Skip to main content



This article examines how The wealth of nations (1776) was transformed into an amorphous text regarding the imperial question throughout the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Adam Smith had left behind an ambiguous legacy on the subject of empire: a legacy that left long-term effects upon subsequent British imperial debates. In his chapter on colonies, Smith had proposed both a scheme for the gradual devolution of the British empire and a theoretical scheme for imperial federation. In response to the growing global popularity of protectionism and imperial expansionism, the rapid development of new tools of globalization, and the frequent onset of economic downturns throughout the late Victorian and Edwardian eras, turn-of-the-century proponents of British imperial federation formed into a formidable opposition to England's prevailing free trade orthodoxy – Cobdenism – a free trade ideology which famously expanded upon the anti-imperial dimensions of The wealth of nations. Ironically, at the turn of the century many advocates for imperial federation also turned to Smith for their intellectual inspiration. Adam Smith thus became an advocate of empire, and his advocacy left an indelible intellectual mark upon the burgeoning British imperial crisis.

Corresponding author
History Department, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4
Hide All

I am grateful to Anthony Howe, Duncan Bell, and the journal's anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions, to International Security Studies, Yale University, for its support, and to the 2013 British Scholar Conference attendees for their feedback.

Hide All

1 Reprinted in Bennett, George, ed., The concept of empire: Burke to Attlee, 1774–1947 (London, 1962; orig. edn, 1953), pp. 165–6.

2 Howe, Anthony, ‘From Pax Britannica to Pax Americana: free trade, empire, and globalisation, 1846–1946’, Bulletin of Asia-Pacific Studies, 13 (2003), pp. 137–59.

3 University of Edinburgh Professor J. Shield Nicholson's Smithian imperial advocacy notably stands out in the historiography, as I will discuss in greater detail in Section iii. For the idea of ‘Greater Britain’ and the imperial federation movement, see especially Bell, Duncan, The idea of Greater Britain: empire and the future of world order, 1860–1900 (Princeton, NJ, 2007); Bell, Duncan, ed., Victorian visions of global order: empire and international relations in nineteenth-century political thought (Cambridge, 2008); Bell, Duncan, ‘From ancient to modern in Victorian imperial thought’, Historical Journal, 49 (2006), pp. 735–59; Green, E. H. H., ‘The political economy of empire, 1880–1914’, in Porter, Andrew, ed., Oxford history of the British empire: the nineteenth century (5 vols., New York, NY, 2001), iii, pp. 346–71; Gaston, Jack, ‘The free trade diplomacy debate and the Victorian European common market initiative’, Canadian Journal of History, 22 (1987), pp. 5982; Tyler, J. E., The struggle for imperial unity, 1868–1895 (London, 1938); Reese, Trevor R., The history of the Royal Commonwealth Society, 1868–1968 (London, 1968), pp. 6479; Kendle, J. E., Federal Britain (London and New York, NY, 1997), ch. 3; Kendle, J. E., The colonial and imperial conferences, 1887–1911 (London, 1967); and Martin, Ged, ‘The idea of imperial federation’, in Hyam, Ronald and Martin, Ged, eds., Reappraisals in British imperial history (London, 1975), pp. 121–39. Martin also traces these ideas of imperial federalism back to the 1820s and briefly notes that ‘Empire federalists’ cited Smith ‘as a rival authority’, in ‘Empire federalism and imperial parliamentary union, 1820–1870’, Historical Journal, 16 (973), pp. 76, 80. Alternatively, Kendle begins his study in the 1600s in Federal Britain. For imperial federation, race, and the non-white British empire, see also Koditschek, Theodore, Liberalism, imperialism, and the historical imagination: nineteenth-century visions of a Greater Britain (Cambridge, 2011). For a good summary of the federative schemes from the 1850s to 1930s, see Cheng, Seymour Ching-Yuan, Schemes for the federation of the British empire (New York, NY, 1931).

4 For recent studies on imperial networks and the British world, see, inter al., Magee, Gary B. and Thompson, Andrew S., Empire and globalisation: networks of people, goods and capital in the British world, c. 1850–1914 (Cambridge, 2010); Bridge, Carl and Fedorowich, Kent, The British world: culture, diaspora and identity (London, 2003); and Buckner, Philip and Francis, R. Douglas, eds., Rediscovering the British world (Calgary, 2005).

5 Brown, Benjamin H., The Tariff Reform movement in Great Britain, 1881–1895 (New York, NY, 1943); Palen, Marc-William, ‘Protection, federation and union: the global impact of the McKinley tariff upon the British empire, 1890–1894’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 38 (2010), pp. 395418; Trentmann, Frank, ‘The transformation of fiscal reform: reciprocity, modernization, and the fiscal debate within the business community in early twentieth-century Britain’, Historical Journal, 39 (1996), pp. 1005–48; Rogers, Edmund, ‘The United States and the fiscal debate in Britain, 1873–1913’, Historical Journal, 50 (2007), pp. 593622.

6 Marc-William Palen, ‘The conspiracy of free trade: Anglo-American relations and the ideological origins of American globalization, 1846–1896’ (Ph.D. diss., University of Texas at Austin, 2011); Palen, Marc-William, ‘Foreign relations in the Gilded Age: a British free trade conspiracy?’, Diplomatic History, 37 (2013), pp. 217–47; Howe, Anthony, Free trade and liberal England, 1846–1946 (Oxford, 1997), p. 267.

7 Green, E. H. H., ‘Rentiers versus producers? The political economy of the bimetallic controversy, c. 1880–1898’, English Historical Review, 103 (1988), pp. 588612; Howe, A. C., ‘Bimetallism, c. 1880–1898: a controversy re-opened?’, English Historical Review, 105 (1990), pp. 377–91; Green, , ‘The bimetallic controversy’, English Historical Review, 105 (1990), pp. 673–83; Howe, Free trade and liberal England, pp. 199–204, 233. For the American bimetallic reaction, see Palen, ‘The conspiracy of free trade’. Martin Daunton offers a persuasive argument for the continued success of the gold standard until the First World War in ‘Presidential address: Britain and globalisation since 1850: i. creating a global order, 1850–1914’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 16 (2006), pp. 1–38.

8 For studies of the connection between imperialism and technological advancements, see Lewis Pyenson, ‘Science and imperialism’, in Olby, Robert Cecil and Cantor, Geoffrey N., eds., Companion to the history of modern science (London and New York, NY, 1990); Boyce, Robert W. D., ‘Imperial dreams and national realities: Britain, Canada, and the struggle for a Pacific telegraph cable, 1879–1902’, English Historical Review, 115 (2000), pp. 3970; Headrick, Daniel, The tools of empire (New York, NY, 1981); Headrick, Daniel, The tentacles of progress: technology transfer in the age of imperialism, 1850–1940 (Oxford, 1988); Headrick, Daniel, The invisible weapon: telecommunications and international politics, 1851–1945 (Oxford, 1991); and Drayton, Richard, ‘Science and the European empires’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 23 (1995), pp. 503–11.

9 Bell, Idea of Greater Britain, ch. 3; Bell, Duncan, ‘Dissolving distance: technology, space, and empire in British political thought, 1770–1900’, Journal of Modern History, 77 (2005), pp. 523–62. From around 1850–75, some Cobdenites also favoured greater imperial integration owing to these technological developments. See Howe, Anthony, ‘British liberalism and the legacy of St. Simon’, History of Economic Ideas, 17 (2009), pp. 107–20.

10 Knorr called Smith's theories on colonies ‘the most revolutionary advance in the evolution of British thought’ in his analysis of the subject. See Knorr, Klaus E., British colonial theories, 1570–1850 (Toronto, 1963; orig. edn, 1944), pp. 175–95. Other good summaries of Adam Smith and imperialism can be found, among others, in Muthu, Sankar, Enlightenment against empire (Princeton, NJ, 2003); Pitts, Jennifer, A turn to empire: the rise of imperial liberalism in Britain and France (Princeton, NJ, 2005); Hont, Istvan, Jealousy of trade: international competition and the nation state in historical perspective (Cambridge, MA, 2005); Skinner, Andrew S., ‘Adam Smith and the American economic community an essay in applied economics’, Journal of the History of Ideas, 37 (1976), pp. 5978; Winch, Donald, Riches and poverty: an intellectual history of political economy in Britain, 1750–1834 (Cambridge, 1996); Winch, Donald, Classical political economy and colonies (Cambridge, MA, 1965); and Winch, Donald, Adam Smith's politics: an essay in historiographic revision (Cambridge, 1978).

11 I should note that the analysis and examples included herein are by no means exhaustive, but illustrative of the turn-of-the-century usage of Adam Smith's advocacy of imperial federation.

12 Bell, Idea of Greater Britain, p. 66.

13 Winch, Smith's politics, p. 148.

14 Benians, E. A., ‘Adam Smith's project of an empire’, Cambridge Historical Journal, 1 (1925), p. 283. For such imperial interest, see Reese, History of Royal Commonwealth Society, ch. 1; and Beasley, Edward, Empire as the triumph of theory: imperialism, information, and the Colonial Society of 1868 (London and New York, NY, 2005). For studies of Smith's general legacy, see for instance Fleischacker, Samuel, ‘Adam Smith's reception among the American founders, 1776–1790’, William and Mary Quarterly, 59 (2002), pp. 897924; Tribe, Keith, ‘The German reception of Adam Smith’, in Tribe, Keith, ed., A critical bibliography of Adam Smith (London, 2002); Crowley, John E., ‘Neo-mercantilism and The wealth of nations: British commercial policy after the American revolution’, Historical Journal, 33 (1990), pp. 339–60; Rothschild, Emma, ‘Adam Smith and Conservative economics’, Economic History Review, n.s., 45 (1992), pp. 7496; Teichgraeber, Richard F., ‘“Less abused than I had reason to expect”: the reception of the Wealth of nations in Britain, 1776–1790’, Historical Journal, 30 (1991), pp. 337–66; Haakonssen, Knud and Winch, Donald, ‘The legacy of Adam Smith’, in Cambridge companion to Adam Smith, ed. Haakonssen, Knud (Cambridge, 2006); and Winch, Classical political economy and colonies.

15 Knorr, British colonial theories, pp. 187–94. Gerard M. Koot points to a more general crisis over Adam Smith's legacy during this period in English historical economics, 1870–1926: the rise of economic history and neomercantilism (Cambridge, 1987), pp. 10–14.

16 Wagner, Donald O., ‘British economists and the empire II’, Political Science Quarterly, 47 (1932), p. 74.

17 Howe, Free trade and liberal England; Howe, Anthony, ‘Free trade and the international order’, in Leventhal, Fred M. and Quinault, Roland, eds., Anglo-American attitudes: from revolution to partnership (Aldershot, 2000).

18 For more on Cobden's foreign policy outlook see Cain, Peter, ‘Capitalism, war, and internationalism in the thought of Richard Cobden’, British Journal of International Studies, 5 (1979), pp. 229–47; Dawson, William Harbutt, Richard Cobden and foreign policy: a critical exposition, with special reference to our day and its problems (London, 1926); Edsall, Nicholas C., Richard Cobden, independent radical (Cambridge, 1986); Hobson, J. A., Richard Cobden: the international man (New York, NY, 1918); Howe, Free trade and liberal England; Howe, Anthony, ‘Richard Cobden and the Crimean War’, History Today, 54 (2004), pp. 4651; Howe, Anthony and Morgan, Simon, Rethinking nineteenth-century liberalism: Richard Cobden bicentenary essays (Aldershot, 2006); Knorr, British colonial theories, pp. 166–74; Semmel, Bernard, Rise of free trade imperialism: classical political economy and the empire of free trade and imperialism, 1750–1850 (London and New York, NY, 1970), pp. 158–75; MacDonagh, Oliver, ‘The anti-imperialism of free trade’, Economic History Review, 14 (1962), pp. 489501; Nicholls, David, ‘Richard Cobden and the international peace congress movement, 1848–1853’, Journal of British Studies, 30 (1991), pp. 351–76; Spall, Richard Francis, ‘Free trade, foreign relations, and the anti-corn-law league’, International History Review, 10 (1988), pp. 405–32; Taylor, Miles, ‘Imperium et libertas? Rethinking the radical critique of imperialism during the nineteenth century’, Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History, 19 (1991), pp. 123.

19 Howe, Free trade and liberal England, pp. 116–41; Anthony Howe, ‘Cobden club (act. 1866–1982)’, Oxford dictionary of national biography (Oxford, 2005); Palen, ‘The conspiracy of free trade’; Palen, ‘Foreign relations in the Gilded Age’.

20 Trentmann, Frank, Free trade nation: commerce, consumption, and civil society in modern Britain (Oxford and New York, NY, 2008), p. 2; Trentmann, Frank, ‘Political culture and political economy: interest, ideology and free trade’, Review of International Political Economy, 5 (1998), pp. 217–51. For a provocative interpretation of imperialism and British socialism during the period covered here, see Claeys, Gregory, Imperial sceptics: British critics of empire, 1850–1920 (Cambridge, 2010). See also Matthew, H. C. G., The liberal imperialists: the ideas and politics of a post-Gladstonian elite (London, 1973); McKibbin, Ross, The evolution of the Labour party, 1910–1924 (New York, NY, 1974); and Morris, A. J. A., Edwardian radicalism, 1900–1914: some aspects of British radicalism (Boston, MA, 1974).

21 As Anthony Howe describes, ‘only slowly was the discontent of agrarians, manufacturers, and imperial federationists fused, under the aegis of Britain's historical economists, into the Tariff Reform assault on the body of Cobdenism pronounced dead a decade earlier’ in the 1890s. Howe, Free trade and liberal England, p. 195.

22 Smith, Adam, An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations (Edinburgh, 1843; orig. edn, 1776), pp. 251, 254.

23 Smith, Wealth of nations, p. 259.

24 Goldwin Smith was the most outspoken Cobdenite advocate of British decolonization, and was prone to referencing Adam Smith to support his argument. Duncan Bell notes that Goldwin Smith was himself ‘highly selective’ in employing ‘Smithian arguments against the economic viability of the colonial system’. Bell, Idea of Greater Britain, p. 198. For such usage, see for instance Goldwin Smith, The empire (Oxford and London, 1863), pp. xvi–xvii, 21–3, 113.

25 Smith, Wealth of nations, pp. 255, 258.

26 Ibid., p. 258; Guttridge, G. H., ‘Adam Smith on the American Revolution: an unpublished memorial’, American Historical Review, 38 (1933), pp. 714–20; Skinner, Andrew S., ‘Adam Smith and the American Revolution’, Presidential Studies Quarterly, 7 (1977), pp. 7587.

27 Smith, Wealth of nations, p. 258.

28 For such early references to Adam Smith's scheme of imperial unity, see for instance Australia's Jenkins, John Edward, The colonies and imperial unity, or, the ‘barrel without the hoops’ (London, 1871), p. 28; and Smith, Francis Gould, The Australian protectionist (Melbourne, 1877), p. 7. Jenkins in fact advocated a free trade empire in the hope of stemming the movement toward protectionism among the self-governing colonies of Canada and Victoria. For this early demand for a free trade empire, see also Howe, Free trade and liberal England, pp. 213–22.

29 Brown, Tariff Reform movement; Kendle, John E., The round table movement and imperial union (Toronto and Buffalo, 1975); Palen, ‘Protection, federation and union’; Palen, ‘The conspiracy of free trade’, ch. 8.

30 Howe, Free trade and liberal England, pp. 215–16; Trainor, Luke, ‘The British government and imperial economic unity, 1890–1895’, Historical Journal, 13 (1970), pp. 6884.

31 Cain, P. J. and Hopkins, A. G., British imperialism, 1688–2000 (London, 2002), p. 185. The City did not, however, offer the same support to the Tariff Reform League. See also Marrison, Andrew, British business and protection 1903–1932 (Oxford, 1996); and Howe, Anthony, ‘Liberals and the City, c. 1900–1931’, in Michie, Ranald and Williamson, Philip, eds., The British government and the city of London in the twentieth century (Cambridge, 2004).

32 Dilke, Charles, Greater Britain: a record of travel in English-speaking countries (New York, NY, 1869), pp. 206–7. For more on Dilke, see Gwynn, Stephen M. and Tuckwell, Gertrude, Sir Charles W. Dilke (2 vols., London, 1917); and Nicholls, David, The lost prime minister: a life of Sir Charles Dilke (London, 1995).

33 See also Dunn, Waldo Hilary, James Anthony Froude: a biography (2 vols., Oxford, 1961–3); Thompson, Walter, James Anthony Froude on nation and empire: a study in Victorian racialism (London, 1998); Markus, Julia, J. Anthony Froude: the last undiscovered great Victorian (New York, NY, 2005); Bell, Duncan, ‘Republican imperialism: J. A. Froude and the virtue of empire’, History of Political Thought, 30 (2009), pp. 166–91; and Bell, Idea of Greater Britain, ch. 5.

34 May, Ernest R., American imperialism: a speculative essay (Chicago, IL, 1991: orig. edn, 1967), pp. 129–30, 155, 171, 184, 205. For more on Seeley, see especially Bell, Duncan, ‘Unity and difference: John Robert Seeley and the political theology of international relations’, Review of International Studies, 31 (2005), pp. 559–79; Wormell, Deborah, Sir John Seeley and the uses of history (Cambridge, 1980); Jones, H. S., Victorian political thought (Basingstoke, 2000), pp. 55–9; and Deudney, Daniel, ‘Greater Britain or greater synthesis? Seeley, Mackinder, and Wells on Britain in the global industrial era’, Review of International Studies, 27 (2001), pp. 187208.

35 Rawson W. Rawson, at the inaugural presidential address of the Statistical Society of London in 1884, argued that Britain's greatness came primarily from its colonial possessions, tied together through Anglo-Saxon kinship. He also called for a ‘fixed and unwavering policy … that England and her Colonies are “one and indivisible”’. Rawson, Rawson W., ‘British and foreign colonies’, Journal of the Statistical Society of London, 47 (1884), p. 583.

36 Greswell, William, ‘Imperial federation’, in The five best essays on imperial federation submitted to the London Chamber of Commerce for their prize competition, and recommended for publication by the judges: J. Anthony Froude, Professor J. R. Seeley, M. A., and Sir Rawson W. Rawson (London, 1887), p. 2; Mill, John Stuart, Considerations on representative government (London, 1861), p. 324.

37 Greswell, ‘Imperial federation’, pp. 3–5.

38 Ibid., pp. 9, 11–12.

39 C. V. Smith, ‘Imperial federation: suggestions as to the mode in which it can be carried into effect’, in Five best essays, pp. 128, 129, 140, 158.

40 Young, Frederick, On the political relations of mother countries and colonies (London, 1883), p. 16.

41 Parkin, George Robert, Imperial federation: the problem of national unity (London, 1892), p. 304.

42 Hadley, Arthur T., ed., Adam Smith's essay on colonies (New York, NY, and London, 1901), p. vi.

43 Bowen, George Ferguson, ‘The federation of the British empire’, Proceedings of the Royal Colonial Institute, 17 (1885–6), p. 295; Bousfield, William, The government of the empire: a consideration of means for the representation of the British colonies in an imperial parliament (London, 1877), p. 19; Barker, J. Ellis, Great and Greater Britain: the problems of motherland and empire, political naval, military, industrial, financial, social (New York, NY, 1910), p. 75; Cheng, Schemes for federation, pp. 198, 217.

44 Rae, John, Life of Adam Smith (London, 1895), pp. 281–2; Knorr, British colonial theories, pp. 187–8.

45 Howe, Free trade and liberal England, pp. 214–15, 218. See for example Davidson, John, Commercial federation and colonial trade policy (London, 1900), pp. 14, 75. New Zealand and South Africa thereafter instituted imperial preferential policies in 1903, followed by Australia in 1908.

46 Cunningham, William, The rise and decline of the free trade movement (London, 1904), preface, pp. 151–2, 158; Cunningham, William, Richard Cobden and Adam Smith (London, 1904), pp. 3, 17. For more on Cunningham, see also Koot, English historical economics, ch. 7.

47 Jefferis, James, The federation of the British people: a lecture delivered April 15th, at the opening of the forty-second yearly session of the North Adelaide Young Men's Society (Adelaide, 1901), pp. 4, 14.

48 Ibid., p. 16.

49 Miller, E. Morris, Some phases of preference in imperial policy (Melbourne, 1911), pp. 4, 12, 11. Andrew Wyatt-Walter has made a similar argument in ‘Adam Smith and the liberal tradition in international relations’, Review of International Studies, 22 (J1996), pp. 5–28.

50 Miller, Some phases, pp. 5, 2, 4. This Cobdenite logic was of course quite in keeping with Smith's proposal for imperial decolonization.

51 Ibid., pp. 28–9, 22–3. For Deakin's support of Chamberlain, see also La Nauze, J. A., Alfred Deakin: a biography (Melbourne, 1979), pp. 475514; Howe, Free trade and liberal England, p. 241. Similarly, B. R. Wise, once a strong Australian advocate of free trade, became the spokesman of the Australian Preferential League, a Chamberlain supporter, and even suggested that Cobden was no ‘Little Englander’, but if alive would have supported Chamberlain's reforms. See B. R. Wise, ‘Preferential trade’, 21 Nov. 1903, Sydney, State Library of New South Wales, B. R. Wise papers, 1879–1915, ML MSS 6107, vol. 6, box 2, fo. 12; B. R. Wise, ‘Cobden's imperial policy’, London Times, 28 Dec. 1905; Pall Mall Gazette, 23 Oct. 1905, p. 3; and Howe, Free trade and liberal England, p. 241.

52 Chamberlain, quoted in the London Times, 1 Aug. 1889, p. 6; Quinalt, Roland, ‘John Bright and Joseph Chamberlain’, Historical Journal, 28 (1985), pp. 623–46.

53 Howe, Free trade and liberal England, pp. 222, 230.

54 Although, fortunately for the latter, the British economy underwent a rapid recovery in the middle of the first decade of the twentieth century, severely impeding Chamberlain's protectionist movement. Correspondingly, various Liberal Unionists (inter al., the duke of Devonshire and Goschen) became Unionist free traders after 1903.

55 For the British empire's long Tariff Reform movement, see Brown, Tariff Reform movement; Zebel, Sydney H., ‘Joseph Chamberlain and the genesis of Tariff Reform’, Journal of British Studies, 7 (1967), pp. 131–57; Porter, D., ‘Joseph Chamberlain and the origins of the Tariff Reform movement’, Moirae, 3 (1978), pp. 17; Green, E. H. H., ‘Radical conservatism: the electoral genesis of Tariff Reform’, Historical Journal, 28 (1985), pp. 667–92; Green, E. H. H., The crisis of Conservatism: the politics, economics and ideology of the British Conservative party, 1880–1914 (London and New York, NY, 1995); Howe, Free trade and liberal England; Palen, ‘Protection, federation and union’; Palen, ‘Conspiracy of free trade’, ch. 8; Matthew, The liberal imperialists, esp. pp. 100–1, 166–7; Trentmann, ‘Transformation of fiscal reform’; Rogers, ‘United States and the fiscal debate’; Coats, A. W., ‘Political economy and the Tariff Reform campaign of 1903’, Journal of Law and Economics, 11 (1968), pp. 181229; Semmel, Bernard, Imperialism and social reform: English social imperial thought, 1895–1914 (London, 1960), p. 124; Fraser, Peter, ‘Unionism and Tariff Reform: the crisis of 1906’, Historical Journal, 5 (1962), pp. 149–66; Cain, P. J., ‘Political economy in Edwardian England: the Tariff Reform controversy’, in O'Day, A., ed., The Edwardian age: conflict and stability, 1900–1914 (London, 1979); Rempel, Richard A., Unionists divided: Arthur Balfour, Joseph Chamberlain and the unionist free traders (Hamden, CT, 1972); Amery, Julian, Joseph Chamberlain and the Tariff Reform campaign (The life of Joseph Chamberlain, vols. v and vi (New York, NY, 1969); Sykes, Alan, Tariff Reform in British politics, 1903–1913 (New York, NY, 1980); Sykes, Alan, ‘The confederacy and the purge of the unionist free traders, 1906–1910’, Historical Journal, 18 (1975), pp. 349–66; Fraser, Peter, Joseph Chamberlain: radicalism and empire, 1868–1914 (London, 1966); Thompson, Andrew S., ‘Tariff Reform: an imperial strategy, 1903–1913’, Historical Journal, 40 (1997), pp. 1033–54; Brooks, David, The age of upheaval: Edwardian politics, 1899–1914 (Manchester, 1995); Marrison, British business and protection; and Rixford Kinney Snyder, The tariff problem in Great Britain, 1918–1923 (Stanford, CA, 1944).

56 Garvin, James Louis, ‘The economics of empire’, National Review, 42 (1903), p. 5.

57 James Louis Garvin, ‘The maintenance of empire: a study in the economics of power’, in Charles Sydney Goldman, ed., The empire and the century: a series of essays on imperial problems and possibilities by various writers (London, 1905), pp. 83–5. For more on Garvin and ‘constructive imperialism’, see Cain, P. J., ‘The economic philosophy of constructive imperialism’, in Navari, Cornelia, ed., British politics and the spirit of the age: political concepts in action (Keele, 1996).

58 Brisbane Courier, 14 Jan. 1905, p. 4.

59 Garvin, ‘Economics of empire’, p. 5; Amery, Leopold, The fundamental fallacies of free trade (London, 1908), p. 197; Duke of Westminster, ‘Practical imperialism’, Nineteenth Century, 72 (1912), pp. 876–7. Charles E. T. Stuart-Linton laid out his scheme for imperial federation during this period, also invoking Adam Smith as inspiration. Stuart-Linton noted as well that the difficulties of his day that ‘seemed to stand in the way of these ideas’ had been removed owing to the development of ‘modern inventions’. Stuart-Linton, Charles E. T., The problem of empire governance (London, 1912), pp. 15, 154.

60 Nicholson, J. Shield, ‘Tariffs and international commerce’, in White, A. S., ed., Britannic confederation (London, 1892), p. 122.

61 London Times, 15 Aug. 1903, p. 4, 31 Oct. 1903, p. 9; Coats, ‘Political economy and the Tariff Reform campaign of 1903’, p. 214; Wood, John Cunningham, British economists and the empire (London and Canberra, 1983), pp. 153–61.

62 J. Shield Nicholson, introduction to Friedrich List, The national system of political economy, trans. Sampson S. Lloyd (London, 1904; orig. edn, 1885), pp. xxvi–xxvii. Koot even places Nicholson, albeit with caveats, in the English ‘historical economist’ camp and briefly touches upon his imperial project. Koot, English historical economics, pp. 155–9.

63 Nicholson, J. Shield, A project of empire: a critical study of the economics of imperialism, with special reference to the ideas of Adam Smith (London, 1909), pp. xxi. For criticism of Nicholson's nationalist-imperialist interpretation, see especially Knorr, British colonial theories, pp. 187–94.

64 F. S. Oliver, ‘Mr. Shield Nicholson's “project of empire”’, London Times, 5 Jan. 1910, p. 5.

65 Howe, Free trade and liberal England, pp. 280–1; Wood, British economists, p. 116.

66 Trentmann, Free trade nation; Trentmann, ‘The strange death of free trade: the erosion of the “liberal consensus” in Britain, c. 1903–1932’, in Eugenio F. Biagini, ed., Citizenship and community: liberals, radicals, and collective identities in the British isles, 1865–1931 (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 219–50; Howe, Free trade and liberal England, ch. 8; Young, Ralph A., ‘British imperial preference and the American tariff’, Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 141 (1929), pp. 204–11.

67 Knorr, British colonial theories, p. 187. In 1928, for example, C. R. Fay, professor of economic history at the University of Toronto, now portrayed Adam Smith as a ‘liberal imperialist’. Fay, C. R., Great Britain from Adam Smith to the present day (London, 1928), p. 3.

* I am grateful to Anthony Howe, Duncan Bell, and the journal's anonymous referees for their helpful comments and suggestions, to International Security Studies, Yale University, for its support, and to the 2013 British Scholar Conference attendees for their feedback.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

The Historical Journal
  • ISSN: 0018-246X
  • EISSN: 1469-5103
  • URL: /core/journals/historical-journal
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *

Related content

Powered by UNSILO


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed