« AnteriorContinua »
brought about the American revolution. As Arthur Young expressed it in the preface to his Tour in Ireland : "Nothing can be more idle than to say that this set of men or the other administration or that great minister occasioned the American War. It was not the Stamp Act nor the Repeal of the Stamp Act; it was neither Lord Rockingham nor Lord North ; but it was the baleful spirit of commerce that wished to govern great nations on the axioms of the counter."
There was something worse. The assertion of this principle of monopoly at so great a disadvantage of distance required an army of customs officers and a patrol of seamen that could not be efficiently provided. The smuggling of every kind of goods, particularly tea, was so enormous along the extended seaboard, the illicit trade with French and Spanish settlements so persistent as almost to exclude legal commerce. The result was that for upwards of a century the trade regulations on which the monopoly rested were either enforced fitfully or not at all. The colonial population, as happens always and everywhere, acquiesced in the smuggling, the officials were unready to act, and the ministers in England turned a blind eye to the breaches of law which they were powerless to prevent. This ignorance of commercial restrictions continued until the necessity of providing money called for their enforcement.
When the struggle comes over the attempts of Grenville and Townshend to collect taxes and to check smuggling, the fight is not in the first instance between the ministers in London and the colonial leaders; it is between the customs officers and colonial officials on the spot with the force at their disposal, who attempt to administer the neglected law, and the whole smuggling interest over a seaboard of a thousand miles,
a supported by a population, who had long learnt and studied evasion, in sympathy with the law breakers, and were jealous of any attempt by the very distant Parliament to interfere with their trade or enforce a monopoly for English goods which might injuriously affect their manufactures.
The difficulty of King George's ministers was not with the American continent alone. The West Indies were restless and mutinous at any touch of Parliamentary control, as witness the treachery of the population of St. Kitts in 1779 and 1782, and of Barbados in 1781. The situation called for ministers with strength of will and swift initiative, and they were not to be found. Chatham, as he was “not allowed to guide," encouraged in his dotage the rebellious colonists by all means in his power; the small Whig minority thought of nothing but the embarrassment of the ministers, and these temporized and hoped for peace when determined action might have saved the situation.
One of the great obstacles to the peaceful settlement of these commercial disputes with the American colonies was the dearth of men of ability among the politicians. The long continuance of the Whig oligarchy had not only destroyed all political principle in the party, leading in the better minds to the giving up to party what was meant for mankind, and in the worse to an undisguised programme of plunder at the expense of the country's interests, but it told heavily against the appearance within the party of any men of administrative capacity. With the exception of the non-party leaders mentioned above, George III. was served by men of questionable honesty, of indifferent ability, without energy or initiative, at moments of difficulty letting “I dare not " wait upon “I would.” The opportunities for agreement or for decisive action were allowed to pass, until, when a decision became essential, it was too late for agreement, and the burden of the use of force against rebels in arms, which had become necessary, fell upon the King and a minister who could be trusted to act with energy and decision.
It was recognized in America as in Britain that the members of Parliament, from whom the King's ministers were selected, and by whom colonial officials were appointed, were in no sense representative of the country at home, being appointees of the great houses or of rich men.
These political officials in Britain were subject to a very powerful pressure from the commercial classes insistent on such a suppression of American smuggling as to benefit the British monopoly of trade, and the difficulty occasioned by this pressure on their weakness was rendered greater by the change mentioned above, which was coming over the volume and character of trade and manufacture in Europe and European possessions.
The war was pressed forward by this commercial class from first to last, the only objectors being the small and decreasing body of Whigs in Parliament, for the most part theorists
leaning to the views which afterwards brought about the French revolution.
Meanwhile the industrial revolution was transforming all agriculture, trade and manufacture, driving out the small individual in favour of large combinations everywhere.
il. Handwork gives way to Machinery.-The very great change which was coming over all branches of industry in Western Europe affected the colonies, especially those in the North, which had found themselves capable of manufacture in successful competition with the mother country-manufactures forbidden in the interests of British trade. Up to this time the conditions under which many trades were carried on varied little in the islands and in the colonies, but the colonies were beginning to have the advantage in the plenty and cheapness of the raw material. At home as well as in America the greater part of the manufacture was done in the house of the worker as piece work for his own profit, side by side with his farm work. The small farms were still numerous in the eighteenth century, though the economic necessities tended to replace the small farmer and handworker by larger areas and greater combinations of capital, which were being used in the hands of the great landowners for improvements of all kinds, drainage of the fens in spite of the violent opposition of the resident fowlers, reclamation of land, enclosure of fields for agriculture, improvement in all kinds of animals and crops.
The enclosure of common lands which was going on all over Western Europe led to the disappearance of the small farm and of the yeoman who cultivated it, and to the destruction of the common rights of the small holder, often greatly to his injury, economic conditions for which no one man or set of men can be said to have been personally responsible. The writers on economics had long urged the importance of the increase of population for labour. “ Therefore,” says Locke (quoted by Cunningham, Growth of British History), “ he that encloses land and has a greater plenty of the convenience of life from ten acres than he could have had from an hundred left to nature, may truly be said to give ninety acres to mankind.”
A petition of the City of London (Journals of the House of Commons, XXXI., 428–4) gives an insight into the views taken
by the politicians of the city into agricultural conditions and their effects. It speaks of the distress owing to the high price of provisions, and adjudges as causes the forestalling occasioned by indefinite market hours, the destruction of ewe lambs and cow calves for luxury and so forth, and it proposes a duty on the export of horses, a bounty on the use of oxen for tillage, and prevention of the consolidation of small farms. They asked that water should run uphill.
Enclosure, owing to the politicians, lawyers and officials, was very expensive, and the men who did it, who put their money into expensive experiments with land and crops and stock, expected great profits, asked higher rents, and looked for better farming. The cultivation of artificial grasses and roots and rotation of crops took the place of the land lying fallow. But the result was that the labourer became poorer and more at the mercy of his employer than before. The enclosure was accompanied by improvement of transport, the first general Turnpike Act being passed in 1741.
The change in the conditions of agriculture was but a part of the turnover taking place of all industrial methods, the fever of invention and improvement of methods which occupied men's minds, machinery driven by water power and steam power taking the place of handwork, inclining the yeoman, so far as he did not fall into the ranks of the labourer, to move towards the town with his little capital and engage in trade. There was a general trend of movement to the towns.
The inventor kept pace with the increase of trade; weaving and spinning ceased to be handwork and became machine operations; the spinning jenny invented by James Hargreaves in 1764, which worked eight spindles at a time, the frame invented by Arkwright in 1769, which worked by water power, Smeaton's engine used in 1760 at the Carron Ironworks near Stirling, which more than trebled the output from the coke furnaces, Newcomen's engine to pump water out of mines, bleaching by chemicals, and many other inventions, met the increasing requirements. Newcomen's engine, sent to James Watt in Glasgow for repair, led to the making by Watt and others of a steam engine for Wilkinson's Ironworks at Boxley in 1766. The increased use of coal for steam and of iron and steel for machinery led to improved methods by which coke and coal drove out the use of charcoal for smelting. Coal was being raised from the mines by steam.
They must have been very sanguine people indeed or very unobservant who could imagine that under this fever of invention of tools and expansion of trade the colonist, whose natural capacity had been stimulated by danger and invention, would allow British ministers to prohibit his work on new developments or hamper by taxes his manufactures. But the British minister was not only profoundly ignorant of the distant colonies, but he was compelled to consider the interests of the British trader where they conflicted with colonial views. So to the opposition of the smuggler and bushwhacker were added that of the American farmer, trader and manufacturer. Nothing was needed to produce the explosion but the leadership of the demagogue.
iii. The Population of the American Colonies.—Writing of Mr. Pitt's short first ministry in 1756, forced upon the unwilling King, the King's great friend, Lord Waldegrave, admits “Mr. Pitt had some merit in providing for the security of North America, which during our political squabbles had been shamefully neglected.” It was said, writes Walpole in 1755, that Mr. Grenville lost America because he read the American despatches, which none of his predecessors ever did. There is no doubt that the business of the colonies was despatched in a very slovenly way, or, as that great patriot, Mr. Burke, said, " with a salutary neglect.” The Duke of Newcastle, to whom Sir Robert Walpole had left America, had a closet full of despatches from that quarter unopened for a large number of years.
Before reviewing the events which followed the peace of 1763 it may be worth while to set out a few statistics of the population of the disputants. The southern colonies, which, as a whole, may be inaccurately expressed as Virginia, had been settled by the grants to scions of great houses and their followers of large isolated plantations, where they lived apart, carrying on the aristocratic English traditions, with the Church of England practically established. As the country filled up, a number of French Huguenots, Scottish and Irish emigrants, German Palatines and Swiss settled or were settled in these