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which the world has ever witnessed. The English


led the way in it. ... The Dutch, French, and other
nations seized on their share of the spoil. Jamaica
and St. Domingo became complete entrepots for
smuggled commodities, whence they were transported
with ease to the continent. . . . Buenos Ayres rose
from an insignificant station to a considerable city,
merely from being the centre of the contraband traffic
between Europe and Peru. The Spaniards guarded
their coasts with an expensive maritime force, while
they resorted in the interior to the strange measure of
making smuggling an offence cognizable by the Inqui-
sition. But all such efforts were fruitless to check the
force and violence of the ordinary trade. The flotas
and galleons sank to insignificance ; and their owners
were glad to make these licensed squadrons serve
for introducing the contraband commodities of other
nations." *

Such was the culmination of the commercial system
in the instance of a nation, fitted above all others, by
extraordinary privileges of position, for realizing in an
eminent degree the benefits which that system pro-
mised, and which stopped at no interference with the
industrial freedom of its subjects, however extrava-
gant or however violent, which seemed calculated to
give to it practical effect.

Let us now turn to England, not less a stickler
than Spain for exclusive principles in commercial
policy, but differing from Spain in this respect, that
she did not command the same advantages for their
practical enforcement.

For, in the first place, there was this capital circum-

* " Colonization and the Colonies," pp. 15, 16.


stance distinguishing the colonies of England from
those of Spain : the English colonies were destitute
alike of gold and silver mines. England, therefore,
could only hope to accomplish the great end at which
all colonial legislation then aimed the augmentation
of her stock of the precious metals by indirect
methods. The expedients which she actually adopted
for this purpose may be summed up under the four
following heads :

First : She reserved to herself the monopoly of all
those colonial staples which served as raw material for
her manufactures. By this means she expected, in
cheapening the cost of her manufactures, to undersell
foreigners, to extend her exports, and thus to draw to
herself gold and silver through the balance of trade.

Secondly : She excluded from the colonial markets
all foreign manufactures and other products which
came into competition with her own.

Thirdly : She prohibited the colonists from en-
gaging in any manufacture which was carried on in
the parent- state : according to an oft-quoted remark
of Lord Chatham, the colonists had no right to
make so much as a nail for a horse-shoe.

On the other hand, in compensation for these re-
strictions on the commercial liberty of the colonists,
the mother country was content to impose some fetters
on herself, giving to the colonists the monopoly of her
markets as against foreigners for such commodities as
she in her wisdom permitted them to produce. By
this means it was expected that mother country and
colony would play into each other's hands, reciprocally
support each other, and, at the expense of the foreigner,


draw boundless wealth to themselves through the
balance of trade.*

Such was the general scope of the English colonial
system. The restrictions it embodied were indeed
sufficiently vexatious and mischievous : nevertheless, if
we look to the substance rather than to the form to
the practical effect rather than to the theoretic purpose
of her regulations, we shall be disposed to say that
the colonies of England enjoyed, at all events by com-
parison, a very goodly amount of commercial freedom.
No attempt, for example, was made by Great Britain
to exclude her colonies from the trade with foreign
nations : it was only sought to " regulate " that trade ;
nor did she forbid her colonies from trading freely
with one another. Further, the absurd expedient
adopted by Spain of requiring her whole colonial
trade to pass through a single port, had no counter-
part in the colonial system of England, which at
least left open the trade, under whatever restrictions,
to all British subjects upon equal terms. Besides, not
a few of those restrictions, which looked harsh on
paper, were found in practice to be sufficiently harm-
less, often prescribing to the colonists a course which
would have been equally adopted without any such
command. Of this character were the laws directed
against colonial manufactures laws which, of course,
the colonists never thought of violating while they
had more profitable means of employing their capital
in other pursuits. " Such prohibitions," says Adam
Smith, " without cramping their industry, or restrain-
ing it from 'any employment to which it would have

* "Wealth of Nations," Book IV. chap. vii. Part 3.


gone of its own accord, are only impertinent badges of
slavery, imposed upon them without any sufficient
reason by the groundless jealousy of the merchants
and manufacturers of the mother country."*

But between the colonization of Spain and that of
England there was a difference deeper and more
radical than gold and silver mines, or any mere
commercial legislation powerful as no doubt these
causes were could bring to pass ; a difference, which
did far more than any incidents to which I have yet
referred, to produce that broad contrast in the sub-
sequent colonial careers of the two countries, which
is one of the most striking facts in the history of
that time.

The government of Spain was a highly despotic
and centralized system : the government of England
was popular and free, and gave scope to local insti-
tutions ; and these characteristic attributes of their
respective governments were transferred, in even an
exaggerated form, to the possessions of the two coun-
tries in the New World. The colonial government of
Spain stands out a singular and portentous phenomenon
in history. At its head the Royal Council of the
Indies, an autocratic body in which the king presides,
having its seat at Seville in Old Spain, exercises
supreme control in the last resort over every depart-
ment of colonial administration. Under the Royal
Council come the Viceroys of Mexico and Peru,
governing through a strongly organized bureaucracy,
nominated by themselves and composed exclusively of
natives of the mother state "within their own pre-

* "Wealth of Nations," p. 261.


cincts," says Robertson, " as despotic as the monarch
of Spain himself." The government thus constituted,
the Feudal System and the Romish Church take their
place side by side in the full maturity of their mediaeval
pretensions : the Feudal System, with its narrow
maxims, its strict entails, its various anti-commercial
and anti-industrial incidents ; the Church, served by
a hierarchy of numerous orders, the great majority
of whom are, by a preposterous policy, consigned to
spend their time in religious houses, consuming in
celibacy and idleness the wealth of a country which
calls aloud on all sides for population and the hand of
labour. By a curious I imagine a unique act of
condescension, the Church in the American possessions
of Spain acknowledged the supremacy of the civil
power ; * but not the less is she impelled by her old
instincts, and acts her old part. In fine, to complete
the picture, the Inquisition is seen to rise, scowling
with ill-omened aspect from its gloomy portals over
the nascent civilization of the New World.t

And now contrast with this the broad features of
popular liberty disclosed in the early charters of the
English colonies meagre, but unambiguous, wit-
nesses of the genius which there presided. The first
Charter of Massachusetts " gave power for ever to
the freemen of the company to elect annually from
their own number a Governor, Deputy-Governor, and
eighteen Assistants, on the last Wednesday of Easter
Term ; and to make laws and ordinances not repug-
nant to the laws of England for their own benefit,

* Robertson's " History of America," vol. iv. pp. 45, 46.

f Ibid., book viii.
P. E. C


and the government of persons inhabiting the terri-
tory." The Connecticut Charter is drawn up upon
the same model ; its framer being charged to com-
prise in it " liberties and privileges not inferior or
short to what is granted to the people of Massa-
chusetts." f In the southern colonies, though the
form of government is different, the spirit which
animates it is the same. Thus Lord Baltimore, the
founder of Maryland, is authorized " by and with the
advice, assent, and approbation of the freemen of
Maryland, or the greater part of them, or their dele-
gates and deputies, to enact any laws whatever, apper-
taining either unto the public state of the said province
or unto the private utility of particular persons ; " J and
so of the others. In not a few of those early charters,
indeed, representative government is not expressly
mentioned ; but, as Mr. Merivale points out, only
because this was " assumed by the colonists as a matter
of right." In these cases, " houses of representatives "
used to borrow the quaint language of a historian of
the time to " break out " in the colonies on their
settlement ; the doings of which houses, although
without warrant of any written constitution, were, as
a matter of course, recognized by the government at
home. Political powers of the most extensive kind
often without any limit whatever, other than those
implied limits which the fact of allegiance involved
were thus freely conferred on the early English

* Palfrey's " New England," vol. i. p. 291.
f Ibid., vol. ii. p. 573.

J " The Art of Colonization." By Edward Gibbon Wakefield, p. 229.
As, for example, in the settlement of Providence. See Palfrey's
" New England," vol. i. pp. 423-25.


colonists. Nor did they remain unexercised. Whether
" breaking out," or established by formal authority, the
colonial assemblies from the first assumed to them-
selves, in all that related to their internal interests, the
most complete powers of government.

That this was so is indeed obvious on the most
cursory reading of the colonial history of these times.
The most striking fact connected with the early
English colonies is the extraordinary variety of poli-
tical institutions which prevailed in them. Take, for
example, the subject of religion a subject with refer-
ence to which it was a grand object of the governments
of England at this time to enforce uniformity. In
the colonies there are as many religions predominant
as there are religious denominations amongst the
colonists. Thus, in the New England colonies, we
find Puritanism in the ascendant ; in Virginia and
Carolina, the Church of England is established by
law ; in Pennsylvania, Quakerism prevails ; while for
Roman Catholics, Maryland is the land of promise.
Whatever in effect was the religious belief prevail-
ing in a colony, that was reflected in its legislative
assembly, and embodied in its laws. And as it was
with religion, so it was with all other matters con-
nected with the colony's internal concerns ; for example,
with the laws of inheritance, and with what has been
made the subject of so much discussion in late times
the disposal of its waste lands, and the mode of dealing
with native tribes. In the regulation of their external
commerce, indeed, the colonies, as will be gathered
from what I have already said, were content to
submit to the central government ; but in all else

c 2


they were their own masters. Like the Corcyraeans
of old, they could boast that they relinquished their
country, " in order to be equal in right with those who
remain, not to be their slaves."

It was these things, still more than the discrepancies
in the commercial codes of the two countries, which
brought out the broad contrasts between English and
Spanish colonization. From the first, the Spanish
colonists fell under the blight of an all-pervading
despotism ; while the colonists of England, whom
the tyranny of Charles and Laud never reached,
masters of their persons and property, thought and
spoke, laboured and traded, under the inspiring con-
sciousness of liberty. Hence it happened that, while
the colonies of Spain, albeit embracing the richest
portions of the New World rich with the products
of the tropics, as well as with that on which she set
more store, the precious metals languished in the
midst of their marvellous resources, and never pre-
vented, or even for a moment retarded, her decline,
the colonies of England, almost from their first esta-
blishment, steadily progressed, the most important
of them exhibiting, at the close of their dependent
career, an example of rapid and brilliant progress
such as the world had not hitherto witnessed, and
finally, on their severance from the mother country,
taking rank among nations almost at once as a first-
class power.

So far, then, as to the first period of colonial
history which I proposed to examine. Henceforward
I shall confine myself exclusively to the examples
of colonization and colonial policy furnished by Great


Britain. I have taken the American War of Inde-
pendence as an epoch ; because, while it terminates
the political connection of Great Britain with her
most celebrated colonies, it also marks a change of
vital moment in her colonial policy. Up to that time,
the colonies of England, though controlled in their
external commerce, yet as regarded their internal
affairs in all that related to their most intimate
concerns were emphatically self-governing. Thence-
forward, until quite recent times, the government of
her colonies was carried on in England through the
Colonial Office, a department of State conducting its
affairs through an organization analogous to that em-
ployed by the Royal Council of the Indies. A cen-
tralized bureaucracy thus took the place, in English
colonial affairs, of the municipal system of the earlier
period. It will be worth while to consider here what
the causes were which led to this remarkable change.
In the first place, then, the War of Independence,
and its unlooked-for issue, produced in England a
feeling of profound mortification an exacerbation of
temper, which naturally lent itself to arbitrary
measures. England so the case was put by her
statesmen had conceded to her North American
colonies almost complete self-government. Under
her liberal treatment and fostering care, those colonies
had grown in population and wealth with unexampled
rapidity had in a century and a half attained to the
stature of a nation. And what was the result ?
What was the return made to England for this liberal
treatment ? That the moment these dependencies
were invited to contribute towards a revenue, from


the expenditure of which they had profited scarcely
less than the mother country herself a revenue which
had more than once been spent in wars waged for
their defence, and which had resulted in their aggran-
dizement, that moment these favoured dependencies
repudiated the just demand, rebelled against their
indulgent protector, and asserted their independence.
It was thus that the question of colonial government
presented itself to the mortified spirit of Englishmen
after the loss of a colonial empire, on the retention of
which, it was at that time very generally thought,
England's rank in the scale of nations depended;
It was, then, not unnatural, that the resolve should
be taken to tighten the bond of dependence in the
case of such colonies as still remained ; nor were
other events wanting about this time to strengthen
this disposition.

The French Revolution was then on the point of
breaking out. The catastrophe no sooner came
than a violent reaction in English political opinion
set in a reaction which has left deep traces on the
political history of that time. The Liberal party, as
favourers of the French Revolution, were stricken
with hopeless unpopularity. The Tories, led by Pitt,
now scared from his liberal creed, were carried to
power by immense majorities. The whole thought
and passion of the nation were exhausted in anta-
gonism to France and French principles, and what-
ever in any way favoured popular right was looked
on as infected with the fatal taint. Colonial Govern-
ment could not but follow the general tendency.
In the colonies, as elsewhere, liberal institutions fell


under discredit, and the rights of the colonists re-
ceded before the pretensions of the central power.

But there was one cause more potent for this result
than all the rest. It was about this time that Eng-
land founded her first convict colony. The practice
of transporting criminals to remote dependencies a
practice not unknown to antiquity had indeed been
adopted by Great Britain, in common with other
European countries, in the times anterior to the
American revolution ; but it was then confined within
narrow limits. In Maryland, for example, which in
those times was one of the principal receptacles of
this class of emigrants, the proportion of convicts to
the whole population did not, in the middle of the last
century, exceed 2 per cent.* The practice, however,
did exist. Now, by the result of the revolutionary
struggle, this outlet for the criminals of England
was suddenly cut off; and this at a time when, no
doubt in consequence of the same event, the prisons
of England were extraordinarily full. A pressing
practical problem was thus presented to the states-
men of England a problem which, much as it has
since been discussed, cannot yet be said to be fully
solved how is England to dispose of her criminals ?
In an evil hour the idea suggested itself of establish-
ing a penal settlement. The connection of the two
events is sufficiently indicated by their chronologic il
sequence. The Peace of Paris, by which the inde-
pendence of the United States was recognized, was
signed in 1782. The first penal colony of England
was founded in New South Wales in 1788. Ere

* " Colonization and Cojonies," p. 350, note.


many years had passed, there was witnessed, for the
first time in history, the unedifying spectacle of a
community in which the bulk of the population were
felons serving out the period of their punishment.
From that time until quite recent years, the practice
of penal colonization became a settled portion of the
policy of Great Britain.

Now, I need not tell you that this use of coloni-
zation was quite incompatible with the idea of colonial
self-government. Colonies in which the majority of
the inhabitants were felons of the deepest dye clearly
could not be trusted with political rights. And the
precedent established in those cases, as will be
readily understood, quickly reacted upon the general
system of our colonial government.* The establish-
ment of the Colonial Office, which took place in 1 794,
may be regarded as the external symbol of the
change, f

The practice of penal colonization, concurring with
the other influences I have mentioned, thus definitively
determined the course of English colonial policy in
the direction of centralization and absolutism ; and this

* " It is a remarkable fact, that until we began to colonize with
convicts towards the jend of the last century, the imperial power of
England never, I believe, in a single instance, attempted to rule locally
from a distance a body of its subjects who had gone forth from England
and planted a colony." WAKEFIELD'S Art of Colonization, p. 228.

t Previous to this time the business connected with the colonies,
which was almost exclusively commercial, had been assigned first to a
Board, and afterwards to a permanent Committee of Privy Council,
which had the management of " Trade and Plantations." For a short
interval, indeed, during the American struggle from 1768 to 1782 a
Secretary of State for the American Department existed : it was the
office of this functionary which Burke's Bill abolished. See Lewis's
' Government of Dependencies," pp. 160-62.


was about the least serious of the evils which that
system entailed. It brought colonization itself into
disrepute. It corrupted the whole tone of English
thought on the subject. It may be doubted if even
yet we have fully recovered from its effects.

The plan of penal colonization, it is true, presents
certain obvious advantages of an economic kind : let
us, by all means, recognize them. It secures to the
colony an ample supply of that of which colonies have
most need labour ; it secures to it also, besides this
cheap means of production cheap to the colony, but
very far from cheap to the taxpayers of the mother
country, who bear the expense of transporting and
guarding these promising emigrants it secures, I say,
to the colony, in addition to this cheap means of pro-
duction, a market for its products in the large govern-
ment expenditure which the military and police esta-
blishments, indispensable to such settlements, always
entail. It confers these advantages, and by this means
it galvanizes into a precocious prosperity the settle-
ments which are the victims of the loathsome patron-
age. But what an idea must our statesmen have had
of the art of colonization of what Bacon calls " the
heroic work" of building up new nations when they
turned for the materials of the structure to the hulk
and gaol ! " Imagine," said Dr. Hind, "the case of a
household most carefully made up of picked specimens
from all the idle, mischievous, and notoriously bad
characters in the country ! Surely the man who should
be mad or wicked enough to bring together this
monstrous family, and to keep up its numbers and
character by continual fresh supplies, would be scouted


from the society he so outraged would be denounced
as the author of a diabolical nuisance to his neigh-
bourhood and his country, and would be proclaimed
infamous for setting at nought all morality and
decency. What is it better, that, instead of a house-
hold, it is a whole people we have so brought together,
and are so keeping up ? that it is the wide society of
the whole world, and not of a single country, against
which the nuisance is committed ? "

But the evils of convict settlement did not end here.
We know that the existence of slavery in a country is
able, by its vile associations, to degrade honest in-
dustry, and make men ashamed of useful occupations :
in like manner, the practice of convict settlement
brought discredit upon the whole art and business of
colonization. That " heroic work " became associated
in men's minds with ideas of infamy and crime. This
aspect of the case is brought out, not less strongly
than quaintly, by Charles Lamb, in a letter addressed
to a friend in the " Hades of Thieves " the upper-
world alias for New South Wales. He thus describes,
in his grotesquest vein, the conditions of a society in
which, not in theory but in fact, la propriete est le vol.
" I see," he says, " Diogenes prying among you with
his perpetual fruitless lantern. What must you be
willing to give by this time for the sight of an honest
man ! You must have almost forgotten how we look.
And tell me what your Sydneyites do ? Are they
th v ng all the day long ? Merciful heaven ! what
property can stand against such depredations ! The
kangaroos your aborigines do they keep their pri-
mitive simplicity un-Europe-tainted, with those little


short fore-puds, looking like a lesson framed by nature
to the pickpocket. Marry, for diving into fobs, they
are lamely provided a priori; but if the hue-and-cry
were once up, they would show as fair a pair of hind-
shifters as the expertest locomotor in the colony. We
hear the most improbable tales at this distance. Pray,
is it true that the young Spartans among you are born
with six fingers, which spoils their scanning ? It must
look very odd, but use reconciles. For their scansion
it is less to be regretted ; for, if they take it into their
heads to be poets, it is odds but they turn out, the
greatest part of them, vile plagiarists. Is there any
difference to see between the son of a th f and the
grandson ? or where does the taint stop ? Do you

Online LibraryJohn Elliott CairnesPolitical essays → online text (page 2 of 27)