Revolutionary New England, 1691-1776

By James Truslow Adams | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER II
THE MACHINERY OF EMPIRE1

Organization of Administration -- Causes of Inefficiency -- Influences of Military Operations -- Effect of System on the Colonists.

As one reads the literature of various nations in the past three centuries on imperial questions, one is struck by the fact that the people of the home countries seem to have passed through definite phases of belief and disbelief in the value to themselves of imperial possessions. In the seventeenth century the question was very decidedly an open one, but in the next, opinion crystallized temporarily in favor of the acquisition and retention of as large colonial domains as it was possible to acquire.2 This belief in the value of colonies, however, was wholly a belief in their trade value. It was a period in which trade interests dominated all others3 and we shall look as vainly for imperial pride or sense of trusteeship in England as we shall for ardent loyalty or affection in America. The policy adopted by the home country, therefore, aimed at making the colonies, which in the face of her trade rival France involved her in heavy risks and great expense, as valuable to her own commerce as possible. If this policy was fundamentally selfish and unideal it was not necessarily either tyrannical or lacking in benefit to the colonies. England took as great care for their interests as a whole as the basic eighteenth-century conception of their only possible util

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1
As to the propriety of the use of the term "empire" in the 18th century, vide J. T. Adams, "On the Term 'British Empire,'" American Historical Review, vol. XXVII, pp. 485ff.
2
Among numerous English writers, cf. C. D'Avenant, Discourses on the Public Revenues and on the Trade of England, 1698, in Collected Works, ( London, 1771), vol. I, pp. 1 ff.; W. Wood, A Survey of Trade, ( London, 1719), pp. 1341. For French opinion in the 18th century, vide L. Deschamps, Histoire de la question coloniale en France, ( Paris, 1891), pp. 260 ff.
3
Deschamps points out how trade matters and interests crept even into pure literature in France after the end of the 17th century. Cit. supra, pp. 201 ff.

-18-

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