Defoe's Mercantilist Ordeal: Understanding the Demise of Credit and the Rise of Racism
British businessman and writer Daniel Defoe’s intellectual trajectory evolved alongside his personal history and British political and economic history. From 1719 to 1722, Defoe wrote about slavery, mercantilism, and racial ideology in his three novels, Robinson Crusoe, Captain Singleton, and Colonel Jack. Failing to conduct colonial trade and pay his debt, he ceased his business career and worked as a Tory propagandist from 1704 to 1714. On the eve of the South Sea Bubble, he published his first novel, Robinson Crusoe, which marked the start of his career as a novelist. I argue that Defoe’s failed attempt to enter the colonial economy altered his comments about credit in his political writing, which shaped his thoughts about slavery, mercantilism, and race in the three novels. I use the legal documents of Defoe’s failed trade, his Tory periodical Review, and other pamphlets, and his three novels to demonstrate the spiral development of his thoughts. Individual traders’ vulnerability smashed his fantasy of building credit on individuals’ mutual trust, forcing him to defend the network of public credit based on the nationalization of trade. Seeing the Parliament damaged the credit system during the South Sea Bubble, Defoe abolished his reliance on credit and used the racial ideology he developed from propaganda writing to establish whites’ dominance in his novels. The evolution of Defoe’s thoughts indicated the fragility of credit, the construction of racial ideology, and the connection between mercantilism and race.