Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

Hudson's Bay Territories, Newfoundland, and the future provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
The trading privileges which Great Britain also secured in Spanish America both assisted the vast growth

of British commerce under Walpole's pacific rule, and provoked the war with Spain in 1739 which

helped to bring about his fall. This war, which soon merged in the war of the Austrian Succession

(1741-1748), was indecisive in its colonial aspects, and left the question of French or English

predominance in India and North America to be settled in the Seven Years' War of 1756-1763.

War, however, decides little by itself, and three of the world's greatest soldiers, Alexander, Hannibal, and
Napoleon, founded no permanent empires. An excellent servant, but a bad master, the soldier needs to be

the instrument of other than military forces if his labours are to last; and the permanence of the results of

the Seven Years' War is due less to the genius of Pitt, Wolfe, Clive, and Howe than to the causes which

laid the foundations of their achievements. The future of North America was determined not so much by

Wolfe's capture of Quebec - which had fallen into British hands before - as by the fact that before the

Seven Years' War broke out there were a million and a quarter British colonists against some eighty

thousand French. If Canada had not fallen in the Seven Years' War, it would have succumbed to British

arms in the wars of the French Revolution and Napoleon. The fate of India seemed less certain, and the

genius of Dupleix roused better hopes for France; yet India, defenceless as it was against European

forces, was bound to fall a prize to the masters of the sea, unless some European state could control its

almost impassable overland approaches. Clive, perhaps, was almost as much the brilliant adventurer as

Dupleix, but he was supported at need by an organized government more susceptible than the French

ancien régime to the pressure of commercial interests and of popular ambitions.

The conquest of Canada led to the loss of the thirteen American colonies. Their original bias towards
separation had never been eradicated, and the recurrent quarrels between the various legislatures and

their governors had only been prevented from coming to a head by fear of the Frenchmen at their gates

and disunion among themselves. Charles II and James II wanted to centralize the New England colonies

on a monarchical basis; and they began by attacking their charters in much the same way as they dealt

with the Puritan corporations of English cities and boroughs. Those of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and

Rhode Island were forfeited, and these colonies were thus provided with a grievance common to

themselves and to the mother-country. But, while the Revolution supplied a remedy at home, it did not in

the colonies. Their charters, indeed, were restored; but when the Massachusetts legislature passed a bill

similar to the Bill of Rights, the royal assent was not accorded, and the colonists remained liable to

taxation without their own consent. This theoretical right of Great Britain to tax the American colonies

was wisely left in abeyance until George Grenville's righteous soul was vexed with the thought that

colonists, for whose benefit the Seven Years' War had largely been waged, should escape contribution

towards its expenses. Walpole had reduced the duties on colonial produce and had winked at the

systematic evasion of the Navigation Acts by the colonists. Grenville was incapable of such

statesmanlike obliquity. He tried to stop smuggling; he asserted the right of the home government to

control the vast hinterland from which the colonists thought that the French had been evicted for their

particular benefit; and he passed the Stamp Act, levying internal taxation from the colonies without

consulting their legislatures.

Security from the French made the colonists think they were independent of the British, and, having an
inordinate proportion of lawyers among them, they did not lack plausible arguments. They admitted the

right of the British parliament to impose external taxes, such as customs duties, on the colonies, but

denied its right to levy internal taxation. The distinction was well established in English constitutional

history, and kings had long enjoyed powers over the customs which they had lost over direct taxation.

 

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