Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER III: The Colonial Perspective: Tudors, Stuarts, and Hanoverians - The Lamp of Experience
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CHAPTER III: The Colonial Perspective: Tudors, Stuarts, and Hanoverians - Trevor Colbourn, The Lamp of Experience 
The Lamp of Experience: Whig History and the Intellectual Origins of the American Revolution (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund 1998).
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The Colonial Perspective: Tudors, Stuarts, and Hanoverians
If for their time Americans were well informed on antiquity and medieval English history, they were no less aware of their more recent past. Appearing more immediate to present problems, recent history embraced the multitude of sins recorded since Magna Charta—those contained in the history of the Reformation, the history of the religious and political developments which impelled Englishmen to establish the American colonies. It was a history which examined England’s colonial behavior and described her emerging imperial consciousness. It paid close attention to the seventeenth-century struggle with the Stuart princes and to eighteenth-century Hanoverian politics.
The Tudors had certain undeniable attractions for the colonists. Henry VII, to be sure, was unlovable, if only because he was the first monarch to establish a standing army. But his son Henry VIII sundered the English ties with Rome and brought his people to Protestantism. Henry VIII may have been an arbitrary and capricious despot; still, “with all his Crimes and Exorbitancies he was one of the most glorious Princes of his Time.” Because Henry brought the Reformation to England, he represented an inscrutable Divine Will. “Providence often brings about the noblest Designs by the most exceptionable Instruments,” the historian Laurence Echard reflected. Even the judicious Rapin confessed that while Henry was “to be numbered among the ill Princes,” he could not be ranked among the worst.1
Henry VIII’s daughters were subjects for wider historical disagreement. Queen Mary’s efforts to restore England to the Catholic fold meant that few Protestants could view her reign with equanimity. A sympathetic comment came from the royalist historian Sir Richard Baker, who claimed for Mary “a merciful disposition,” since she “oftentimes pities the person, where she shed the blood.” Baker thought her religion “a deformity,” but admired Mary’s devotion to it.2 Few other writers were as kind: Rapin described her temper as “cruel and vindictive,” and Echard observed that “God thought fit to punish her with a Barren Womb and an untimely Death.” Robert Dodsley in his Chronicle summed up Mary’s unhappy reign as one which “stinketh of blood unto this day”; her name was “an abomination,” and “the vengeance of the Lord overtook her.”3
Elizabeth could hardly avoid improving this record. Sufficiently intelligent to have been born of a Protestant mother, she sensibly waged war on the Spanish Catholics. Bolingbroke gazed upon Elizabeth with reverence, and likened her to a patriot king—or queen—since “she united the great body of the people in her and their common interest, and she inflamed them with one national spirit.”4 Others praised Elizabeth’s sense and judgment: this “good and illustrious Queen” had the virtues and none of the vices of her “mighty Father.”5 Sir Richard Baker admired a Queen who “declined being a Mother of Children, to the end she might be a Mother of her Country.” Elizabeth did not need the love of a husband since “she delighted in nothing so much, as in the love of her people,” which she earned “by ordaining good Magistrates, and forbearing Impositions.”6
Some historians had reservations about Elizabeth’s political perfection: Thornhagh Gurdon in his widely read History of Parliament reminded readers that the Elizabethan House of Commons attempted to extend their privileges, but the Queen had seemingly forgotten their historical grounds, and nipped these “new Claims” in the bud. David Hume, on the other hand, saw in Elizabeth’s popularity evidence that she had not encroached upon any liberties of the people.7 There was room for uncertainty about the virtues of the Elizabethan era; but most sources consulted by eighteenth-century Americans were favorably disposed to the Virgin Queen, in part because the reign of Mary was so bleak, in part because the succeeding dynasty made Elizabeth appear admirable.
If uncertain about Elizabethan England, Americans had surer views on the unsagacious Stuarts. Rapin declared that “there is not an impartial historian” of the Stuarts and thought even Rushworth’s edition of source materials favored Parliament at expense of the Crown. Rapin nonetheless arrived at Rushworth’s conclusion: James I and Charles I had been “very fond of arbitrary power.”8
Stuart history was well represented in colonial collections, with fewer than a half-dozen capable writers taking the Stuart side. Isaac Kimber tried to be judicious about James I, who he thought was neither a sound Protestant nor a good Roman Catholic. He thought James, a melancholy contrast to his Tudor predecessor, “had a high Notion of his own Maxims of Government.” Echard strove to find a few kind words: James was “eminent for his Chastity, which was remarkable in a Court so loose and luxurious as his own.” Echard suggested that the King was “not well us’d” by Parliament, considering his circumstances, but weakened this point by taking James to task for executing Raleigh and observing that during his reign “the Reputation of England began sensibly to sink.” Baker’s royalist Chronicle saw James as “but a continuation of Queen Elizabeth,” with “the same vertue, though different sexes.” Some whig writers questioned Baker’s claim, suggesting homosexual relations between James and “a beautiful youth named George Villiers.”9
But much less attention was given to James I—even as a “fool and a pedant”10 —than to his son. James died in his bed; Charles I died on the scaffold, the only English king so executed. If a historian’s horizon went back to pre-Norman times, and he subscribed to the antiquity of Parliament, he would probably depict Stuart claims as encroachments on popular liberties. If a historian looked back only to the Conquest, then he might emerge as a royalist who, like Hume, attacked the “encroachments of the Commons.” Yet it was easy to sympathize with the tragic, foolhardy Charles I. One commentator wistfully observed how much better it would have been if Charles “had been as good a King as he was a Man.”11 Echard found in Charles “the ROYAL MARTYR,” who lost more by his kind heart and treacherous friends than “by all the pretended Acts of his Severity and Tyranny.” Another insisted that there was never a monarch “so formally and solemnly murdered.” Charles was “a Prince of great Wisdome, and all Princely Vertues,” whose death was lamented by the majority of his subjects.12 Lord Clarendon, popular as a contemporary historian, wrote of the death of the brave Charles, “wickedly Murder’d in the sight of the Sun.” According to this loyal admirer, Charles was “the worthiest Gentleman, the best Master, the best Friend, the best Husband, the best Father, and the best Christian, that the Age in which he liv’d produced.”13
Hume saw that Charles had some vices, but that “his virtues predominated extremely.” Charles, Hume added thoughtfully, was “a good rather than a great man” who lacked political prudence, but he was clearly undeserving of so harsh a fate. Hume professed amazement that “among a civilized people, so much virtue in the person of Charles could meet with so fatal a catastrophe.”14
Mrs. Macaulay, the “incomparable female historian,” wrote a nine-quarto volume History of England to refute Hume’s monarchical prejudices, taking some twenty years for her task. Horace Walpole once suggested that “England will be finished before her history.” The work aroused the enthusiasm of colonists: “I never met with a Mind so warmed and engaged in Sentiments of genuine Liberty,” was the report of one who visited with the lady before the American crisis, and another declared her “one of the brightest ornaments, not only of her sex, but of her age and country”15 Mrs. Macaulay resisted any inclination to historical mercy for Charles I. “In the suffering prince,” she explained, “we are apt to overlook the designing tyrant, to dwell on his hardship, and forget his crimes.” Allowed his way, he would “have destroyed every principle of Liberty in the constitution.” No other prince had undertaken so many innovations or schemes against the English constitution. Nor was Charles a gentleman: he was lewd, unchaste, and perhaps father of “one or two natural children.” His passion for political power, she claimed, was merely his “predominant vice.” Charles met with “the just vengeance” he brought upon himself for his career of “frantic” tyranny, destruction of liberty, and butchery of his subjects.16
There was a basic lesson which Americans learned from the political tragedy of Charles Stuart: it was unwise for a king to aim at more power “than the Constitution allow’d.” And, as Rapin wrote, Charles demonstrated “how difficult and how dangerous it is for a king of England, to attempt to subvert so well cemented a government.”17 But the miscarriage of the English Republic after the death of Charles I certainly dismayed Americans. Just as there had been anxiety to explain Saxon failure before feudal Normans, there was the problem of explaining the people’s inability to rescue their rights in the 1640s and 1650s. Although Mrs. Macaulay admired the Civil War and Interregnum as one of the most heroic periods of English history, replete with some of England’s noblest figures, she insisted that Oliver Cromwell was not one of them. He was the evil genius of the revolution, who dispensed with a people’s parliament and established despotism with the aid of his army. Cromwell was a usurper, “a master in all powers of grimace and the arts of hypocrisy”—as evil as Charles Stuart.
James Burgh offered the same judgment, terming Cromwell “the mock-patron of Liberty,” who took care of the free English constitution with an army of 30,000 men.18 Colonial readers found these opinions expressed earlier by Edmund Ludlow, one of the original regicides, a bitter critic of Cromwell. Ludlow denounced Cromwell with a steady sincerity and hoped “men may learn from the issue of the Cromwellian tyranny, that liberty and a standing mercenary army are incompatible.” Algernon Sidney believed Cromwell wrecked “the good old cause”; Cromwell was to the English Republic what Caesar had been to the Roman.19
Of course Cromwell also received a poor press from royalist writers. Baker treated Cromwell as a usurper, whose abundant vices obscured any merit in his character. Clarendon dismissed Cromwell as “a brave wicked Man,” guilty of the crimes “for which Hellfire is prepared.” Hume held Cromwell guilty of the “most atrocious” murder of Charles I, and thought him “covered under a mighty cloud of republican and fanatical illusions.”20
However, not all the writers popular with colonists agreed with this severe judgment. Rapin saw Cromwell as “one of the greatest men of his age,” a man attacked by republicans because he tried to temper Parliamentary authority. Bishop Burnet esteemed the Lord Protector, for “when his own designs did not lead him out of the way, he was a lover of justice and virtue, and even of learning.” Echard found Cromwell an honest patriot first, a republican afterwards. The failure of the English republican adventure of the 1650s was not entirely due to Cromwell’s despotism. Obadiah Hulme accused historians of being too obsessed with Cromwell to realize that the real culprit was the Long Parliament. Readers of Hulme’s Historical Essay found an attack both upon Charles I for tyranny and upon Parliament for seeking its own perpetuation. The House of Commons, Hulme claimed, “had no more regard, to the ancient form of government, to the rights, privileges, and franchises of the people, than William the Conqueror, or any other tyrant, since his time.” The Commons was responsible for the King’s murder, the destruction of the House of Lords, and the enslavement of the whole nation.21 Concerned with its own privileges, Parliament became incompetent and represented only itself. Tyranny need not be confined to one person, a Charles Stuart or an Oliver Cromwell; an oligarchy, even a Parliament, can be tyrannical.
Then came the Restoration, the cardinal fact of which was the loss of English virtue. Why else would Charles II receive such a welcome from a people who a dozen years earlier had cheered the execution of his father? Mrs. Macaulay diagnosed the occasion for Charles II’s return as a popular “fit of passion and despair”; the people “plunged themselves into a state of hopeless servitude” under a despotic dynasty.
Sensing the mood of his people more perceptively than his father had ever done, Charles II gave way to a love of luxury that accorded well with the desires of his many subjects. But one historian saw him as “rather Abandoned, than Luxurious,” and Americans were made to see the sensual side to Charles.22 Dodsley’s popular Chronicle edified Americans with Charles’s sexual propensities, describing how courtiers paraded a host of beautiful women before him, how “he was enamoured of them all; and he put forth his sceptre unto them, and the land was filled with royal bastards.” Moreover, “the nation, taking example from the court, ran headlong into all manner of licentiousness and immorality.” Dodsley could well conclude with his invitation to curious readers to look to modern “bawdy novels” for details on the gallantries of Charles II.23
England in the 1680s was thus pictured as a land without virtue, ruled by a monarch without virtue, a king who avoided conflict with his Parliament through the expedient of bribing it into submission. Charles II governed with his pensioned Parliament “in much the same arbitrary manner as William the Bastard did without a parliament.”24 Historians noted the martyrdom of Algernon Sidney, convicted by Judge Jeffries on the basis of the then unpublished “Discourses.” Even Hume, who found something to admire in Charles II, criticized the death of Sidney as “one of the greatest blemishes” of the Restoration.25
Jeffries attracted wide attention, and most historians served up at least one example of Jeffries’ injustice. A favorite story told and retold involved Colonel Kirke, Jeffries’ aide, whom the historical mythmakers rendered notorious. Kirke, it was said, liked music to hang men by—especially if their dying spasms kept time with a martial air. Rapin described Kirke’s cruelties as “beyond all imagination.” Writers enjoyed the Tosca-like tale of the young maiden who sought to save her innocent father (or brother, in some accounts) by submitting to Kirke’s “brutal lust,” after which he showed the swooning girl the gallows which her father adorned. According to the account by Burnet, Kirke’s superior, Jeffries, hanged over six hundred after Monmouth’s abortive rising against James II. The King, Burnet reported, was deeply pleased with “Jefferies’s Campain.”26
James II did not begin his reign auspiciously. Hume admitted James was “more imprudent and arbitrary than his predecessor.” De Lolme considered James “perhaps the guiltiest Monarch that ever existed.”27 One Englishman nodded chivalrously in the direction of James’s daughters, Queens Mary and Anne, and urged that James should be allowed to “fall gently” since he had bequeathed England two great queens whose contribution to the “bulwarks of the Protestant Religion, and the Liberties of Europe … may well atone for innumerable Failures in their unfortunate Father.” More typical was Isaac Kimber’s attack on James as “a thorough Bigot to Popery,” who would stick at nothing to bring the Pope to England. Dodsley saw James as “a worshipper of the church of Rome,” who “bowed the knee unto her idols, and went a whoring after all her abominations.” Moreover, Dodsley continued, James “was a zealous bigot to all the absurd and foolish tenets, which the cunning of her priests have invented to delude the ignorant, and enslave the mighty.”28
None of the historians popular in colonial America had other than praise and admiration for the great and Glorious Revolution of 1688. In every test, it was always “the grand Revolution,” or “the Epocha of English freedom,” when the Stuarts were expelled forever and England was restored to her rights and privileges. William III was “a wise prince,”29 a “heroic King,” sent to England by “the Hand of Providence” to foil “Popery and arbitrary Power.”30 William was the “glorious Deliverer,” who achieved the seventeenth-century political program. “He came; he saw; he delivered.”31 Exactly what did William III deliver? And how long enduring, how satisfactory was the product?
English Whigs worked hard both to explain and to justify seating the Dutch prince on the throne. William supported Parliament’s renewed campaign for “ancient Rights and Privileges.” Nothing new was introduced in 1688—this was a most unrevolutionary revolution. The contract given William and Mary was justified philosophically and historically. William and Mary, declared William Atwood, had become “our LAWFUL and RIGHTFUL King and Queen”; they undertook to restore the ancient Saxon system, and were elected part of it.32 The new monarchs were committed to Parliament’s right to approve taxes, and to rule without a standing army.33 No wonder De Lolme later marveled that 1688 demonstrated that in England “Liberty has at length disclosed her secret to Mankind, and secured an Asylum to herself.”34
The honeymoon did not last. William had the good sense to work with Parliament on money matters, but a flood of publications reminded Englishmen of the ancient system they were supposedly restoring, including a Saxon-style militia. Yet William believed that military common sense dictated a standing army. It became evident that William III’s contribution to England’s constitutional recovery was limited. In contemporary and later accounts Americans read of disillusionment with the halfway measures of the new administration. Bishop Burnet—“honest Burnet,” Burgh called him—remonstrated with William over the corruption introduced “on pretence of buying off the jacobites.” James Ralph, the American who first went to England with Franklin and stayed on to publish The Use and Abuse of Parliaments, wrote of the 1690s as a new “scene of iniquity … as made the pension-parliament of Charles II seem innocent.” Other comments referred to William as a foreigner (like the first William) who came to England “on pretence of delivering us from slavery; and makes it one of his first works to plunge us into the very vice which has enslaved all the nations of the world, that have ever lost their liberties.”35 William “was but half the friend to liberty he pretended to be” and “more fond of power than of squaring his government with the principles of the constitution.” Compared to “the immortal and blessed Alfred,” William was but “a cold-hearted Dutchman.”36
William’s many critics agreed that he had ample assistance in his misgovernment. Neither people nor Parliament remained alert to their danger. Lessons furnished by Cromwell’s Long Parliament were forgotten. Obsessed with the tyranny associated with the Stuarts, the people allowed Parliament to slide into sloth and decadence.37 There was no sensible action to prevent Parliamentary corruption or restore the Saxon system of annual parliaments.
The picture presented the colonial reader was one of recovery and decline—the promising beginning of 1688 was followed by a frustrating eighteenth century. In such history the colonial reader saw a magnificent postmortem on England’s last hope for constitutional liberty. There might be a new monarch, but this meant only a new name rather than a meaningful change. Queen Anne, William III’s successor, though “a most virtuous, just, and pious Princess,” was nevertheless a Queen “easily led by her Favorites.”38 There might be a change in dynasty, but hardly a change in the speed of English political decay. When Thomas Gordon and John Trenchard collaborated on Cato’s Letters in the 1720s, they selected their pseudonym because Cato had “contended for public Liberty and Virtue.” They commented on the current meaninglessness of political parties and political labels and explained the obsession for place and power: “A Tory under Oppression, or out of a Place, is a Whig; a Whig with Power to oppress, is a Tory.” Time had been when a Tory was an extreme royalist; in early eighteenth-century England the desire for power obliterated principle. “No Men upon Earth have been more servile, crouching, and abandoned Creatures of Power, than the Whigs sometimes have been,” observed Gordon.39
Changed conditions made for strange political bedfellows. Bolingbroke (long known as the wildest, wickedest Tory) saw that the 1688 Revolution had altered political landmarks. The Whigs in power were men “who succeeded to the name rather than the principles of this party after the revolution.”40 Bolingbroke’s solution to the transformation of England from decay to virtue was a miraculous regeneration through The Idea of a Patriot King. He looked, hopefully, for a prince who would “abandon corruption and restore Parliament.” Such a person might save a country whose ruin was so advanced. But even this might not be enough. “To preserve liberty by new laws and schemes of government, while the corruption of a people continues and grows, is absolutely impossible.”41 Bolingbroke was troubled by the thought that the elected might well be representative of the electors. When the people, the electors, “became universally corrupt, as well as the elected,” he warned, “the fate of Rome will be renewed in Britain.”42
From the American vantage point three alarming themes ran through many accounts of recent English history: moral degeneration; political irresponsibility, prelude to new despotism; and a standing army, historic ally of despots. “Liberty cannot be preserved,” Sidney had said, “if the Manners of the People are corrupted.”43 Many feared that Sidney’s warning was being fatally ignored in eighteenth-century England, that the English had become “the most luxurious people now in the world … a people enslaving themselves in luxury.”44 Luxury as a historical theme fascinated many eighteenth-century writers. Distaste for luxury was logical for intellectuals with puritan antecedents or historical recollections of luxury in ancient Greece and Rome. There was a disposition to trace luxury from the misrule of Charles II. The theatrical stage, which had supplied mistresses to Charles, supplied whig writers with awesome lessons in sinful luxury. Burnet’s complaint that “our Plays are the greatest debauchers of the Nation” was recited with telling effect. On the eve of the American Revolution, some were still distressed by actresses leading innocents astray, and Burgh attacked “the female dancers, whose immodest curvetting in the air, and exposing of their limbs” was so “fatally alluring to those already familiarized to vice.”45
The modern get-rich-quick schemes also seemed symptomatic. The mounting national debt burdened future generations and afforded unhealthy speculative opportunities to the present. Cato’s Letters gave a discussion of the South Sea Bubble, which involved debt and manipulation, and discussion of which allowed for appeal to the fate of innocent sufferers, the widows and orphans: speculators were worms eating at the English body politic, the “sort of Vermin that are bred and nourished in the Corruption of the State.”46
Yet in the view of many, England’s moral and economic decline stemmed directly from the fundamental failure of the political system. Political corruption was regarded as more dangerous than other outward manifestations of decay. The “True Whigs” deplored extravagance and venality; they worried over virtue; they returned again and again to the basic betrayal of the principles of England’s ancient constitution. It was hard not to conclude that all would have been well—at least, much better—had not Parliament coalesced with the King to ignore the constitutional rights of the people. If only Parliament, prone to corruption because of remoteness from the populace, could return to its ancient purity and independence. The political machine built by Walpole was constructed on infrequent general elections and few voters. Cato’s Letters drew attention to “the little beggarly Boroughs” which were “Pools of Corruption.”47 Hulme noted “the elective power of the people, hath, with the boroughs, been falling into decay, while many of the villages, and some parts of the open country … have risen by trade, into great opulence, and magnitude.” The industrial revolution was creating an increasingly unrepresentative situation, and “there is not, perhaps, one man in five thousand, who is now represented in parliament, by a member of his own election.” A comparison between the miserable eighteenth-century present and the glorious Saxon past was irresistible. “Our ancient parliaments were composed of The Wise Men of England, but … they have been changed into The Rich Men of England,”48 rich because of susceptibility to “places, pensions, contracts.” The man who managed Parliament, Robert Walpole, was “the Archcorrupter,” who contaminated the nation with “a venal spirit, and made the generality of our boroughs, rotten to the very heart.”49
Had England made any political progress since the 1688 Revolution? Not according to James Burgh: “The Stuarts meant a tyranny by one; the Walpolians an aristocracy.” There was little to choose between the two. Where the Stuarts had been butchers, attacking “the good lady Britannia with slaughtering knives,” recent England faced “genteeler corrupters” who “endeavoured her destruction by poison held out to her in a golden cup.”50
If only parliaments were elected more frequently, England’s future would be more encouraging. The seventeenth century had seen triennial parliaments, followed in 1716 by a disastrous septennial act. Eighteenth-century historians cited John Milton’s criticism of the triennial arrangement as “but the third part of one good step towards that which in times past was our annual right.” They revived the Mirrour of Justices to prove “that parliaments by the old laws, ought to be held twice a year”; by 1716 “we are deprived of 13 parts in 14 of our antient privilege.”51 Malachy Postlethwayt in his widely read Dictionary of Trade and Commerce observed that “Parliaments … were originally annual; and antiently all the people voted.” Times had changed, thanks to a House of Commons which had found a way to control “the creative power from whence they derive their authority.”52
Septennial elections, Americans were told time after time, were the basic source of all England’s political problems.53 Here was the spring from which flowed the destructive mischief of corruption which “hath sapped the foundation of a fabric, whose building was cemented with the blood of our best citizens,” a corruption which had “tainted the minds of men with such an incurable degeneracy, that the virtue of our forefathers is become the ridicule of every modern politician.” As Hulme reminded his readers, England’s Saxon forefathers had “made the elective power of the people the first principle of our constitution.” That first principle was now too obviously forgotten: “As standing water soon stinks … so a standing house of commons, will ever be a standing pool of corruption.” If England would return, not to a mere halfway house of triennial, but to the true Saxon system of annual elections, the pool of corruption might be sufficiently stirred up to permit a Parliamentary return to “pristine purity.” The nation needed an “ANNUAL CURRENT.”54
In eighteenth-century England nostalgic writers also faced the menace of standing armies with all their dreadful associations. History had shown that “when a country is to be enslaved, the army is the instrument to be used,” and that from the reign of William III there had been a steady increase in the standing army. European ventures under Queen Anne led to dangerous fascination with “great armies and land wars.” Arrival of the Hanoverians brought a dynasty “who had no idea of an insular situation, nor of any security, but what depends on numerous standing forces.”55 “He that is armed,” Andrew Fletcher, a protégé of Bishop Burnet,56 reminded his many American readers, “is always master of the purse of him that is unarmed.”57
There was, in short, diminishing evidence for England’s recovery of her constitutional freedom. Loss of the people’s militia may have sealed her fate—“we have quitted our antient security” was one cry heard in America.58 Luxury, corruption, an infrequently elected Parliament—the colonists’ portrait of their mother country was painted in dismal hues.
In more recent times the colonist’s perspective was determined, perhaps inevitably, as much by politics as by history. The disputes between England and the American colonies occupied a sizable space on the political stage. Americans discovered—with gratification—that many whig writers made injustice to the American colonies a part of a general indictment of England’s decadence. While there was disagreement on what should be done, Americans enjoyed a consoling commentary on their mistreatment. Early in the eighteenth century Thomas Gordon and John Trenchard found room in their Cato’s Letters for discussion of “ways to retain colonies.” England faced a choice—either “to keep independence out of their [the colonists’] power,” or “to keep independence out of their will.” Only “by using them well” could England be sure of her empire.59
However, there was more agreement on the necessity of generous treatment than on the colonial title to it. Some argued that the American colonies were economically rewarding and that enlightened self-interest dictated benevolent government. Others, concerned for England’s domestic situation, argued that tyranny in the colonies would augur ill for liberties in the mother country. Burgh warned if “the American charters may be destroyed, the charters of all the cities [i.e., London], and those by which all crown lands are held, may be annihilated.” He contended that Magna Charta and the Bill of Rights belonged as much to Englishmen in America as Englishmen at home, and that an invasion of documented privilege threatened rights of all Englishmen. Americans did not deserve to be attacked “for doing what the Bill of Rights allows every Englishman.”60
Among the basic rights of Englishmen was taxation by their own representatives. Although native Englishmen had at least a limited voice in Parliament, Americans had no representation there at all. Moreover, the example of the palatinates of Chester and Durham, which had enjoyed assemblies before the Norman Conquest and which were not taxed until granted representation in Westminster, applied to the palatinates of Maryland and Pennsylvania.61 The books that colonists read sparkled with this sort of illustration. William Molyneux gave Americans a variation of the argument for autonomy in his Case of Ireland, which appeared in 1698, but became so popular in America that three new editions were issued between 1770 and 1776. Molyneux championed the rights of Irishmen by arguing that Ireland (quite like the American colonies) had never been conquered and should not be treated as if it had been. He claimed Ireland had made “Voluntary Submission” to England in the distant reign of Henry II, and this move led to a compact between the two countries. With reference to Coke’s Institutes and the Modus Tenendi Parliamentum, Molyneux insisted that the Irish “should enjoy the like Liberties and Immunities, and be Govern’d by the same Mild Laws … as the People of England.” If a people could claim the rights of Englishmen, to tax them without their consent was “little better, if at all, than downright Robbing.”62
Granville Sharp cheered his American readers by the observation that “all British subjects, whether in Great Britain, Ireland, or the Colonies, are equally free.” He could reach no other conclusion. America was no conquered country; feudal tyranny had no historic right in America; Americans possessed full title to all the fundamental rights embodied in English common law. Any other verdict, said Sharp, would be “Treason against the Constitution.”63
Was Sharp right? English government betrayed Sharp’s idea of the constitution. Ministerial demand for an American revenue rose steadily, but critics questioned the necessity as well as the justice of taxing the colonies: “Before the taxing of the unrepresented colonies was thought of, the ministry ought to have reduced exorbitant salaries, abated, or abolished excessive perquisites, annihilated useless places, stopped iniquitous pensions … and reduced an odious and devouring army, and taxed vice, luxury, gaming and public diversions.” Economies of this sort would bring the British treasury “ten times more than Grenville could ever expect from taxing, by force and authority, the unrepresented colonies.”64
Numerous authors offered to anxious colonial readers encouraging examples of resistance. Sir William Temple furnished an inspiring account of Dutch opposition to Spanish tyranny. There was an apparent parallel: George III, like Emperor Charles V, showed little understanding of provincial rights. Both maintained troops long after any need for them. Both encouraged religious strife—Charles V “by erecting new bishoprics along with the introduction of the inquisition.” Dutch resistance to oppression was logical for a people “fond of and tenacious of their ancient Customs and Laws.” Just as seventeenth-century Spain fell victim to luxury and corruption, so was England succumbing to the same corroding influences.65 Molesworth had related a similar tale in his celebrated Account of Denmark; here Americans learned of another Germanic people who failed to sustain liberties in the face of such forces as a selfish nobility, apathy and ignorance of history among the populace, and a standing army.66
While Americans did not lack information about their rights, neither did they lack conflicting suggestions about their proper course of action. Some sources discouraged colonial resistance to English rule and some suggested Anglo-American cooperation to revivify the constitution. William Blackstone wrote magnificently on “the liberties of Englishmen”—which he derived from “a restoration of that antient constitution, of which our ancestors had been defrauded by the art and finesse of the Norman lawyers.” But he flatly denied the possibility of such rights crossing the Atlantic to America. And Obadiah Hulme insisted that the colonists were subject to Parliament’s authority even if it was corrupt. Colonization was for the common good, not for “the particular good of the settlers.” Remedy for colonial complaints lay not with dissolution of empire but closer union. Americans should “unite with their brethren in England, to restore, and maintain … the English Constitution upon its genuine foundation.” There would be no colonial problem if the English government were restored to its historic Saxon character, and some believed a combined Anglo-colonial effort could restore it.67
But the vast majority of “True Whigs” insisted on American rights regardless of consequences to the empire. What was to be the route to these rights? There were grounds for doubt that they could be achieved through cooperation with England—even among those who advocated this very course. For example, Hulme conceded in his Historical Essay that “as things go, there will soon be very little left of the British constitution, besides the name and outward form.”68 The historical lesson taught by the whigs seemed to meet with little response in England. But in America the story was different. Forgotten or ignored as prophets in their own country, English whig historians were not without honor in America. Colonial patriots were prepared to determine just what this history taught about the preservation of their rights.
The Revolutionary Use of History
[1.]Laurence Echard, The History of England, 3d ed., 3 vols. (London, 1720), I, 298; Rapin, History of England, I, 849 n.
[2.]Sir Richard Baker, A Chronicle of the Kings of England … (London, 1670), 324.
[3.]Rapin, History of England, II, 49; Echard, History of England, 327; Robert Dodsley, The Chronicle of the Kings of England (Philadelphia, 1774), 54.
[4.]Bolingbroke, On Patriotism, 62.
[5.]Rapin, History of England, II, 56–57; Echard, History of England, 375.
[6.]Baker, Chronicle, 420.
[7.]Thornhagh Gurdon, The History of the High Court of Parliament … , 2 vols. (London, 1731), II, 391; Hume, History of England, V, 2–13.
[8.]Rapin, History of England, II, 347, 370.
[9.]Kimber, History of England, 287; Echard, History of England, 407–8; Baker, Chronicle, 446; Dodsley, Chronicle, 57.
[10.]Dodsley, Chronicle, 57.
[11.]Hume, History of England, V, 540; Kimber, History of England, 321.
[12.]Echard, History of England, 663; Baker, Chronicle, 592.
[13.]Edward Hyde, Lord Clarendon, The History of the Rebellion … , 3 vols. in 6 (Oxford, 1731–32), III, 259.
[14.]Hume, History of England, V, 540.
[15.]James Burgh in his Political Disquisitions, I, vii, termed Mrs. Macaulay “incomparable,” and Horace Walpole’s remark is noted in Lucy Martin Donnelly, “The Celebrated Mrs. Macaulay,” William and Mary Quarterly 3d ser., 6 (1949): 183; entry of May 31, 1772, Franklin B. Dexter, ed., The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, 3 vols. (N.Y., 1901), I, 319; John Adams to Catherine Macaulay, Aug. 9, 1770, Adams, Works, IX, 332.
[16.]Catherine Macaulay, The History of England … , 9 vols. (London, 1763–83), V, 100 n; IV, 418, 424, 435.
[17.]Kimber, History of England, 321; Rapin, Dissertation, 19.
[18.]Macaulay, History of England, V, III, 215; Burgh, Political Disquisitions, III, 377.
[19.]Edmund Ludlow, Memoirs … , 3 vols. (London [?], 1698–99), III, Preface; for similar sentiments, see also I, Preface, and 489, 503; Jefferson owned this edition; it survives in the Rare Book Room, Library of Congress, Sidney, Discourses, II, 201–2.
[20.]Baker, Chronicle, 625; Clarendon, History of the Rebellion, III, 653; Hume, History of England, V, 488–89.
[21.]Rapin, History of England, II, 602; Bishop Burnet’s History of His Own Time … , new ed., 2 vols. (London, 1850), I, 52; Echard, History of England, 725; Hulme, Historical Essay, 109– 17.
[22.]Macaulay, History of England, V, 390; Echard, History of England, 1047.
[23.]Dodsley, Chronicle, 86, 89.
[24.]Burgh, Political Disquisitions, I, 120.
[25.]Hume, History of England, VI, 271–72. Lacking a second witness to an overt act of treason, Judge Jeffries ruled that “Scribere est agere,” and so accepted Sidney’s manuscript “Discourses” as conclusive evidence. See Burnet’s History of His Own Time, I, 372.
[26.]Rapin, History of England, II, 750, cites Burnet.
[27.]Hume, History of England, VI, 316; De Lolme, Constitution of England, 315.
[28.]Echard, History of England, 1150; Kimber, History of England, 342; Dodsley, Chronicle, 90.
[29.]Dodsley, Chronicle, 96.
[30.]Kimber, History of England, 398.
[31.]Burgh, Britain’s Remembrancer, 31.
[32.]Sir Robert Atkyns, The Power, Jurisdiction and Privilege of Parliament … (London, 1689), 33; Atwood, Fundamental Constitution, title page.
[33.]Dodsley, Chronicle, 97–98.
[34.]De Lolme, Constitution of England, 540.
[35.]Burnet, like Rapin, reached American readers well recommended: “the good bishop,” observed Burgh, was “like a faithful preacher of righteousness.” See Burgh, Political Disquisitions, I, 403, 419; James Ralph, Of The Use and Abuse of Parliaments … , 2 vols. (London, 1744), I, 121; Burgh, Political Disquisitions, I, 403.
[36.]John Cartwright, To the Commonalty of Great Britain (London, 1776), xxxi-xxxii.
[37.]Bolingbroke, A Dissertation upon Parties … , 2d ed. (London, 1735), 218–21.
[38.]Kimber, History of England, 410.
[39.]Trenchard and Gordon, Cato’s Letters, III, 258–59.
[40.]Herbert Butterfield, The Statecraft of Machiavelli (N.Y., 1956), 151–54; Bolingbroke, Letters on the Study and Use of History, new ed. (Paris, 1808), 295.
[41.]Butterfield, Statecraft, 151–61.
[42.]Bolingbroke, Dissertation on Parties, as quoted in Burgh, Political Disquisitions, II, 135.
[43.]Quoted by Trenchard and Gordon, Cato’s Letters, I, 196.
[44.]Quoted by Burgh, Political Disquisitions, III, 65.
[45.]Burnet’s original comment was “The stage is a great corrupter of the town”; Burnet’s History of His Own Time, 915; Burgh’s paraphrase occurs in his Britain’s Remembrancer, 28 n. Burgh, Political Disquisitions, III, 99. Particularly imaginative was one plan to curb immorality and reduce the appalling national debt: since adultery was a major vice, the design called for flaying and curing the hides of convicted guilty gallants; the product should be auctioned for manufacturing purposes, and revenue would “go some considerable length toward paying the debt of the nation.” Consider the charms of a pair of gloves from “a blood royal hide” or a pin cushion “made of such rich stuff” that it might sell for a hundred guineas. There might be a problem of oversupply, but speculators who held up the price of corn could deal with the plentitude of adulterers in England. There was no end to such a program: there could be a Hide Office, with its commissioners and clerks, handsomely paid of course, all places filled by ministers grasping for influence and power. But despite such charges, the revenue for the national treasury might be as much “as we are likely to get by taxing our colonies.” Ibid., III, 140.
[46.]Trenchard and Gordon, Cato’s Letters, I, 17; III, 23, 209–24.
[47.]Ibid., III, 18.
[48.]Hulme, Historical Essay, 76, 126.
[49.]Burgh, Political Disquisitions, I, 387, 69.
[51.]Burgh’s anthology drew frequently on Milton and the Mirrour. See ibid., 84–85, 25.
[52.]Malachy Postlethwayt, The Universal Dictionary of Trade and Commerce, 2 vols. (London, 1751–55), II, 413; Hulme, Historical Essay, 126.
[53.]Macaulay, Address to the People, 18.
[54.]Burgh, Political Disquisitions, I, 267–486; Hulme, Historical Essay, 149–50.
[55.]Burgh, Political Disquisitions, II, 349, 338.
[56.]See Robbins, Eighteenth-Century Commonwealthman, 180–84.
[57.]Andrew Fletcher, The Political Works … (London, 1737), 9.
[59.]Trenchard and Gordon, Cato’s Letters, III, 7.
[60.]Burgh, Political Disquisitions, II, 297, 319.
[62.]William Molyneux, The Cause of Ireland’s Being Bound by Acts of Parliament in England, Stated (Dublin, 1698), 37–38, 150, 48.
[63.]Granville Sharp, A Declaration of the People’s Natural Right to a Share in the Legislature … (London, 1774), 11, 230.
[64.]Burgh, Political Disquisitions, II, 315.
[65.]Swift, ed., Works of Temple, I, 22; Burgh, Political Disquisitions, III, 59.
[66.]Molesworth, An Account of Denmark, 124–27.
[67.]Blackstone, Commentaries, II, 45–53; Hulme, Historical Essay, 210.
[68.]Hulme, Historical Essay, 8.