Board of Trade

Established by King William III in 1696, the Lords Commissioners for Trade and Plantations (more commonly known as the Board of Trade) were charged with promoting commerce in the British Empire and improving the administration of British colonies. The Board of Trade was separate from, but still subordinate to, the royal Privy Council, which had previously attended to such responsibilities. Members of the fifteen-person board were supposedly appointed because of their economic and political expertise, but positions were often distributed on the basis of political expediency rather than merit. In theory, the Board of Trade was the center of colonial administration. The panel drafted detailed instructions for newly appointed royal governors to follow and maintained an active correspondence with a large number of royal officials and elected assemblies throughout the British Atlantic world. The board received political petitions and legal appeals from overseas settlements and soon became a lobbying forum for paid agents representing the interests of their individual colonies. Perhaps the most important and controversial task of the panel was the review of all laws passed by colonial legislatures. The Board of Trade examined such acts to ensure that they contained nothing contrary to English law, harmful to the economic interests of the mother country, or tending to undermine the king’s powers over his American subjects. Though this routine legal review rarely ended with the disallowance of laws, colonial assemblies resented the limitation on their legislative powers and privileges. In reality, the Board of Trade had few formal powers. Its role was mainly advisory rather than executive. The panel held hearings on specific issues, drew up recommendations, and then forwarded those to a higher authority typically the Privy Council or the secretary of state for definitive action. The Board of Trade’s advice carried weight and was frequently followed, but its recommendations were not binding. Commissioners found that their powers only went as far as their audience’s willingness to listen. In particular, the panel lacked the ability to appoint or remove officials on its own authority a limitation that severely constrained the commissioners’ control over colonial officeholders. The board approached its tasks with enthusiasm for the first two decades of its existence, but after 1714, its activities became increasingly passive and routine. It became little more than a clearinghouse for correspondence to and from the colonies. The driving force behind imperial policy was instead the secretary of state for the southern department. The Board of Trade’s prominence waxed and waned depending on the interest and effectiveness of its members. In the 1720s and 1730s, Martin Bladen unsuccessfully sought to rescue the panel from its reduced position and shake the British Crown out of its policy of salutary neglect toward overseas settlements. A trade commissioner for more than thirty years of his life, Bladen believed that the colonies enjoyed far too much independence. He wanted to use the board as an instrument to tighten direct royal control over the British Empire. Among his various proposals, nearly all of which were rejected, was a plan for a union of all the American colonies that would have been placed under the direct governance of the Board of Trade. When Bladen died in 1746, his immediate successors discarded most of his ambitious regulatory schemes. The next burst of activity came during the presidency of the Earl of Halifax from 1748 1761. Like Bladen, Halifax disliked the home government’s lax and inconsistent colonial policies and worked to enforce a greater administrative uniformity among British settlements. Under his aggressive leadership, the board extended its formal powers. The most significant gain was the commissioners’ right to appoint a wide range of colonial officials, including governors. Throughout the 1750s, the Board of Trade grew into a reasonable approximation of the centerpiece of colonial oversight originally envisioned in 1696. Halifax’s departure in 1761 and the resulting lack of leadership, however, again brought a sharp decline in the board’s power. During the troubles that gripped the British Empire in the aftermath of the Seven Years’ War, control over imperial policy slipped away from the board. Correspondence from the colonial governors went directly to the secretary of state for the colonies. By the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Board of Trade had again been reduced to a largely advisory and passive role in American affairs. Andrew C. Lannen See also: Mercantilism; Merchants; Trade. Bibliography Basye, Arthur Herbert. The Lords Commissioners of Trade and Plantations, Commonly Known as the Board of Trade, 1748 1782. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1925. Steele, Ian K. Politics of Colonial Policy, The Board of Trade in Colonial Administration, 1696 1720. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press, 1968. Chicago Board of Trade WTTW Chicago Public Media – Television … Chicago Board of Trade – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia Ceres by John H. Storrs WTTW Chicago Public Media – Television …

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