Esther Sahle (Bremen) The Quaker Meeting as a Court of Equity: Contract Enforcement in Colonial Philadelphia, 1692-1772
Philadelphia was founded in 1682. By the 1750s, it had developed into North America’s primary port. According to New Institutional Economics, the precondition for long-distance trade expansion are strong institutions for property rights protection. However, in Philadelphia, the courts sat only irregularly, and the literature agrees that the political and legal environment was unstable and insecure. How then, do we explain the growth of Philadelphia’s trade? This paper argues that the Quaker meeting facilitated trade by enforcing property rights through commercial dispute mediation. Quaker meetings in London did not provide this service, hence it was not a European import. Rather, I argue that Philadelphia Quaker meeting introduced this practice as a response to the colony’s institutionally weak environment. Using the minutes of Philadelphia monthly meeting from 1682-1772, I show first, that commercial conflict mediation was one of the meeting’s primary concerns during periods of political turmoil. The practice gradually disappeared after the courts improved from about 1720 onwards. Second, analyzing c. 40,000 pages of correspondence by Philadelphia Quaker merchants, I show that the meeting was regarded as the legal forum of choice for contract enforcement during times of crisis. The paper thus contributes to explaining the development of institutions for property rights protection and growth in general, and the institutions determining colonial economic development.
- Zeit: 15-17 Uhr c.t.
- Ort: Historicum, Raum K 201