Sir Dudley North 'In Loyal Principles Exceeding': A political merchant in the first age of party.

Author:Farmer, J. Suzanne
Position:Essay
 
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The seventeenth century saw England develop into a worldwide commercial power despite experiencing decades of revolution, civil wars, and political strife. With the rise of monopolies on certain regions or aspects of trade, known as Companies, wealthy merchants entered the political sphere, and their political capital increased as they provided a crucial service to the state--credit. Merchants, in exchange, required that the protection of their monopolies and stipulated that the Crown pursue a merchant-friendly foreign policy that demolished "the... corruption-ridden system of economic controls over internal trade, industrial production, land use, and interest rates." (1) Mercantile alliances allowed the king to circumvent Parliament and gain access to much-needed income, a practice which only escalated existing fears of despotism and arbitrary government. By the Restoration, London merchants were a politicized segment of society and commercial policy had become a matter for political debate.

Merchant involvement in Restoration national politics has been increasingly investigated in recent years, and historians have focused on issues such as the motivation to enter politics, the role in the development of political parties, the level of influence on national policies, and the emergence of party-aligned theories of political economy have been the driving force behind much of the new scholarship. (2) Overall, merchants were not a coherent political group, and nor did they share a monolithic political agenda. Economic gain and ambition were not the only motivations for political action. Merchants formed the leadership of both the emerging Whig and Tory parties in the late 1670s and early 1680s. Their actions as partisan leaders within the City of London helped to define a new political sphere, in which theories of the political economy became woven into larger Whig and Tory political ideologies. (3) Yet, as historian Perry Gauci points out, "we still know far more about attitudes toward the trader, rather than his outlook per se." (4) Each merchant who entered politics did so of his own accord, and therefore factors, such as age, social status, and religious convictions could provide the impetus for a political career. In order to fully understand the political activities and motivations of merchants, historians must take a step back from the merchant "group" and turn their attention to individual merchants who were acting politically.

Sir Dudley North is an intriguing case study for an exploration of a Tory political merchant during the reigns of Charles II and James II. Entering the national political sphere at the height of the Restoration Crisis, North remained politically active until after the Glorious Revolution. (5) Although his political life was short, it was quite controversial. By examining North's actions and his theory of political economy during his public career, this article will reveal that he was an embodiment of a strain of Tory ideology that upheld loyalty to the Crown and the Church of England. (6) He adopted policies that helped Charles engineer the consolidation of his monarchical authority. In return, Charles granted him a knighthood and positions within the Commission of Customs and the Treasury Commission, where he continued to demonstrate the same level of dedication in to James II. In these posts and in Parliament, North was able to merge his political ideology with his mercantile experience and agenda in his theories of political economy, which were both radical and inherently Tory, even though they did not align with other Tory political economy models. (7)

This article provides a brief examination of the historiographical treatment of merchants in politics as well as North's political role in the Restoration, and an in-depth analysis of his political career, including his entrance via a highly controversial election, his shrievalty, and his post-shrieval duties. This represents a fresh look at North as both a politician and an economist. Rather than a pawn of the Crown, North was an effective and willing political actor who sought to aid the Crown's assertion of its monarchical authority during a time it was being actively challenged. Further, while many have viewed North political career and economic theories as antithetical, this paper argues that his theories regarding trade and the economy conformed to his political ideology.

Despite Jonathan Scott's provocative dismissal of the emergence of political parties from the crises of 1678-1681, historical scholarship continues to expose the development of political parties as a response to national and local crises of the late 1670s and early 1680s. (8) While conceding that the previously held view of partisan Whigs as anti-Catholic exclusionist Parliamentarians and partisan Tories as believers in a divine-right and absolutist monarchy no longer holds true, Tim Harris argues that England was very much divided into Whigs and Tories, which were recognized (and recognized themselves) as two separate ideological camps. However, the modern trappings of political parties cannot be applied to those in the 1680s. Ideology--not party organization, "paid-up membership," or party platforms--drove these early modern groupings, and a spectrum of ideology existed within each party. These new political categories were not mere factions or "connections." The men who identified as Whig or Tory were not acting simply for personal or familial gain, but in the name of "political allegiances." (9)

In regards to Tories, both Tim Harris and Mark Goldie dismiss the contemporary, and subsequently historiographical, viewpoint that these professed principles created "champions of divine-right royal absolutism" in the vein of Sir Robert Filmer's Patriarcha (1680). Ideologies differed amongst Tories. (10) The vast majority were defined by their opposition to exclusion, which was characterized by attempts by the Whig party to remove Charles's Catholic brother, James, Duke of York from the succession, and their desire to protect the Church of England. Furthermore, many Tories were as fiercely loyal to the Church as they were to the Crown, and as Jacqueline Rose demonstrates, even absolutist Tories were a particular brand--the Anglican absolutist. (11) In contrast to the Whig party, Tories were far less organized and did not always have clear-cut party leaders. In fact, most Tories did not necessarily view themselves as members of an organized party but rather as men who upheld the Crown's prerogatives and the Church of England. (12) Central to the main Tory party line was the notion that the "English king was sovereign, unaccountable, and irresistible." (13) Tories feared that the partisan Whig and dissenting agenda would result in an arbitrary form of government that would destroy Church and state, sending England back into the chaos of the 1640s.

For Gary De Krey, the development of both parties and their ideologies was the result of a larger Restoration Crisis, which encompassed the Popish Plot, the Exclusion Crisis, the City of London's mayoral and shrieval elections of the early 1680s, and the conspiracies of 1683. De Krey's analysis of party politics also includes a prosopographical examination of the Whig and Tory party leadership. He finds that Whig leaders tended to be dissenters and Reformed Protestants whereas Tory leaders were Anglican. Tory leaders were wealthier, as they were at a more advanced career stage than their younger Whig counterparts. (14)

De Krey also notes that the occupation of both Whig and Tory leaders was overwhelmingly mercantile. Over 64 percent of the Whig leadership worked as overseas merchants, and most were concentrated in Northern Europe, the Baltic, Spain and Portugal, and the Levant. Similarly, 42 percent of the Tory leadership was occupied as overseas merchants. Although the regional concentrations were not as stark as the Whig leadership, a number of Tory leaders were active in the Levant, the Colonies, and throughout Europe. Many merchant Companies were comprised of both Whig and Tory political leaders. (15) De Krey's work is essential in understanding not only the conditions under which political parties developed but also the extent to which Company merchants sought power at the City level through party politics, which greatly increased their political power at the national level.

De Krey's conclusions only bolster Gauci's earlier study of merchants serving in Parliament. Gauci contends the Restoration created unprecedented political opportunities for merchants. Parliament and Charles II were dealing with political and commercial issues of international trade, such as the Navigation Laws, the taxation of commerce, and the Anglo-Dutch Wars. From 1660 till 1715, merchant MPs increased significantly but only a small percentage of parliamentarians were merchants. (16) While illustrating that merchants enjoyed an unprecedented opportunity for national political participation through both Parliament and petitions, Gauci does not concretely argue that merchant political activity caused an overall political transformation.

Steve Pincus, however, argues political merchants were crucial to the changes in the Restoration political sphere. England's rapid economic development as a result of the colonial trades was a cause rather than a consequence of the first modern revolution in 1688. Overseas trade was political because it was "the hot-house of the British economy." (17) The institutions of trade changed the political sphere and created new prospects for merchant political participation. By the late seventeenth century, economics could not be separated from politics as both Charles II and James II devoted more attention to commercial policy in the form of parliamentary committees, as well as a commerce committee within the Privy Council. In Pincus's view, the expansion of trade led to the creation of an entirely...

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