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Commerce and the philadelphia constitution: neo-mercantilism in federalist and anti-federalist political economy

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This article shows how attention to a third political discourse -- mercantilist thought -- provides a direct understanding of the issues of commerce and market relations in the framing and ratification of the constitution drafted at the Philadelphia convention in 1787. Mercantilist political discourse was readily employable alongside the republican, liberal and other political languages already studied at greater length. In contrast to the vagueness of classical republican references to ‘commerce’, which made it a metaphor for entire social and political orders, mercantilist thought enabled Anglo-Americans to be precise and elaborate in discussing economic relations in political contexts. Mercantilist thought provided a positive analysis of market activities, but it simultaneously forestalled a complete identification of liberty with economic self-interest. By assuming that economic regulation might serve a public interest, mercantilist thought allowed the hypothetical possibility that regulation of the market need not be a compromise of freedom in a republic.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dalhousie University.

Publication date: January 1, 1992

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