Classic History Books


The History of England by A. E. Pollard

in the House of Commons. The realization of the prospect of Roman Catholic Emancipation, which had
been held out as a further consideration, was postponed by the prejudices of George III until its saving

grace had been lost. Grattan's prophecy of retribution for the destruction of Irish liberty has often been

quoted: "We will avenge ourselves," he said, "by sending into the ranks of your parliament, and into the

very heart of your constitution, one hundred of the greatest scoundrels in the kingdom"; but it is

generally forgotten that he had in mind the kind of members nominated by peers and borough-mongers to

represent them in an unreformed House of Commons.

The loss of the American colonies threw a shadow over British colonial enterprise which had some
lasting effects on the colonial policy of the mother-country. The severance did not, as is often supposed,

convince Great Britain that the grant of self-government to colonies was the only means to retain them.

But they had been esteemed mainly as markets for British exports, and the discovery that British exports

to America increased, instead of diminishing, after the grant of independence, raised doubts about the

value of colonies which explain the comparative indifference of public opinion towards them during the

next half-century. For the commercial conception of empire was still in the ascendant; and if the landed

interest controlled the domestic politics of the eighteenth century, the commercial interest determined the

outlines of British expansion. Territory was acquired or strongholds seized in order to provide markets

and guard trade communications.

From this point of view India became, after the loss of the American colonies, the dominant factor in
British external policy. The monetary value of India to the British far exceeded that of all their other

foreign possessions put together. The East India Company's servants often amassed huge fortunes in a

few years, and the influence of this wealth upon British politics became very apparent in the last quarter

of the century. It put up the price of parliamentary pocket-boroughs, and thus delayed reform; it enabled

commercial men to force their way into the House of Lords by the side of landed magnates, and the

younger Pitt doubled its numbers in his efforts to win the political support of the moneyed classes; and

finally, it affected consciously or unconsciously men's views of the interests of the empire and of the

policy to be pursued to serve them.

The half-century which followed the American War of Independence was not, indeed, barren of results in
other directions than those indicated by the East India Company. Canada was saved from the seductions

of American independence by a wise recognition of its established customs and religion (1774), and was

strengthened by the influx of United Empire Loyalists who would not bow the knee to republican

separatism. Provision was made for the government of these some what discordant elements by dividing

Canada into two provinces, one predominantly French, the other British, and giving each a legislature for

the voicing of its grievances (1791). So, too, the impulse of the Seven Years' War survived the War of

Independence in other quarters of the globe. Naval officers, released from war-like operations, were sent

to explore the Pacific; and, among them, Captain James Cook surveyed the coasts of Australia and New

Zealand (1770). The enthusiastic naturalist of the expedition, Joseph Banks, persistently sang the praises

of Botany Bay; but the new acquisition was used as a convict settlement (1788), which was hardly a

happy method of extending British civilization. The origin of Australia differed from that of New

England, in that the Pilgrim Fathers wanted to avoid the mother-country; while the mother-country

wanted to avoid the convicts; but in neither case was there any imperialism in the aversion.

India was, in fact, the chief outlet at that period for British imperial sentiment. It is true that Great Britain
laid down in solemn official language, in 1784, that the acquisition of territory was repugnant to the

principles of British government. But so had Frederick the Great begun his career by writing a refutation

 

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