First Advisor

Thomas M. Luckett

Term of Graduation

Spring 2022

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History







Physical Description

1 online resource (iv, 104 pages)


The purpose of this work is to trace the genesis of doux commerce from its origins as a social phenomenon, to its employment as a political theory in the Spirit of the Laws by the Enlightenment philosophe Montesquieu, to its implementation by entities globally in the aftermath. The study will seek to determine the importance of doux commerce to the evolutionary progression of societies and their economies during the eighteenth century, its role in the dissolution of mercantilism, and its position in the rise of free trade and industrial capitalism during the nineteenth century. The concept has only recently been given attention in the historiography by academicians beginning in the late twentieth century and has yet to receive an appropriate and multilayered consideration. Numerous scholarly exertions from the early modern and modern periods were consulted to formulate this corpus. Additionally, several letter books containing the epistolary correspondence of merchants were researched to highlight the virtuous nature of this system, its intersection amidst economic, social, and political landscapes, and the sheer breadth of knowledge required to succeed in commercial activity. The effort begins with a discussion of doux commerce from social to political and the governmental forms that could either be hospitable or hostile to its tenets and practitioners. Subsequently, a discussion of business manuals and occupational tutelage was needed to discern precisely how the beliefs of doux commerce were instilled in commercial actors. The usage of merchant letters as case studies underscores the values of this ethos and its dissemination by transatlantic merchants in the mid-to-late eighteenth century. The final portion of this labor reveals how laissez-faire intellectuals entwined doux commerce in their speeches and scholarship to advocate for peaceable international relations via the application of free market principles. Doux commerce as a species of economic activity and a commercial ethos, it was argued, positively affected individuals, businesses, and nations by imparting its adherents with an altruistic egalitarianism. The conduct of the mercantile order, it was further hoped, would tangibly alter the sensibilities of their respective societies, and function to upend traditional notions of societal hierarchies. Doux commerce was fused with the literary efforts and discourses of sociopolitical intellectuals during the late eighteenth and early-to-mid nineteenth centuries. Its propagation at economic, social, and political levels and the support of peace through free trade destabilized the Establishment and eroded the position of those who had historically benefitted from mercantilism. The theory of doux commerce accompanied a fundamental transformation at economic, social, and political levels, one that emphasized the inefficiencies of mercantilism and helped to generate the necessary environment for commercial republicanism, industrial capitalism, and harmonious international relations to flourish.


© 2022 Adam W. Saltzman

In Copyright. URI: This Item is protected by copyright and/or related rights. You are free to use this Item in any way that is permitted by the copyright and related rights legislation that applies to your use. For other uses you need to obtain permission from the rights-holder(s).

Persistent Identifier