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No. Ill

The Old Colonial



Publishers to the Victoria University of Manchester

Manchester : 27 St. Ann Street

London : 65 Long Acre

The Old Colonial
System -


Lecturer on Constitutional Law


or THE






IN 1902 I published a sketch of "English Public Opinion
after the Restoration," and it seemed natural to follow the
colonising ideals of that period into a subsequent age of
more self-conscious empire. I found an additional incentive
in courses of lectures on the rise of Greater Britain and
kindred topics, which I have given during the last few years
in various parts of Lancashire and Cheshire in connection
with the University Extension scheme of the Manchester
University. One feature, which has characterised every
audience with whom I have come in contact, is a complete
misunderstanding of the old colonial system.

That system was in truth marked by many faults in theory
and practice, and in the ensuing pages, it will, I trust, be
seen how unfitted it was to sustain a great empire without
radical amendment. Yet it is wrong to regard the policy
under which Greater Britain evolved, and for which most
English statesmen f rom Cromwell to Chatham strained every
effort, as selfish fatuity, unworthy of the race. In the
United States, this superficial view is no longer deemed a
necessary tenet for the patriotic, and the circumstances
under which the War of Independence arose have been
approached in a truly scientific spirit, but in our own
country, a traditional Whiggism still permeates most popular

The genesis of the present volume lies in my desire to
treat the question in a more impartial manner, and in my
concern at the exasperating prevalence of this misconcep-
tion of imperial history. Since I first studied the subject


as an undergraduate of Lincoln College, I have tried to
dissociate discussion of the controversies of the past from the
political partisanship of the present.

The materials which I have used are sufficiently indicated
by the footnotes. I have had access to the numerous tracts
and pamphlets therein referred to, in the Bodleian, in the
Manchester University Library, and in the Manchester Free
Reference Library. In regard to the due choice and
appreciation of authorities, and to the general handling of
the theme, I am greatly indebted to Professor Tout. His
criticisms have made me aware how hard it is even to try to
epitomise a vast subject in the compass of a single volume.
I also owe thanks to Mr. J. A. Doyle of All Souls' College,
Oxford, for valuable suggestions.


October, 1905.



Introduction ... ... ... ... ... ... ix.

Great Britain and the Seven Years' War ... ... i

Pitt's Influence as Minister ... ... ... ... 23

The Old Colonial Theory ... ... ... ... 37

Dialectics on the Question of Taxation ... ... 70

British Feeling towards America in 1775 ... ... 91

Chatham and Burke ... ... ... ... ... 105

" United Empire " Loyalty 118

The War Spirit in England 1775-1783 131

Britain's Conduct of the War ... ... ... ... 155

Colonial Theory in 1783 ... 187

" Hands Across the Sea " 199

Lessons of the American Revolution 210


THE present work is intended to weigh the causes,
character and results of Great Britain's old colonial
system. It is proposed to examine the popular conception
of the uses of empire during those portions of the reigns
of George II. and George III., when that system reached
its zenith. In this respect, the ideas which led the nation
to choose its distinctive imperial policy, and to embark
upon the two wars of the period will be dealt with at
greater length than the actual details of any legislation
or campaigns. Such details are ascertainable exactly and
are familiar to the world, but on the other hand there can
be infinite variety in representations of public opinion. It
is however probable that this subject is characterised by
unity, that the contrast between the Britain of 1756 and
the Britain of 1775 is only superficial, that cleavage from
America was due to no sudden accident of haphazard
impolicy, and that there is nothing to dissociate the
statesmanship which directed Wolfe to strike at Quebec,
and Hawke at Quiberon, from that which allowed
Burgoyne to drift to Saratoga, and Cornwallis to Yorktown.
In each case the national aim was the maintenance of the
same imperial ideal, and only the concurrence of colonial
with British interests in the Seven Years' War disabled
the politicians of the time from betraying that their ideal
had feet of clay. At all events, the forces in English life,
which made the struggle with France so popular and
successful under Pitt, led obviously to the policy that
culminated in the War of Independence; and for this


reason we propose to review the nature of that struggle
and the character of Pitt's own statesmanship before
dealing at length with the theory of colonial government,
which ruled British aspirations until the American

A topic like that which is indicated above hardly needs
an apology. The growth of our dominions over sea is
now deemed the chief feature in the modern history of
Great Britain, and as statesmanship rarely comes by
instinct, those who interest themselves in the politics of
the present day are willing to study every aspect of the
annals of the past. Most experiments are at least instruc-
tive, and we cannot be too well acquainted with the
virtues and defects of the old colonial system, under which
our country won North America and lost the United
States. In this volume therefore after discussing the
tendency in British political thought which animated the
ardour for the Seven Years' War, and which created the
colonial ideals of the time, we shall investigate more closely
England's attempt to organise what she had won.

Such an investigation leads directly to a survey of the
British standpoint during the conflict with the colonies
over the Stamp Act, and during the Revolution itself.
History should be free from passion if not from partisan-
ship, and it is surely possible to view the theories upon
which England's case rested without heat. It is suggested
that those theories had a far more general acceptance in
the country than has often been alleged by critics of the
government then actually in office, and that they followed
naturally upon the conquest of Canada. There was no
cataclysm whatever in the evolution of the old colonial

The last portion of this work is concerned with the
reaction in British imperial theory after 1783, and with


other results of the downfall of the lately triumphant
school of political thought. It is possible that men hardly
realise how accurately the colonial ideas of the Manchester
economists were anticipated by the disputants who wrote
in the morning of the "laisser f aire " era. The closing
chapter attempts to sketch how far their contentions
embraced the true lessons of the fall of the old colonial

Throughout this book, the materials are derived from
the immense storehouses of the writings of the day,
rather than from more modern commentaries. However
inadequate, the picture of Britain's conception of its
mission in the world in the eighteenth century is drawn
from the versions given by its own exponents. Pamphlet
and tract are often as illustrative of popular beliefs as the
speech of a minister or the text of a statute, and they give
freshness and light to historical narrative. The chapters
which describe the old colonial theory and the character
of British opinion during the years 1765 to 1783, are
especially based upon the voluminous polemical literature
of that age of controversy. Under such circumstances,
there is perhaps a danger of losing the bold outlines of the
general theme under a mass of incidental detail, but it is
hoped that the ensuing effort to keep the nature of the
colonial scheme of the day always before the reader's eye
will conquer the difficulties inherent to all subjects, which
enjoy innumerable authorities.

The Old Colonial


Canada the Indians were drawn by tactful diplomacy into
a valuable alliance, which made the 1 French "coureur de
bois" a master of woodcraft and an adept in forest warfare.
The Jesuits mastered the Iroquois tongue in order to con-
vince their hearers. Moreover, the Canadians were united
under the despotism of their Intendants, and knew nothing/
of the religious and racial feuds which split Greater Britain
".jfoto incong^qu? and weakened units. 2 Less hampered
than the British .colonists by economic restraints, and
/enfe'ly : :free: from': the toils of party government, the
hunters and trappers of French North America were able
to make a bold bid for supremacy at the beginning of their
last struggle against England. Lord Chancellor Hardwicke
said justly in 1755 that "'the oldest man livin S never saW
such a scene. 'Tis a time of great thoughtfulness and


In 1754 the French had descended upon the
beyond the Blue Ridge held by the Six Nations and
claimed as British territory by the English Ohio Company,
which had been founded in 1748 to exploit over half a
million acres lying chiefly to the north of that river,
occupation had never been effective, and the invaders
mastered the Ohio valley. Fort Duquesne was built
July 1754 Fort Necessity fell. A year later General
Braddock led an army of regulars and colonials into an
ambuscade ten miles from Fort Duquesne, where two
hundred of his men were killed and four hundred wounde
He himself died of wounds, and no fewer than sixty-eigh
of his officers fell. He had handled his men with a dif

1 Gent. Mag. (1755), p. 436; Charlevoix' Journal of a Voyage to North

America (1761), i. 123; Kalm's Travels (1772), ii. 379; Pownall i
Administration of Brit. Colonies (1774), ii. 187.

2 Sensible Observations on General Commerce (1737), p. 6:

3 Harris's Hardwicke (1847), iii. 37.


astrous contempt for colonial methods of forest warfare.
An attempt to take Fort Ticonderoga also failed. In May
1T56 England formally declared war, but the government
was inefficient and slow, and the colonies were backward
with assistance. i"I dread to hear from America," Pitt
wrote to Gren ville in June 1756, and in August the French cap-
tured Oswego with a hundred guns and took sixteen hundred
prisoners. In Europe Minorca was lost, and early in 1T57
Byng was shot for not having saved it; but the example
failed to turn the tide of the war. Notwithstanding Pitt's
advent to power and the greater zeal of the new govern-
ment, Loudon failed to take Louisburg in August 1757,
and the fall and massacre of Fort William Henry took
place in the same month. In September Cumberland
was forced to conclude the convention of Closterseven.

Certain inherent defects in the state of Greater France
helped to save England's colonies. Canada had not the
solid basis of a successful settlement. Its inhabitants
were absorbed either in missionary work among the
Indians, or in the pursuit of furs and fish, 2 " leading," in
Doctor -Johnson's words, " a laborious and necessitous life
in perpetual regret of the deliciousness and plenty of their
native country." 3 Their population was a mere fraction
of that of the British colonies, and infinitely less pros-
perous. Their capacity to settle effectually was spoilt by
feudalism and religious bigotry. They had no town life
at all, and were mentally and politically stagnant. More-
over, there was no force in France to neutralise such
sources of weakness in America. King and nobles
looked exclusively upon the Continent as the proper field
for their warlike ambitions, and the colonial struggle was

1 Grenville Papers (ed. 1852), i. 165.

2 Introduction to the Political State of Great Britain (1774), p. 41.

3 Charlevoix' Journal (1761), i. 113.


noticed only with a dull apathy. Since Colbert's day,
Canada had been to the French nation no more than a
waste of snow.

In contrast with such indifference, there were several
tendencies in English public opinion at the time, which
led directly to the popularity of a war for empire over
sea. In the first place, social life was dominated by com-
mercialism, and this spirit made men believe in the efficacy
of wars of trade. National policy was governed by trade
considerations, and in the light of contemporary economics,
such considerations pointed towards colonial aggrandise-
ment, and gave England a predisposition to meet the
crisis in America in a manner worthy of a fighting race.
All observers of British ideas at this time agree as to the
strength of this mercantile war spirit, and to pessimists it
was even a source of misgiving. They argued that the
fruits of England's wars fell to the prudent not to the
brave, and that to play the part of a modern Carthage was
fatal. Wealth had no saving virtue on the day of battle,
and the custom of entrusting a large share in national
defence to alien mercenaries was thought ignobly character-
istic. John Brown's " Estimate of the Manners and
Principles of the Times," and John Shebbeare's "Letters
on the English Nation" painted the people as sordid,
avaricious and immoral. Self-interest certainly swayed
the corrupt and oligarchic legislature, and politics were
always discussed on a plane from which principles were
banished. The excise was opposed in 1T33, as being
imposed upon ia the sweat of the laborious brows of
brewers and distillers." Men fought avowedly for the
most material objects only. Gold ruled the aspirations of
the greatest, and India afforded many examples of its fatal

l The Excise Anatomized, by Z. G. (1733), p. 9.


power at the time, especially during the years between
1760 and 1765. The significant trail of commercialism lay
so markedly over all national thought, that even poets
delighted in the growth of manufacturing towns at the
expense of the country districts. Thus John Dyer, in
" The Fleece," says of the aspect of ancient Carthage,

1 ". ... So appear

Th' increasing walls of busy Manchester,
Sheffield and Birmingham, whose redd'ning fields
Rise, and enlarge their suburbs."

Fancy loved to frolic over British markets.

2 "On Guinea's sultry strand the drap'ry light
Of Manchester and Norwich is bestowed,"

while Lancashire was said to provide

3 "The thin shading trail for Agra's nymphs."

To optimists of course, this dominance of trade motives
was something to be proud of, and certainly it showed the
practical nature of English enthusiasm, as distinguished
from the fever of French militarism, which drained the
life blood of that country to maintain the spurious glory
of Continental dominion.

Side by side with this predominance of mercantilism,
was another tendency in English life, leading towards the
popularity of wars for empire. The people were under-
going a wave of sensationalism. A love of excitement
characterised all classes, and this trait has helped to
support war policies in every age. 4 In 1741 the London
mob celebrated Yernon's exploit at Carthagena by four

1 The Fleece, by J. Dyer LL.B. (1757), p. 101.

2 ibid, p. 129.

3 ibid, p. 109.

4 Paston's Little Memoirs (1901), p. 36.


nights of orgy, in which every window that was not
illuminated was broken, and in which Westminster was
pampered by the gift of free beer. There was a general
thirst for novelty. Selwyn's impetuosity to obtain a good
view of the breaking of Damiens on the wheel at Paris led
the French crowd to make way for him as l " an English-
man and an amateur." Speculation did not end with the
South Sea bubble, when the most sober of citizens 2 " never
dreamt of less than three or four thousand a year." When
Goldsmith studied medicine at Leyden he wrote home
that 3 " the Dutch slumber, the French chatter, the English
play at cards." 4 Westminster Bridge and the British
Museum were largely built by means of the proceeds of
lotteries. In the world of fashion, the craving for excite-
ment was hardly satisfied by the most extravagant games
of chance, while the lower orders indulged in bull and
bear-baiting and cock-fights, and played football recklessly
in the streets. Naval officers were the terror of seaports.
" Good Lord ! What men ! " wrote a traveller from
Lausanne, who saw them rioting at Portsmouth in the
reign of George II. The excitable and adventurous char-
acter of British society at the time, made it very liable to
the influence of a war spirit, and a conflict for high stakes
in America and in the east offered allurement to the jaded.
A third feature in the England of that day, which gave
the nation a bias towards favouring a French war was the
state of political life. Walpole's finance had provided the
country with ample means wherewith to carry on a success-
ful struggle, while at the same time, the parliamentary

1 H. Walpole's Memoirs (ed. 1851), ii. 97.

2 James Houstoun's Works (1753), p. 119.

3 Prior's Life of Goldsmith (1837), i. 163.

4 The Lottery Displayed (1771), p. 7.

5 Letters of de Saussure (ed. 1902), p. 360.


system of intrigue and dishonesty, which he had en-
couraged, made men weary of confining public events to
the category of aristocratic wrangles. England now
sighed for something more exhilarating. She was utterly
tired of such leaders as Pelham who had no ardour, and of
Henry Fox who had no principles, of Granville who had
sunk into premature dotage, and of Newcastle the prototype
of the politically corrupt. She was weary of their lordly
cliques, of favouritism and bribery, of places and pensions.
There was indeed a great opportunity for a man of genius
to break away from the hated network of oligarchy, to
clear the public mind from the parliamentary cant, which
represented the Revolution settlement of 1689 as an ideal
constitution. The nation longed for a statesman to arise
from the ruck of office-hunters. For this reason, it cannot
be surprising to find Englishmen keenly susceptible to the
teachings of William Pitt, who emerged from this wilder-
ness of sordid egoism to preach a new Crusade a Crusade
moreover, which appealed to the already prevailing passions
of the hour. A great man fighting against the current of
public opinion rarely conquers it; swimming with the
stream, he is irresistible.

One secret of Pitt's success is that he was barely ahead
of his age. He had his contemporaries' hatred of France ;
he had their love of national aggrandisement, and their
belief in colonial trade restrictions. His character and
statesmanship are therefore particularly worthy of study,
and it is probably more important to examine his personal
view of the Seven Years' War than the views of the people
who gave him their support. However, in the present
chapter, it is proposed to ignore the Great Commoner
himself if such a course is possible and to deal with the
people only. We have to understand the nature of English
political thought while Pitt was transforming the war into
scenes of British glory.


With, the exception of two months in 1757 Pitt was chief
minister from December 1756 to October 1761, and the
successes of the remaining two years of the war were the
heritage of his administration. Nominally one of the
heads of the political clique formerly led by Pelham, but
really welcomed for the moment by all the Whig factions,
he gave the people a new interest in public affairs. The
hold of the Whig nobles upon political power was more
solid and lasting than his own personal influence, but the
glamour of success was his, if only for a day, and the
country acknowledged him the creator of its triumphs in
the war. In 1758 Senegal and Goree were conquered : in
the July of the same year, Louisburg, a great fort in Cape
Breton Island and the key of Canada, surrendered, with a
garrison of nearly six thousand men, to Amherst and
Wolfe. In the same month, Abercromby was repulsed at
Ticonderoga, but the enthusiasm at home was shared by
army and navy, and after the fall of Louisburg, Wolfe
wrote, " It is my humble opinion that the French may be
rooted out," while Amherst stated that 1<r What I wish to
do is to go to Quebec." In November 1758 Fort Duquesne
was taken at last by General Forbes and re-named
Pittsburg. In May 1759 Guadeloupe was subdued, and in
August Boscawen gained a great naval victory off Cape
Lagos in Portugal. In September Wolfe took Quebec.
Of the actual details of his generalship there is no need to
speak here, but it is worth noticing that only four days
before his death and triumph, he wrote: 2 "My constitu-
tion is entirely ruined without the consolation of having
done any considerable service to the state or without any
prospect of it." Wolfe's work was soon followed by the

1 Chatham Correspondence (ed. 1838), i. 330.

2 ibid, i. 425.


conquest of Canada. In November 1759 Hawke dashed
Conflans' fleet to pieces among the rocks of Quiberon Bay.
In Germany, English troops had done much to win the
battle of Minden in August. Before the peace of 1763
the French West Indies were reduced, while in the east,
the genius of Clive had supplanted France by England
as destined arbiter of India. In January 1762 war was
declared against Spain, and Havannah and Manila were
conquered in the autumn. By the peace of Paris of 1763
France ceded Canada, Cape Breton, St. John, Senegal,
St. Yincent, Grenada, Dominica, and Tobago to England,
and Louisiana to Spain, which in turn gave up Florida and
the right to cut timber in Honduras to Great Britain.

Nothing gains adherents for a government more speedily
than military success, and no one will wonder at the volume
of enthusiasm evoked by such a roll of victories. Pitt
found a large part of the nation already only waiting for
some break in the continuity of England's misfortunes to
become rapturous for the war, and his deft choice of good
men, and good plans of campaign in 1759 created what is
probably still the high-water mark in the history of the
spirit of militarism in Great Britain. By that time, he
had learnt the mistake of wasting resources upon unprofit-
able raids on the French coast, and he gave the people
some substantial fruits of their eagerness for conflict. The
intensity of their zeal for the colonial war was so great
that even the magnitude of the armies and subsidies
lavished upon the German struggle had come to pass
almost uncriticised.

It would however be most unfair to attribute England's
zeal during the Seven Years' War to mere intoxication
with success. As we have seen above, the general tendency
of the time lay in the direction of fighting trade rivals,
such conflicts being considered so essential to commercial


greatness that Hhe Turkey company tried to exclude a
Quaker from its councils in 1759 as professing opinions
detrimental to the waging of trade wars. Long before
1756, the people had tried to interest their government in
the cause of expansion. It was the trading class, who
forced Walpole into the Spanish war of 1739 in spite of
his love of peace and contempt for all such imperial pro-
jects as Berkeley's scheme of founding a university in
Bermuda, and the pamphlets of the day attest to the
eagerness of the nation at large to divert the aristocracy
from its absorption in domestic cabals to the larger question
of the struggle for survival in America. 2 It was urged
that all England would support a war to secure colonial
supremacy. 3 A11 our troubles were attributed to Trench
schemes to subvert our empire. While the ministry was
dallying with European diplomacy, 4 England's legs were
being hamstrung across the Atlantic. No force in the
world could withstand British infantry, and so the country
should strike at once. The only sensible policy in view of
the French depredations of 1754 was to move energetically,
argued the "Cobbler's Letter" of 1756; 5 "war, my brave
Britons, war."

Thus the spirit of battle awoke in England. 6 It was
then the vogue to pelt foreigners in London with dead
dogs and cats on Lord Mayor's day, and now the mob
assuming that all foreigners were Frenchmen, hurled in
addition the old epithet of 7 " French dog" at every

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

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