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In the later seventeenth century, material progress was first identified in England as a recent achievement with boundless future promise, and it was welcomed despite fears about the threats that it was perceived to present to national and personal well-being. The article investigates the roots of that confidence, and finds them in political economy and other intellectual developments that shaped interpretations of changing standards of living. The civic and moral ‘challenge of affluence’ was fully recognized but never resolved. Progress was accepted, and had to be defended in war-time, as the route to general happiness, ‘ease’, and plenty.