Governor Pownall, Dean Tucker, and Major John Cartwright: Practical Idealists or Wishful Thinkers?
Theory and practice rarely coincide. As already noted, British statesmen insisted that they ruled a unitary empire with all power residing in king and Parliament. In practice, however, the home government had concerned itself only with imperial affairs while the colonial legislatures dealt with the regulation of marriage and divorce, the provision of relief to the poor, the maintenance of roads and bridges, the organization of a militia, and, most crucial, the levying of taxes. In other words, without intending to -- in fact quite contrary to the desires of its leaders -- the British had developed (to use modern terms) a federal empire in which the colonies held dominion status.
Most Americans took this situation for granted but the opposite was true of their British counterparts. One of the few exceptions was Thomas Pownall.
Thomas Pownall was born in 1722 of a Lincolnshire family of more prestige than pelf. 1 He attended Lincoln grammar school and graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1743. While in college, he developed a taste for philosophy and literature and did the preliminary work on a treatise on government, Principles of Polity, which was later published in 1752. His younger brother, John, who was already an important functionary of the Board of Trade, obtained a clerkship there for Thomas. However, Thomas came to realize that, for those of his social class, fame and fortune were only to be won in the colonies. In 1753, therefore, he became private secretary to Sir Danvers Osborne, the newly appointed governor of New York.
Pownall's career in the New World was over almost before it began, when Sir Danvers committed suicide within a week of his arrival in New York. However, Pownall was not inclined to retreat to his insignificant