Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

But the English forefathers of the Puritan colonists had seen to it that control over direct, led to control
over indirect, taxation; and it may be assumed that the American demand for the one would, if granted,

soon have been followed by a demand for the other. In any case, reasons for separation would not have

been long in forthcoming. It was not that the old colonial system was particularly harsh or oppressive; for

the colonial producer, if restricted (nominally) to the home market, was well protected there. But the

colonists wanted complete control over their own domestic affairs. It was a natural and a thoroughly

British desire, the denial of which to-day would at once provoke the disruption of the empire; and there

was no reason to expect colonial content with a government which was not giving much satisfaction in

England. A peaceful solution was out of the question, because the governing classes, which steadily

resisted English demands for reform, were not likely to concede American demands for radical

innovations. There were no precedents for such a self-denying ordinance as the grant of colonial

self-government, and law was on the side of George III. But things that are lawful are not always

expedient, and legal justification is no proof of wisdom or statesmanship.

The English people supported George III until he had failed; but there was not much enthusiasm for the
war, except at places like Birmingham, which possessed a small-arms manufactory and other stimulants

to patriotic fervour. It was badly mismanaged by George, and Whigs did their best to hamper his efforts,

fearing, with some reason, that success in North America would encourage despotic enterprise at home.

George would, however, in all probability have won but for the intervention of France and Spain

(1778-1779), who hoped to wipe off the scores of the Seven Years' War, and for the armed neutrality of

Russia and Holland (1780), who resented the arrogant claims of the British to right of search on the high

seas. At the critical moment Britain lost the command of the sea; and although Rodney's naval victory

(1782) and the successful defence of Gibraltar (1779-1783) enabled her to obtain tolerable terms from

her European enemies, American independence had to be granted (1783). For Ireland was on the verge of

revolt, and British dominion in India was shaken to its foundations. So the two great sections of the

English people parted company, perhaps to their mutual profit. Certainly each government has now

enough to do without solving the other's problems, and it is well-nigh impossible to conceive a state

maintaining its equilibrium or its equanimity with two such partners as the British Empire and the United

States struggling for predominance within it.

Meanwhile, Warren Hastings saved the situation in India by means that were above the Oriental but
below the normal English standard of morality. He was impeached for his pains later on by the Whigs,

whose moral indignation was sharpened by resentment at the use of Anglo- Indian gold to defeat them at

the general election of 1784. Ireland was placated by the grant of legislative independence (1782), a

concession both too wide and too narrow to provide any real solution of her difficulties. It was too wide

because Grattan's parliament, as it is called, was co-ordinate with, and not subordinate to, the imperial

parliament; and there was thus no supreme authority to settle differences, which sooner or later were

bound to arise between the two. It was too narrow, because the Irish executive remained responsible to

Downing Street and not to the Irish parliament. The parliament, moreover, did not represent the Irish

people; Catholics were excluded from it, and until 1793 were denied the vote; sixty seats were in the

hands of three families, and a majority of the members were returned by pocket-boroughs. A more

hopeless want of system can hardly be imagined: a corrupt aristocracy, a ferocious commonalty, a

distracted government, a divided people - such was the verdict of a contemporary politician. At length,

after a Protestant revolt in Ulster, a Catholic rising in the south, and a French invasion, Pitt bribed and

cajoled the borough-mongers to consent to union with Great Britain (1800). Thirty-two Irish peers,

twenty-eight temporal and four spiritual, were to sit in the House of Lords, and a hundred Irish members

 

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