arm of British mercantilism, as it allowed British control over America’s market to be centralized and enforced more rigidly.
Nester, R. (2000), The Great Frontier War: Britain, France, and the Imperial Struggle for North
America, 1607-1755. Praeger, p. 76.
Nettels, C.P. (1952). British mercantilism and the economic development of the Thirteen
Colonies. Journal of Economic History 12(2): 105, 112.
Schultz, K.M. (2014). HIST-Student Edition. (3rd ed.). CENGAGE Learning, p.110.