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  • Print publication year: 2020
  • Online publication date: April 2020

7 - Observations on a Late State of the Nation and the Political Economy of Anglo-American Imperial Relations

from Part IV - Foreign Trade


Chapter 7 scrutinizes Burke’s economic insights in Observations on a Late State of the Nation, his speech defending the commercial policy of the Rockingham party, of which Burke was a prominent member in Parliament. The speech tends to be neglected in the study of Burke, but it contains many early clues about his emerging conception of political economy that I shed light on, such as his views that balance-of-trade theory is misguided; free trade promotes collective prosperity; and arbitrary systems of revenue undermine commercial progress. This section also supplies an examination of Burke’s remarks on commerce and the Navigation Acts in his two famous speeches on Anglo-American relations, Speech on American Taxation and Speech on Conciliation with America. The thrust of both speeches is that Britain should reestablish its theoretical imperial authority over the American colonies, but it should also allow American industry to flourish free from excessive government entanglements. Burke also provided a qualified defense of the Navigation Acts in the speeches, arguing that the Acts were partially responsible for the collective commercial enrichment of England and America in the eighteenth century.

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