As nations developed overseas colonies, they adopted principles of mercantilism: the belief that there was a finite amount of wealth in the world, and whoever controlled the most wealth and resources would hold the most power. Thus, mercantilism was driven by a desire to build strong and self-sufficient economies. Nations wanted to maintain favorable balances of trade, meaning they would export (sell) more than they would import (buy).
Colonies were central in the mercantile system. They provided not only markets in which nations could sell goods, but also resources and raw materials.
The Columbian Exchange–the transfer of plants, animals, people, technology, disease and culture between the Old and New Worlds–created new patterns of global trade and provided Europe, Asia and Africa with important new trade goods such as potatoes, tobacco, corn and tomatoes.
Consumer Culture & the Slave Trade
Increased trade also contributed to the development of a consumer culture. More Europeans demanded, and could afford, what used to be luxuries only enjoyed by the wealthy. Goods such as silk, sugar, chocolate, coffee and rum became popular among almost all social classes.
Unfortunately, increased demand also fueled the trans-Atlantic slave trade, as European traders on the West African Coast sold African slaves to the New World in order to produce commodities such as sugar and tobacco.
The Middle Passage referred to the overseas journey from Africa to the New World during which had high mortality rates. Finally, the expansion of European colonies in the Americas decimated native populations by as much as 90%, mainly due to disease.