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Consumer Revolution

Consumer Revolution

From 1600 to 1750, Europe, especially England, enacted policies, created trade routes, and protected markets connected directly to their colonies in the Americas. This triangular trade network resulted in enormous wealth for these nations, giving them more power on the world stage. The consumer revolution was one of the most significant results of the triangular trade system. What was the consumer revolution? Why was it necessary? What was the consumer revolution’s effect on the colonies? And how did capitalism influence it?

Consumer Revolution of the 18th Century Definition

Triangular Trade established a conveyor belt system whose result was wealth for Europe and cheap finished goods. In its simplest form: colonies produced raw materials such as cotton, tobacco, timber, indigo, minerals, ore, and animal products. These raw materials were then shipped to Europe and produced into finished goods such as clothing, furniture, textiles, weapons, and other commodities. These finished goods were then shipped and sold to either African markets for slaves or Asian markets or back to the colonial population. The more colonial territory a nation controlled, the greater access to raw materials; thus, that nation could produce more. By the time the network was firmly established in the early 1700s, it was almost a self-fulfilling system.

Consumer Revolution: From approximately 1600 to the mid-1700s, European nations, especially England, saw an increase in the production, consumption, and variety of commodities by a growing diversity of people. The consumer revolution changed the societal tradition of scarcity to one influenced by mass consumption.

A consequence of the triangular trade system is the consumer revolution. As the system became more efficient, finished commodities and luxury goods became less expensive. This opened up the opportunity for different people to purchase these goods. These cheaper goods created a growing middle class in both Europe and the colonies made up of merchants, manufacturers, shopkeepers, and intermediaries, who would, in turn, also purchase these goods.

The Consumer Revolution / Map of Triangular Trade / StudySmarterFig. 1 - This map shows a simplified representation of the triangular trade network between Europe, Africa, and the Americas

In addition to a growing middle class, the consumer revolution created a new socio-economic class of “gentry” in colonial life. To be a member of this class, one copied the lifestyle of European aristocrats, a life of refinement and freedom of labor. In Europe, it was called the “genteel” life. In the colonies, this class was the merchants, plantation owners, and other wealthier elite who had accumulated wealth through their markets and could now purchase the commodities that “fit their station” in colonial life produced in England.

The graphic below exemplifies how this revolution affected the colonies and England and grew a middle and upper class:

The Consumer Revolution / Flow of Goods and Commerce in the 1700s / StudySmarterFig. 2 - This graphic shows the flow of commercial goods and commodities that fueled the Consumer revolution of the 18th century. The author created the graphic.

The Consumer Revolution: Causes

The leading cause of the consumer revolution was the increase in demand for fashionable and luxury goods. Growing wealth in the colonies created this demand, more so than the goods becoming less expensive. Where did this wealth in the colonies come from?

  • Mercantilism: In the early 1600s, England created a protected mercantile system of trade and economics. The colonies would produce raw materials solely to sell to England's markets. Policies such as the Navigation Acts protected these markets from international interference. This created a network of specialized trade of materials to England and goods shipped back to America, which made the foundation for a merchant class in America to profit from this trade.
  • Early Industrialization: England began introducing more mechanized manufacturing in the early to mid-1700s. This allowed English merchants and manufacturers to produce more goods at lower prices. This created more goods and allowed these merchants to make more profit, increasing production and purchasing luxury goods for themselves.
  • Growing Middle and Upper Class: As the colonies became more productive and profitable, socio-economic classes emerged. The first generation of the wealthy elite mainly were wealthy immigrants who arrived in the Americas with their wealth established. As new markets opened up with products such as rice, cotton, timber, and other goods, a new class of wealthy merchants in America grew. These new “elite” looked to emulate the wealthy aristocracy of Europe and used their newfound wealth to purchase luxury goods to match. This opened a new market and significantly increased the demand for luxury goods.

Consumer Revolution: Effects

The effects of the consumer revolution are socio-economic and historical, and political. Many of the impacts created unforeseen issues within American culture, England, and America in the late 1700s.

Socioeconomic Effects:

  • It grew the wealth gap between the rich and the poor in America.

  • An expanding genteel class created a new demand for enslaved labor as middle-class and upper-class families expanded their properties and wanted servant work.

  • It created a form of “proto” capitalism quickly adopted by the colonies and influenced many wealthy merchants to protest any economic policies restricting their trade.

  • The trade of goods also established the exchange of ideas, tastes, and fads between England and America, reinforcing the colonies' Anglican beliefs and cultural institutions.

  • It created a market for printed commodities such as newspapers and pamphlets, adding to the spread of shared ideas and tastes.

The Consumer Revolution / Mid-1700s decor and furniture / StudySmarterFig. 3- This room in the California Palace of the Legion of Honor is modeled after and decorated with textiles and furniture during the Consumer Revolution (the 1740s to 1760s)

  • From this upper class came two groups: the wealthy merchants who would adopt the Patriot cause during the American Revolution and the Loyalists in America who sought to keep the economic ties to England and the system that made them wealthy.

  • The increased wealth in the colonies created a new source of tax revenue that England would begin to exploit in the 1750s, 60s, and 70s.

  • The solid economic connections between America and England created a divisive climate over the Patriot movement for independence in America. They led to more economic and policy issues between the United States and Britain following the American Revolutionary War.

One of the significant influences of the consumer revolution was its effect on American society. With mass consumption came the displays of wealth in society to show your economic status. This opulence was once seen as distasteful, but that changed during the consumer revolution. It became more acceptable to display the variety of consumed commodities such as silks, furniture, and clothing.

Another significant change was in the standard of living in the colonies. The consumer revolution significantly increased the average standard of living. In addition, the increase in wealth connected to the consumer revolution created a new system of lines of credit for merchants to import more goods and for the middle and upper classes to purchase goods.

The final significant influence of the consumer revolution was its impact on the slave trade. The demand for more goods and materials and increased wealth in the colonies multiplied the demand for enslaved labor in America. African slaves would be imported to meet the market demands for raw materials such as rice, indigo, tobacco, cotton, and sugar while also imported as enslaved labor for the growing middle and upper class.

The Consumer Revolution - Key takeaways

  • Triangular Trade established a conveyor belt system whose result was wealth for Europe and cheap finished goods.
  • From approximately 1600 to the mid-1700s, European nations, especially England, saw an increase in the production, consumption, and variety of commodities by a growing diversity of people.
  • The consumer revolution changed the societal tradition of scarcity to one influenced by mass consumption.
  • The leading cause of the consumer revolution was increased demand for fashionable and luxury goods, mercantilism, early industrialization, growing middle and upper class.
  • The effects of the consumer revolution are socio-economic and historical, and political. Many of the impacts created unforeseen issues within American culture, England, and America in the late 1700s.
  • One of the significant influences of the consumer revolution was its effect on American society. Mass consumption led to displays of wealth in society related to economic status.
  • During the consumer revolution it became more acceptable to display the variety of consumed commodities such as silks, furniture, and clothing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Consumer Revolution

From approximately 1600 to the mid-1700s, European nations, especially England, saw an increase in the production, consumption, and variety of commodities by a growing diversity of people. The consumer revolution changed the societal tradition of scarcity to one influenced by mass consumption 

One of the significant influences of the consumer revolution was its effect on American society. Another significant change was in the standard of living in the colonies.   The final significant influence of the consumer revolution was its impact on the slave trade. 

The effects of the consumer revolution are socio-economic and historical, and political. Many of the impacts will create unforeseen issues within American culture and England and America in the late 1700s.  

It created a form of “proto” capitalism that was quickly adopted by the colonies and influenced many wealthy merchants to protest any economic policies that restricted their trade. 

Mercantilism, industrialization, and a growing middle and upper class in the colonies.

Final Consumer Revolution Quiz

Question

__________ created a flow of goods and commodities that resulted in great wealth for Europe and cheap goods. 

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Answer

Triangular Trade

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Question

What was the "new" socio-economic class created by the Consumer revolution? 

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Answer

The Colonial Gentry was modeled on the European Aristocracy. 

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Question

Which of the following was not a cause of the Consumer Revolution? 

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Answer

The shrinking lower class

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Question

The _______ were laws passed by England to protect its mercantile system. 

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Answer

The Navigation Acts

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Question

The Consumer Revolution created an early form of what modern economic system? 

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Answer

Capitalism 

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Question

True or False:

The Consumer Revolution saw growing wealth for most American colonists. 

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Answer

False

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Question

An unintended consequence of the consumer revolution was that with the need for more goods, came a need for more labor, thus a need for more________. 

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Answer

African enslaved peoples in the Americas. 

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Question

What two competing factions of the American Revolution would be created from the elite socio-economic class of the Consumer Revolution? 

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Answer

The Patriots and the Loyalists. 

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Question

Other than goods, the trade of _______ reinforced the social connections to England in the colonies. 

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Answer

ideas

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Question

How did England react to the growing wealth in the American colonies? 

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Answer

They saw the wealth as a new form of revenue to tax. 

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