Ch 10 Whig England

Ch.10-Whig England

Hits: 1797

CHAPTER X: WHIG ENGLAND

SECTION 4: AMERICAN REVOLUTION

 

EUROPEAN WARS HAD BEEN EXPENSIVE AND HAD LEFT A VAST NATIONAL DEBT FOR THE TORIES. TAXES WERE HEAVY, AND ALL MEANS USED. THE GRENVILLE STAMP ACT OF 1765 WAS REVOKED AFTER ONE YEAR OF PROTESTS.

THE GOVERNMENT CLAIMED THE COLONIES HAD BENEFITTED AND IMPOSED TAXES, BUT THE COLONISTS, WHO HAD REPESENTATIVE BODIES OF THEIR OWN, RAISED THE SLOGAN ‘NO TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION’.

 HOWEVER, THERE WERE OTHER ISSUES. TRADE AND WEALTH WAS EMBODIED IN THE NAVIGATION ACTS OF EMPIRE. THE COLONIES PRODUCED TOBACCO, RICE, SUGAR, TAR AND TIMBER, WHICH WERE ONLY ALLOWED TO BE EXPORTED TO ENGLAND AND SCOTLAND.

EQUALLY, THE COLONIES WERE FORBIDDEN TO IMPORT GOODS FROM OTHER FOREIGN COUNTRIES. ALTHOUGH IRON SMELTING DID EXIST IN NEW ENGLAND, RAW IRON AND STEEL HAD TO BE SHIPPED ACROSS THE ATLANTIC.

ALL WAS DISGUISED TO SUPPORT THE ESTABLISHED HOME INDUSTRIES.

PROHIBITION OF DIRECT TRADE BETWEEN AMERICAN COLONIES AND EUROPE WAS NOT A VERY SERIOUS MATTER, BUT TRADE WITH FRENCH AND SPANISH SETTLEMENTS WAS ANOTHER ISSUE, AND SMUGGLING WAS RIFE. BRITISH WARSHIPS BEGAN TO HUNT DOWN THE SMUGGLERS, WHO WERE AVOIDING TAXES.

THE TAXES WERE INTENDED TO MAINTAIN ARMED FORCES, WHICH WERE NO LONGER NEEDED TO PROTECT THE COLONISTS FROM THE FRENCH BUT WERE USED TO PREVENT THEM CARRYING ON WHAT WAS REGARDED AS LAWFUL TRADE.

IF THERE HAD BEEN A NEED OF PROTECTION FROM CANADA, THE COLONISTS MIGHT HAVE BEEN FORCED TO SUBMIT, BUT, WITH THE FALL OF QUEBEC, THEY NO LONGER FELT THE NEED FOR ANY BRITISH PROTECTION, AND BAD TIMING BY THE HOME GOVERNMENT DID NOT HELP.

HISTORIANS HAVE ARGUED OVER THE LEGAL GROUNDS FOR THE REVOLUTION, BUT THE FACT REMAINS THE AMERICAN BOURGEOISIE WERE GROWING UP IN THE 18th CENTURY. LIKE THE ENGLISH BOURGEOISIE OF THE 17th CENTURY, THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION AND PREVIOUS ENGLISH REVOLUTION FORM AN ALMOST EXACT PARALLEL.

THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION HAD ITS UPPER CLASS LEADERSHIP AND ITS LOWER MIDDLE CLASS RANK AND FILE. ITS INTERNAL CLASS STRUGGLE WAS CENTRED ON AGRARIAN REFORM, WHICH BROUGHT SMALL FARMERS, TRADERS AND ARTISANS INTO THE EQUATION.

AS THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION WAS ALSO A NATIONAL WAR, THE SUPPORT IT RECEIVED IN ENGLAND WAS OF A SPECIAL CHARACTER.

DEFENDERS OF COLONISTS HAD TO BE PREPARED TO BE DUBBED ANTI-ENGLISH AND DISLOYAL, BUT THE REVOLUTION COINCIDED WITH THE BIRTH OF ENGLISH RADICALISM AND HELPED CREATE CONDITIONS FOR THE BIRTH OF A WORKING CLASS MOVEMENT.

THE ENGLISH BOURGEOISIE, THEIR OWN REVOLUTION ACCOMPLISHED, HAD BECOME REACTIONARY, AND THE WAY WAS OPEN FOR A NEW CLASS TO TAKE THE FIELD.

THE CLAIM WAS THE REVOLUTION WOULD BREAK UP THE EMPIRE, BUT A POWERFUL MINORITY CLAIMED THE RIGHT FOR THE AMERICANS TO DETERMINE THEIR OWN DESTINY.

WILKES WAS AN IMPERIALIST OF THE CHATHAM SCHOOL, BUT POLITICAL GAMES, POPULAR AT THE TIME BY GENTLEMEN OF MEANS, MOVED HIM FURTHER TO THE LEFT. IN THE REIGN OF GEORGE III, FREEDOM OF THE PRESS WAS ADVOCATED, AND SO VOCAL WAS WILKES THAT HE BECAME THE RECOGNISED LEADER OF THE LONDON MASSES AND CITY MERCHANTS.

THE POPULAR SLOGAN ‘WILKES AND LIBERTY’ WAS HEARD FOR 50 YEARS, AND RIOTS TOOK PLACE WHEN HE WAS UNSEATED FOR THE COUNTY OF MIDDLESEX.

STRIKES AND UNPRECEDENTED DEMONSTRATIONS BROUGHT OUT THE TROOPS. SIX DEMONSTRATORS WERE KILLED AND MANY WOUNDED. THE ‘MASSACRE’ OF ST GEORGE’S FIELDS RAISED MORE AGITATION. SEAMEN, WATERMEN, TAILORS, COAL HEAVERS AND OTHERS STRUCK FOR ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL REASONS.

THE LORD MAYOR OF LONDON ACTED AS A POPULAR TRIBUNE.

FLOUR PROFITEERS WERE CHECKED, RESISTANCE TO ‘PRESSING’ LONDONERS INTO THE ARMY OCCURRED AND PRISON CONDITIONS IMPROVED.

YET, THERE WAS NO INTERFERENCE IN THE AFFAIRS OF THE EAST INDIA COMPANY AND ITS EXPLOITATION OF INDIA, WHICH THE MASSES WERE COMPLETELY IGNORANT OF OR INDIFFERENT TO.

WILKES TOOK PART IN THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1774 AS A PART OF A DEFINITE POLITICAL GROUP WITH A PROGRAMME THAT INCLUDED SHORTER PARLIAMENTS, THE EXCLUSION FROM PARLIAMENT OF PENSIONERS AND PLACEMEN, FAIR AND EQUAL REPRESENTATION AND THE DEFENCE OF POPULAR RIGHTS IN GREAT BRITAIN, IRELAND AND AMERICA: A PROGRAMME THAT CONTAINED THE SAME CHARACTERISTICS AS THAT OF THE CHARTISTS.

WILKES WON 12 SEATS, A REMARKABLE ACHIEVEMENT GIVEN THE FEW CONSTITUENCIES ABLE TO REFLECT POPULAR FEELING.

IN 1768, WILKES HAD BEEN IN CLOSE CONTACT WITH LEADERS OF THE REVOLT IN THE AMERICAN COLONIES, AND, AS THE STRUGGLE OVER TAXATION BECAME MORE ACUTE, HE BECAME THEIR SPOKESMAN INSIDE AND OUTSIDE PARLIAMENT.

 AFTER THE OUTBREAK OF WAR (FOR INDEPENDENCE), MANY OF HIS WEALTHIER SUPPORTERS DESERTED HIM FOR GOVERNMENT CONTRACTS. OTHER POLITICALLY UNDEVELOPED WORKERS WERE CAUGHT UP IN THE INEVITABLE WAR FEVER.

EVEN SO, WILKES CONTINUED AND STRENGTHENED HIS ADVOCACY OF WHAT WAS AN UNPOPULAR CAUSE. FROM 1779, ENTHUSIASM FOR THE WAR DIMINISHED, AND HE APPEARED LIKELY TO PLAY AN IMPORTANT PART IN POLITICS.

IN 1780, HIS ACTIVE CAREER WAS ENDED BY THE GORDON ‘NO POPERY’ RIOTS. ALTHOUGH HE PREVIOUSLY SUPPORTED THE CAUSE, AS A CITY MAGISTRATE, WILKES HELPED TO PUT DOWN THE RIOT. IN DOING SO, HE SNAPPED THE CHAIN THAT BOUND HIM TO THE LONDON MASSES.

THIS PERIOD OF THE LEFT GROUP OF ARISTOCRATIC WHIGS LED BY CHARLES JAMES FOX CAN BE BETTER UNDERSTOOD AS ONE OF THE HEAVINGS OF A WAVE THAT SOON SWEPT EUROPE.

IN IRELAND, THE RESPONSE TO THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION WAS FAR GREATER THAN IN ENGLAND. A FORCE OF 80,000 ‘VOLUNTEERS’ WAS RAISED NOMINALLY TO PROTECT IRELAND FROM INVASION, BUT THEY REGARDED THEMSELVES AS AN ARMY OF NATIONAL LIBERATION. THERE IS NOT A DOUBT THAT, AT THIS TIME, WHEN ENGLISH FORCES WERE FULLY COCCUPIED ELSEWHERE, IRELAND COULD HAVE BECOME COMPLETELY INDEPENDENT TOO.

THEY WERE BETRAYED BY THE CORRUPT DUBLIN PARLIAMENT AND BY THEIR UPPER CLASS LEADERS.

THE REVOLUTION OF 1782 ENABLED IRISHMEN TO SELL THEIR HONOUR AND INTEGRITY AT A MUCH HIGHER PRICE “BUT POWER REMAINED IN THE HANDS OF OUR ENEMIES,” AND THEY REMAINED SLAVES TO THE SYSTEM OF THE IRISH PLUNDERERS.

SO FAR AS AMERICA WAS CONCERNED, A DISPUTE OVER TRADE CULMINATED IN AN AMERICAN BAN ON ENGLISH GOODS. THE BOSTON TEA PARTY WAS AN ATTEMPT TO IMPOSE IMPORTATION BY FORCE.

THE CLOSING OF THE PORT AT BOSTON, AS A REPRISAL, LED TO A BREAK OUT OF HOSTILITIES AT BUNKERS HILL IN 1774. IN THE FIRST YEARS OF THE WAR, THERE WERE ENGLISH SUCCESSES.

THE COLONISTS SUFFERED FROM THE SAME DEFECTS OF DISCIPLINE AND ORGANISATION THAT HANDICAPPED THE PURITANS OF THE 17th CENTURY, BUT THEY LEARNED AND WERE HELPED BY THE BRUTAL METHODS OF BRITISH FORCES, LARGELY MADE UP OF GERMAN MERCENARIES AND NATIVE INDIANS.

IN OCTOBER 1777, THE AMERICANS WON THEIR FIRST VICTORY WHEN GENERAL BURGOYNE AND 5,000 MEN SURRENDED AT SARATOGA.

THIS VICTORY BROUGHT FRANCE, SPAIN AND LATER HOLLAND INTO THE WAR. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN A CENTURY, THE BRITISH NAVY LOST COMMAND OF THE SEA BY A FRENCH BLOCKADE THAT LED TO THE SURRENDER OF CORNWALLIS, BRITISH COMMANDER IN AMERICA, AT YORKTOWN IN 1781.

BRITISH SUPREMACY IN INDIA WAS THREATENED TOO. ONLY THE VICTORY OF RODNEY IN THE WEST INDIES ENABLED THE WAR TO BE BROUGHT TO AN END ON FAVOURABLE TERMS IN 1783.

INDEPENDENCE OF AMERICA WAS RECOGNISED, AND FLORIDA AND MINORCA WERE SURRENDED TO THE SPANISH.

THE WHOLE DEBACLE WAS A BLOW TO THE CORRUPT SYSTEMS OF THE 18th CENTURY AND A DEFEAT FOR THE TORIES. IT BROUGHT THE WHIGS BACK TO POWER FOR A SHORT TIME. EFFORTS WERE MADE TO CHECK THE POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF THE CROWN AND CLEAN UP PARLIAMENT.

IN 1783, CHATHAM’S SON, WILLIAM PITT THE YOUNGER, BECAME PRIME MINISTER AS LEADER OF THE REORGANISED TORY PARTY. AN ELECTION WAS WON IN 1784 BY METHODS THAT EVEN THEN WERE CONSIDERED DISCREDITABLE.

CORRUPTION PREVENTED CHANGE, BUT THE FRENCH REVOLUTION TRANSFORMED MOST CRITICS INTO DEFENDERS OF THE BRITISH CONSTITUTION AS A “GOD GIVEN AND PERFECT MASTERPIECE.” ANY ATTEMPT TO DISCREDIT THIS ‘MASTERPIECE’ WAS BRANDED AS JACOBITISM.

IT HAD THE EFFECT OF REDUCING ADVOCATES OF REFORM TO THE FEW, BUT IT ALSO HAD THE EFFECT OF MAKING PARLIAMENTARY REFORM A MATTER OF PASSIONATE INTEREST TO THE WORKING MASSES

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