The American colonies were founded in a century in which England developed highly significant ideas of representation. At the beginning of the seventeenth century, the power of the Throne in England was great. By the middle of the century, the Crown had been temporarily banished, and by the end of the century, Parliament had become supreme and modern "representative government" had begun. There were two great losing causes in the century, that of the Crown and that of the propertyless classes. The third force, Parliament, reflecting the dominance of the commercial classes leagued with rural Dissenters, emerged for a period of supremacy without interruption (save by George III) until its own intellectuals, the Radicals and the Fabian Socialists, turned upon it and organization of the poorer classes became a reality.
A single chapter cannot hope to explain the general movements of the two centuries after Elizabeth. But historians are generally agreed that Mercantilism, the alliance of government, capitalists, and adventurers, was the prevailing economic and social influence of the period up to the American Revolution. With this, though begun earlier, went an overlapping of economic liberalism, free enterprise, and dislike of government intervention. After the loss of the American colonies, the spirit of laissez-faire predominated in the government, at least to the extent that the commercial and industrial interests were not severely constrained by state activities. By the late nineteenth century, the business interests had begun to worry again.