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Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3003

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: England's greatness.]

In 1763 the English were the most powerful nation in the world. The British islands, with a population of but 8,000,000 were the administrative centre of a vast colonial empire. Besides their American possessions, the English had a foothold in Africa through the possession of the former Dutch Cape Colony, and had laid the foundation of the present Indian Empire; small islands scattered through many seas furnished naval stations and points of defence. The situation of England bears a striking resemblance to the situation of Athens at the close of the Persian wars: a trading nation, a naval power, a governing race, a successful military people; the English completed the parallel by tightening the reins upon their colonies till they revolted. Of the other European powers, Portugal and Spain still preserved colonial empires in the West; but Spain was decaying. Great Britain had not only gained territory and prestige from the war, she had risen rich and prosperous, and a national debt of one hundred and forty million pounds was borne without serious difficulty.

[Sidenote: English government.]

It was a time of vigorous intellectual life, the period of Goldsmith, Edmund Burke, and Dr. Johnson. It was also a period of political development. The conditions seemed favorable for internal peace and for easy relations with the colonies. The long Jacobite movement had come to an end; George the Third was accepted by all classes and all parties as the

legitimate sovereign. The system of government worked out in the preceding fifty years seemed well established; the ministers still governed through their control of Parliament; but the great Tory families, which for two generations had been excluded from the administration, were now coming forward. A new element in the government of England was the determination of George the Third to be an active political force. From his accession, in 1760, he had striven to build up a faction of personal adherents, popularly known as the "king's friends;" and he had broken down every combination of ministers which showed itself opposed to him. Although the nation was not yet conscious of it, the forces were at work which eventually were to create a party advocating the king's prerogative, and another party representing the right of the English people to govern themselves.

[Sidenote: Effect on the colonies.]

This change in political conditions could not but affect the English colonial policy. The king's imperious tone was reflected in all departments, and was especially positive when the colonies began to resist. It cannot be said that English parties divided on the question of governing the colonies, but when the struggle was once begun, the king's bitterest opponents fiercely criticised his policy, and made the cause of the colonists their own. The great struggle with the colonies thus became a part of the struggle between popular and autocratic principles of government in England.

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