In 1800, British trade was still governed by mercantilist principles, expressed by Navigation Acts that reserved the shipping of British goods to British vessels, and imposed swingeing duties on foreign imports. The free trade advanced by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations (1776) would not prevail until the mid-19th century, its passage cleared by Britain’s emergence, through the Industrial Revolution, as the ‘workshop of the world’. The trinity of the Revolution were iron, coal and textiles. The agricultural revolution, which created harvest surpluses sufficient to maintain rocketing urban populations, enabled the mill towns of the English North and Midlands, of Ulster and the Firth of Forth. By 1800, over 50 per cent of British exports were to its booming ex-colonies in America, seamlessly replacing European markets embargoed by Napoleon’s blockade. Britain’s industrial dynamism enabled it to outproduce and outspend a larger, more populous French enemy with most of the continent under its control.
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