A flood of wealth poured in on the discovery of the New World. The invention of gunpowder put a new face upon warfare, and that of printing made possible the cheap and wide dissemination of long-smouldering ideas. Economic problems perplexed every country, and on all sides methods of solving them were put in action. Sully, who found in Henry IV. of France an ardent supporter of his wishes for her prosperity, had altered and systematized taxes, and introduced a multitude of reforms in general administration; and later, Colbert did even more notable work. The Italian Republics had made their noble code of commercial rules and maxims. The Dutch had given to the world one of the most wonderful examples of what man may accomplish by sheer pluck and persistent hard work, and commercial institutions founded on a principle of liberty; and neither the terror of the Spanish rule nor the jealousy of England had destroyed her power. Credit, banking, all modern forms of exchange were coming into use; and agriculture, which the feudal system had kept in a state of torpor, awakened and became a productive power.
Side by side with this were gigantic speculations, like that of John Law and the East India Company, with the helpless ruin of its collapse. The time was ripe for the formulation of some system of economic laws; and two men who had long pondered them, De Gournay and Quesnay, made the first attempt to explain the meaning of wealth and its distribution. After Quesnay and his system, still holding honorable place, came Turgot; after Turgot, Adam Smith; and thenceforward halt is impossible, and economic science marches on with giant strides.
In all this progress woman had shared many of the material benefits, but her industrial position had altered but slightly. Driven from the trades, she had passed into the ranks of agricultural laborers; and Thorold Rogers, in his “Work and Wages,” records her early work in this direction. France held the most enlightened view, and even then women took active part in business, and had a position unknown in any other country; but they had no place in any system of the economists, nor did their labor count as a force to be enumerated. Slowly machinery was making its way, feared and hated by the lower order of workers, eyed distrustfully and uncertainly by the higher. Men and women struggling for bare subsistence had become active competitors, till, in 1789, a general petition entitled “Petition of Women of the Third Estate to the King” was signed by hundreds of French workers, who, made desperate by starvation and underpay, demanded that every business which included spinning, weaving, sewing, or knitting should be given to women exclusively. Side by side with the wave of political revolution, strongest for France and America, came the industrial revolution; and the opening of the nineteenth century brought with it the myriad changes we are now to face.