Money’s Empire: Political Economy and Reform in the Wake of the Seven Years War

For years historians of the British Atlantic have tended to emphasize the way that previous generations incorrectly emphasized a false distinction between American and British economies. In doing so, they have ignored the significance of distinctions that imperial administrators seeking to order a newly expansive global empire made between the political economy of the colonies and the metropole. In this paper, I will argue that those distinctions a) were the basis of the policies that provoked colonies into revolt and b) were rooted in a real, emergent distinction between British political economy and those of the colonies in North America that would go on to form the United States. Metropolitan merchants trading to Virginia had little problem with Virginian currency until colonists began using it to pay for goods imported from England. Despite local regulations that protected the merchants from risks resulting from fluctuating rates of exchange, imports, merchants argued, were priced in sterling, meaning that Virginians would have to ultimately make good in gold and silver, the official coin of the British Empire. Americans argued back that sterling itself was only a measure of value and that payment in any currency or marketable commodities should be acceptable, so long as they were of equal value. My analysis emerges out of the financial turn in economic history, combining intellectual, political, and legal history to explore moments where economic institutions were transformed in ways that are difficult to capture adequately with traditional econometric analysis.