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Trade

Trade was of vast importance to Defoe, as evidenced by the number of books and pamphlets he wrote on the subject. He was, of course, a tradesman himself, with beginnings in the wholesale stockings business, and he was intimately acquainted with the errors and pitfalls, such as bankruptcy, that many tradesmen experienced. Not content with managing his own extensive business interests at home, however, Defoe was interested in subjects ranging from the young tradesman in his London shop to the creation of new markets in South America and everything in between. Nothing escaped his notice.

His fervor in discussing and arguing for (or against) national and international trade treaties and laws was borne of the conviction that trade was the backbone and lifeblood of England. With that firmly in mind, Defoe churned out schemes and plans for the improvement of trade, certain that, if his plans were followed, England would become the greatest nation in the world.

Reflections on the Prohibition Act Title Page

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The Prohibition in question is not against alcohol but the importation of silks from India, China, and Persia. There had been some talk that the government was going to repeal the Act, but Defoe argues that such rumors are nonsense. There is so much good that has come of the Act, manufacturing towns (such as Leeds, Halifax, Wakefield, Beedal) that had almost been undone were now flourishing once again, that anyone who would want to repeal the Act would find great opposition. The only groups he can think of who might be enemies of the Act are women (who are thus deprived of the variety of foreign silks) and the East India Company merchants who lose money by not being able to deal in these goods.

Essay on the South-Sea TradeTitle Page

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There had been a lot of grumbling and opposition to the proposed South-Sea Company, and here Defoe tries to lay out the reasons for and against and to judge whether the scheme is in fact a good one.

The idea is to create a company for doing trade in the Americas and so dislodge the foothold France has there (by which it has been financing the war), while at the same time making huge profits to pay off the national debt and to compensate for the lost Spanish trade. The hope is that “the Channel of Silver which has hitherto flowed with so full a Stream into France and Spain, to the Support of our Enemies, might be turn’d, and might with the same Fullness and Freedom empty itself among our Merchants” (15).


Essay on the Treaty of Commerce Title Page
An Essay on the Treaty of Commerce with France: with necessary Expositions. London: Print for J. Baker, at the Black-Boy in Pater-Noster-Row, 1713.

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Defoe is urging people not to dismiss the Treaty of Commerce out of hand, without having really understood what it’s all about. Of course it used to be the case that opening up trade with France would have been a bad thing for English commerce, but now the objections are due simply to misunderstanding. The advantages of the Treaty are now on the side of the English and so there’s no reason to fear.

Defoe had actually devoted a number of issues of the Review to arguing against the Treaty. In this as in other issues, Defoe had to juggle personal opinions with obligations to his superiors in the ministry, leaving us with many seemingly contradictory works.


Considerations upon the Eighth and Ninth Articles Title Page

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Like the pamphlet above, this work discusses the Treaty of Commerce, this time focusing on the Eighth and Ninth Articles. There are several issues that must be worked out by the government if the Treaty is accepted. For one thing, Britain has had a mutually beneficial trade with Portugal, primarily English woolens for Portuguese wines, and what would become of this if all barriers with France were lowered? Also, Defoe brings up the possible injury to newer trades such as silk Lustrings and Alamodes, which were encouraged to flourish precisely because there was a prohibition against importing France’s silks. If the Treaty of Commerce is accepted, some provision needs to be made for such workers and investors.


A General History of TradeTitle Page

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A treatise written in four parts over the course of four months, outlining not a minute and detailed history of trade (such as “who was the first Planter of Vines in France, or when the first Brandy was Distill’d there” (4)) but rather when and how those various foreign manufactures were introduced to England. He gives specifics on what goods are traded in which countries and where the biggest and best ports are located. The last installment returns to an issue he’d written on earlier the same year, namely the Treaty of Commerce with France.


Trade to India Title Page

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There was a movement in England to ban the importation of Indian calicoes as being detrimental to British trade. Some, conflating (incorrectly), the East India trade with the East India Company, objected to the proposed bans, saying that it would ruin the Company. On the contrary, the trade in calicoes is only one small part of the Company’s business, and so their interest in this matter is (or should be) negligible.

As for the ban, Defoe argues strongly for its necessity in preventing harm to the local wool and silk trades. He also denounces smugglers who bring calicoes and other East India goods into England from Holland and elsewhere, which undercuts prices and ruins local businesses. He warns that all the bullion of Europe is flowing to India, and none of it flows back, such that if nothing is done, Europe will be impoverished and will have no money left to carry on regular trade.


 History of the Principal Discoveries and Improvements Title Page

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In this history, Defoe follows the developments of trade and its concomitant scientific advances, starting in the time after the flood and continuing through antiquity, Roman and medieval times, and up to the present.

Some of the scientific discoveries include navigation, the magnet, agricultural techniques, and the Americas.


 Brief Case of the Distillers Title Page

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Defoe is here balancing his conviction that the trade of distillers is a good and necessary one with the arguments that distilleries are dens of vice that lead to drunkenness and immorality. On the side of trade, England has an excess of corn, and rather than selling it to the Dutch who distill it and sell it back to the English at outrageous prices, Defoe argues that keeping the corn in the country and distilling it themselves not only employs the poor and keeps prices reasonable, but it prevents the Dutch from taking advantage and may even eliminate the smuggling and running of French brandy.

As for the issue of morality, he says, “If the People will destroy themselves by their own Excesses, and make that Poison, which is otherwise an Antidote; ‘tis the Magistrate’s Business to help that, not the Distillers” (11).


 British Woollen Manufacture Title Page

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A brief though detailed history of the manufacture of woolen cloth in England, from the time when England had no manufacture to speak of (but instead shipped all of its wool abroad), to the time of Henry VII, when woolen manufacture was first encouraged at home, and finally down to the present time. He lays out the reasons that the English wool industry was such a success at one time as well as the causes for its current state of decline. The biggest reason, he argues, is that the English don’t buy and wear their own manufactures, even though they are the best in the world. The only solution, the only way to restore trade in woolens, he says, “is to WEAR THEM.”


 Plan of the English Commerce Title Page
A Plan of the English Commerce. Being a Compleat Prospect of the Trade of this Nation, as well the Home Trade as the Foreign. In Three Parts. Part I. Containing a View of the present Magnitude of the English Trade, as it respects, 1. The Exportation of our own Growth and Manufacture. 2. The Importation of Merchants Goods from Abroad. 3. The Prodigious Consumption of both at Home. Part II. Containing an Answer to that great and important Question now depending , whether our Trade, and especially our Manufactures, are in a Declining Condition, or no? Part III. Containing several Proposals entirely new, for extending and improving our Trade, and promoting the Consumption of our Manufactures, in Countries wherewith we have hitherto had no Commerce. Humbly offered to the Consideration of the King and Parliament. London: Printed for Charles Rivington, at the Bible and Crown in St Paul’s Church-Yard. M.DCC.XXVIII.

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Defoe marvels that in England, the greatest country to do commerce in the world, the people are still so ignorant of how that commerce works, how each individual’s trade intersects with and complements the trades of others. He proposes a number of schemes for improving England’s trade, including “rooting out those Nests of Pyrates and Rovers...who have for so many Ages infested the Mediterranean Seas, and the Coasts of Spain and Portugal, to the infinite Loss and Discouragement of all the Trading Nations of Europe” (312).


 Humble Proposal to the People of England Title Page

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In this pamphlet, which is similar in some ways and even refers to the one above, the author says he is unwilling to jump into the debate about whether or not English trade is in decline. He exculpates several trades who have come under scrutiny, such as the fishing trade, and argues that it is not out of indolence or other mismanagement that the Scottish fisheries cannot compete with Holland but simply a matter of the way things are. Instead, he offers some advice on how British trade can become even better, primarily by strengthening the already strong woolen trade.


Advantages of Peace and Commerce Title Page
The Advantages of Peace and Commerce; with some Remarks on the East-India Trade. London: Printed for J. Brotherton and Tho. Cox in Cornhill, and sold by A. Dodd without Temple-Bar. 1729.

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Demonstrates the direct correlation between a nation’s power and the strength of its trade, giving as examples the wealth and power of India and China, all due to trade, and the relative poverty and insignificance of the Portuguese and Genoese, whose trade has suffered in recent years, as well as of the Africans, who never had any trade to begin with and so are relegated to piracy in the north and selling their neighbors as slaves in the west. Defoe’s second main argument is about the need to have peace in order for this growth to take place.


 Brief State of the Inland or Home Trade Title Page

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This work was addressed to Parliament as a complaint against those who by their business practices “become a heavy Oppression; Ruinous and Destructive to the Prosperity of Trade in general, and Injurious to every fair Trader in particular” (4). He first explains the ecology of trade, how each step in the chain of production, manufacture, transportation to market, and final sale all work together to benefit the whole of society. His grievance is against those hawkers and peddlers who step outside of this mutually beneficial system and make themselves “the Carrier, Factor, Wholesale-Dealer, Chapman, and Retailer all in one Hand, putting the Gain of all those Trades into the single Purse of a Pedlar” (27), especially when so many of the goods they sell are obtained from smugglers. Defoe likens such behavior to thievery and argues that they should be treated like the vagrants they are rather than given licenses to sell their goods.


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