Mercantilism: This Term Refers to an Economic Essay

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This term refers to an economic system within a nation-state with the purpose to build wealth and prosperity. Usually attributed to Adam Smith, mercantilism was based upon the idea that a nation-state can best build its wealth through limiting its imports from other nation-states while focusing on exporting goods and materials created within its own boundaries. As an economic system, mercantilism was predominant in most of Europe between the 16th and 18th centuries and depended greatly upon bringing metals like gold and silver from the New World to fill the coffers of such nations as Spain, France, England, and Portugal. It is from the term mercantilism that we have merchant or a seller of goods and services that was generally encouraged by a national government in order to maintain trade with other nation-states within Europe.

By the end of the feudal system in Europe towards the conclusion of the Middle Ages, mercantilism was widely adopted by many nation-states, due to the existence of competition which forced many nations to consolidate their economic structures in order to survive. Of course, most of this competition was the result of the influx of gold and silver from the New World and other goods from the newly-established settlements in North America. Also, this competition brought about full-scale wars between nation-states and by the late 18th century, the Industrial Revolution had come into being, thus increasing the need for mercantilism via trading and shipping, especially in Great Britain which gave rise to the British Empire.

2. Smallpox:

Medically, smallpox is a highly contagious viral disease characterized by a high fever and a severe skin rash. It is caused by two species of poxvirus and human beings are the only reservoir for it. Historically, smallpox was introduced into the indigenous cultures of Latin America and South America by the arrival of white European explorers into the New World, circa the early 16th century. When this occurred, the native Indian tribes did not have any resistance to the disease which caused it to spread like wildfire until it had killed thousands of native Indians. It has been suggested that the Spanish conquistadors upon arriving in the Caribbean brought smallpox with them and that it infected the indigenous Indians via direct contact with the Spaniards, most probably through sexual intercourse or transference via food or touching. Some historians have argued that when Cortez arrived in Mexico, he and his men transmitted smallpox to the Aztecs which drastically lowered the population by some 15 million deaths. Of course, since Cortez and his men were immune to the virus, due to years of exposure in Europe, they were able to defeat the Aztec Empire with only a handful of men. The same scenario played out in Peru with the Incan Empire, due to the arrival of Pizzaro and his small band of men. Thus, smallpox greatly aided in the conquest of the New World by decimating the indigenous Indian tribes and allowing the Europeans to essentially take control of an entire continent.

3. Thomas Hobbes:

Considered as the premier natural law philosopher of the 17th century, Thomas Hobbes wrote extensively on human nature and espoused a number of theories which are still studied and argued to this very day. Unlike many English philosophers of his day, Hobbes did not embrace the ideals of Aristotle and when the great scientific enlightenment came about, Hobbes began studying with great intensity the works of Francis Bacon, the geometry of Euclid and the nature of the universe based on the astronomical discoveries of Galileo whom he met in 1636, thus quickly adopting Galileo's ideas to social philosophy which Hobbes divided into three separate entities -- the body or the basic laws of motion, man himself via his sensations and emotions, and the citizen or how human beings interact with and influence the body politic.

Overall, Hobbes was convinced that ideas associated human morality, freedom and justice were simple constructs of the human mind, created by what he referred to as the leviathan, a type of cosmic entity which controls the universe and all of the natural laws associated with it. Interestingly, Hobbes understood the relationship between laws and authority, meaning that laws are made by man and are only effective when supported by power. This came to be known as legal positivism, a reference to justice being dependent on how a particular law is made and what it connotes; thereby making unjust laws meaningless. Overall, Hobbes' influence in 17th century thought filtered down to figures like Locke, Rousseau and William Godwin.

4. Copernicus:

Widely considered as the father of modern astronomy and cosmology, Copernicus created a huge stir in Europe and in his native Poland when he announced that the earth was not the center of the universe and that the earth and all of the planets in the solar system revolved around the sun in a fixed orbit. Of course, since Copernicus was a member of the clergy in Poland, the Roman Catholic Church found this announcement as bordering on heresy, due to long-accepting the view that the earth was the center of the universe as theorized by Claudius Ptolemy in 150 B.C.E. Amazingly, Copernicus arrived at this conclusion about the earth and the solar system without using a telescope, thus demonstrating the power of his mind and his ability to apply pure mathematics to problem-solving. His treatise on this conception of the planets and the sun was published in 1530 under the title "De Revolutionibus."

Unfortunately, Copernicus died before realizing exactly how his radical views of the cosmos would affect the rest of the world. Basically, everything Copernicus had revealed went solidly against all philosophical and religious ideas concerning man's place in the universe, particularly those of the Roman Catholic Church which preached that man was special and was superior to all living things because of the divine providence of God. In essence, the realizations of Copernicus destroyed more than 1500 years of thought related to the Greek philosopher Aristotle who conjectured that the earth was the center of the universe.

5. Isaac Newton:

Much like Copernicus, Isaac Newton revolutionized the science of astronomy and cosmology and is now considered as one of the leading scientific thinkers of all time. Many Newtonian scholars agree that between 1665 and 1666, Newton experienced a surge in his creative and scientific abilities, for it was during this time that Newton devised his most recognized piece of scientific work -- the "Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica," generally referred to as the "Principia" which contained his theories regarding the nature of the universe. Newton was also involved in other matters, such as being a member of Parliament as representative for the University of Cambridge, warden of the Royal Mint and then Master, and as a fellow of the Royal Society, where he became president in 1703. After being knighted in 1705, Newton published another of his scientific treatises, known as "Opticks" which explored the scientific and mathematical applications of optics, such as how light is broken up into its spectrum of colors through a prism. Newton also did a great amount of research and work on the mathematical branch of differential calculus on a rather obscure methodology known as fluxions. Of course, Newton is best-known for his work on gravity which according to the familiar story came to him upon observing an apple falling to the ground while sitting alone in his orchard. This seemingly simple event gave rise to his theory of gravity which is used today to explain the motion of the planets in their orbits around the sun.

6. The Treaty of Westphalia:

Also referred to as the Peace of Westphalia, this collection of treaties brought an end to the Thirty Years War which ravaged much of Europe and involved a number of important… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Format

Mercantilism: This Term Refers to an Economic.  (2009, December 13).  Retrieved January 25, 2020, from

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"Mercantilism: This Term Refers to an Economic."  13 December 2009.  Web.  25 January 2020. <>.

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"Mercantilism: This Term Refers to an Economic."  December 13, 2009.  Accessed January 25, 2020.