Get access

Party politics, political economy, and economic development in early eighteenth-century Britain


  • The author would like to thank the many people who graciously read and commented on the manuscript, including the anonymous reviewers, Steve Pincus, the panellists and audience at the 2011 British Scholar Conference, and the participants of the 2007 Yale-Princeton Graduate Workshop in Early Modern British Studies who heard the very first iteration of these ideas.


Economic growth and change in eighteenth-century Britain, both the expansion of pre-industrial commercial society and the industrial revolution itself, have been explored using a variety of approaches. This article highlights a relatively ignored aspect of the problem, arguing that the state, politics, and political economic ideology played a central role. In particular, the early eighteenth-century political victory of a version of political economy associated with the Whig party, which centred on manufacturing and consumption, was a prerequisite for the economic developments later in the century. The article begins by describing a political economy of manufacturing and its rival, a political economy of re-exporting associated with the Tory party. It then explains how and why a political economy of manufacturing became dominant, examining both political elites and ordinary voters and petitioners. The growth of manufacturing and consumption must be understood, therefore, as political as much as economic events.