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Mercantilism

45 min
  • Students will be able to explain the key principles of mercantilism by analyzing a political cartoon and primary sources.
  • Students will be able to illustrate the mercantilist relationship between Great Britain and its colonies by designing their own political cartoon or infographic.

Students may complete this activity alone, in pairs, or in small groups, as best fits your teaching situation. Handout B: Mercantilism Background can be provided to students after the cartoon analysis warm-up and before the primary sources to provide students with additional context and scaffolding before analyzing Handout C: Mercantilism Primary Sources.

Political Cartoon Analysis

Students analyze The Mercantilist Argument for Colonial Expansion cartoon and answer the following questions on Handout A: Cartoon Analysis.

1. Briefly describe what you see.

2. Who appears to be in a position of power in this political cartoon? Explain.

3. Who appears to be in a subservient role? Explain.

4. What do colonies provide to the mother country?

5. What is the message of the cartoon?

A political cartoon shows a formal woman labeled Mother Country seated at a dining table being served gold and silver, foodstuffs, and raw materials from servants each labeled Colony. The bottom of the cartoon reads,

In this undated political cartoon, a woman representing the mother country is served gold and silver, foodstuffs, and raw materials from her three servants representing colonies.

Option 1: Distribute Handout B: Mercantilism Background and have students read and answer the questions. Discuss answers before distributing Handout C: Mercantilism Primary Sources. Tell students to look for the main ideas of mercantilism discussed in the background reading as they are analyzing the three primary sources.

Option 2 (more challenging): Distribute Handout C: Mercantilism Primary Sources. Have the students read the three primary source documents and answer questions on their handout.

  • Document 1: Philipp von Hörnigk, Austria Over All, If She Only Will, 1684
  • Document 2: Excerpts from the Navigation Act of September 13, 1660
  • Document 3: Excerpts from the Navigation Act of April 10, 1696

In small group discussions, have the students discuss how mercantilism may have affected colonists in the following regions: the New England colonies, middle colonies, and southern colonies.

Students will draw a political cartoon or infographic representing one region of the colonies and its mercantilist relationship with Great Britain.