The Colonial System Under The Whigs
Whig ascendency.—The peaceful establishment of George I on the English throne marked the downfall of the Tory party. To keep England at peace and at the same time to maintain the balance of power in Europe was the difficult task which the Whig statesmen performed, in the main successfully. To build up English industry and commerce on mercantilist principles was the basis of the Whig economic system.
Establishment of the Cabinet system.—The statesmen who had placed a Hanoverian on the throne did not propose to surrender the powers of government. The king, ignorant of English speech and English politics, soon learned that a Whig-made king was also a Whig-ruled king. During the two previous reigns a small group of men within the privy council had invariably directed affairs of state. This group had gradually come to represent the majority in parliament, an arrangement which became a definitely established principle, the ministerial group forming the cabinet. From 1714 to 1721 no one man dominated, but the financial crisis, brought about by the bursting of the South Sea Bubble, gave the great financier, Robert Walpole, his opportunity. As First Lord of the Treasury and Chancellor of the Exchequer, for twenty years he maintained his leadership, the first of the prime ministers.
The Secretary of State for the Southern Department.—In the evolution of the cabinet system the machinery of colonial government also changed. Under the Whig régime the Board of Trade, which, since 1696 had been the chief instrument of colonial control, soon became of secondary importance, the Secretary of State for the Southern Department being recognized as the responsible head of the colonial system. Until 1724 no one held the office long enough to develop a colonial policy, but in that year the Duke of Newcastle was appointed to the position, which he held for twenty-four years. Newcastle is generally regarded as an inefficient administrator, a politician who found the colonial system a convenient place to reward supporters. In his hands was the power of appointment of colonial governors and other important officials; many of them proved to be excellent officials, but others were corrupt or incapable. Jealous of his authority and fearful of entrusting power to others, Newcastle attempted to attend to the mass of colonial business, with the result that it was frequently neglected.
The Board of Trade.—The Board of Trade necessarily lost in power. When the Whigs came in office, they made a clean sweep of the board. The new members were usually friends of the ministers or indigent members of the house of commons, most of whom were ignorant of colonial affairs. The board became mainly an information bureau. At a later period, when Newcastle became prime minister, it regained some of its former prestige under the able leadership of Halifax.
The privy council.—During the reign of Anne the deliberative work of the privy council had been transacted largely by a committee, the council formally approving business settled in committee. This became the uniform rule under George I. Petitions, complaints, and memorials were, usually referred to the Board of Trade for investigation and report, and then considered by a committee, of which the Secretary of State for the Southern Department was invariably a member. Colonial laws were also referred to the board for examination, while appeals were usually handled by a committee of the council. The crown continued to disallow colonial legislation, but exercised the right less frequently under the first two Georges than under William and Anne.
Attitude toward colonial governments.—As compared with earlier periods, little was done to reorganize colonial governments. Though plans for doing away with the charters of Rhode Island and Connecticut were frequently discussed, no action was taken, but in the proprietary colonies changes occurred. In Maryland the Baltimore family was restored to power, and in Pennsylvania the Penn family was confirmed in its rights. In the Carolinas the colonists had grown weary of proprietary neglect in defending the colonies against the Indians, Spanish, and French. Revolutionary movements occurred which resulted in the overthrow of proprietary power and in the complete separation of North and South Carolina, a government of the royal type being established in each colony.
Trade laws.—During the Walpole period the mercantilist economic theories were still the basis of trade regulation. The colonies continued to be looked upon as a base of supply for raw material. Their industrial and commercial activities were not to interfere with those of English manufacturers and shippers. To prevent smuggling, to provide for the treasury, and at the same time foster the resources of the colonies, were the difficult tasks of Walpole and his colleagues.
Naval stores.—The wars of William and Anne had caused a great demand for naval stores, and their production in the colonies had been encouraged. During that period England had drawn her greatest supply from the Baltic countries. But the defeat of Sweden in her wars with Russia meant a decline of English influence in the Baltic, and England turned to the colonies for her ship supplies. In 1721 a new bounty act was accordingly passed to encourage the colonial supply, and the best hemp from the colonies was allowed to come into England free of duty. Eight years later the bounties on pitch, turpentine, and tar were somewhat lessened, the encouragement still being sufficient to give the producers a decided advantage over their competitors, the Carolinas being the principal gainers in the business. In 1731 the drawback on unwrought hemp exported from England to the colonies was removed, an act which also appears to have favored the colonial trade. The production of hemp, however, did not flourish in America as did that of other naval stores. In 1721 copper was placed upon the enumerated list, but every effort to include iron was defeated until 1750. In line with the policy of stimulating the production of naval stores was a provision that timber from the colonies could be imported into England duty free, the result being that New England became the source of supply for masts both in the navy and the mercantile marine.
Furs and hats.—The fur business in the Atlantic seaboard colonies had steadily declined, and the government wished to build it up. To accomplish this beaver and other peltry were placed on the enumerated list, but the duties payable in England were materially decreased. Much of the beaver was used in the colonies in the manufacture of hats. As this was an important English industry, in 1732 an act was passed which stopped the exportation of hats from the colonies and restricted their manufacture.
Rice.—The rice industry had been introduced in Carolina about 1688, and found an important market in Portugal and Spain. Rice being placed on the enumerated list in the reign of Anne, the colonies soon lost the market. To rectify this, in 1730 Carolina was allowed to send rice direct to countries south of Cape Finisterre. Five years later Georgia, and somewhat later the West Indies, were allowed the same privilege. American rice immediately regained its place in the trade of southern Europe and also found a market in Holland and Germany.
The Molasses Act.—The great staple of the West Indies was sugar. In its production the English Islands had surpassed the French colonies, a condition which was due to the restrictive measures of the French government. But in 1717 France adopted a liberal policy toward her colonies and the production of sugar increased to such an extent that the English sugar-producing islands experienced a financial depression. The thrifty colonial traders from the mainland, especially from New England, took advantage of the low price of French and Dutch sugar, molasses, and rum. To bolster up the West Indian planters and to prevent the trade with foreign colonies, in 1733 the Molasses Act was passed, imposing prohibitory duties on molasses, sugar, and rum imported into the continental colonies from other than English possessions. But in spite of the act the trade continued, and but little effort was made to enforce the law.
Constitutional principles.—During the period from 1714 to 1740 the constitutional rights of the people in the colonies were defined more clearly than before. In 1720 the principle was established that the common law applied to the colonies as well as to England, but the question of whether English statute law extended to the colonies was not satisfactorily settled. The writ of habeas corpus was usually granted under the common law. Progress was also made toward gaining the freedom of the press. After a struggle in Massachusetts in 1721 the right of the governor to censor books was abridged. In 1735 Zenger, a New York publisher, was tried for libel. The court held that it should decide the libellous nature of the statements made, and that the jury should determine the fact of publication. Zenger's lawyer argued that the jury must decide on whether or not the publication was libellous. On this ground he won his suit, thereby greatly strengthening the power of the press.
Increasing power of assemblies.—English colonial policy does not appear to have aroused serious opposition. Each colony had its political parties, but no question arose which welded together any group of colonies, or of classes in various colonies. As in the earlier period there were frequent quarrels between the assemblies and the governors, control of finance being the most usual cause of friction. The governors demanded fixed salaries, while the assemblies insisted on making temporary grants. The assemblies also ignored the necessity of the governor's warrant in drawing money, and insisted that the councils should not amend money bills. In these controversies the governors were usually bested, and by the close of the Walpole régime, the principle was well defined that the assemblies should control the purse.
Paper money.—Closely allied to the question of control of taxation and the governor's salary was that regarding the issuance of paper money. A shortage of coin was usual, and the issuance of paper money was the remedy by which the assemblies and banks attempted to provide a medium of exchange. In general the governors opposed such issues as financially unsound, but their actions were frequently misunderstood and were considered tyrannous.
Friction between colonies.—The difficulties between the executives and the assemblies might have developed into a general opposition to English control had it not been for the quarrels between colonies over boundaries and trade laws. Boundaries were based upon charters, which in many cases were conflicting and almost every colony had chronic disputes with its neighbors. The trade laws of one colony frequently discriminated against its neighbors, the natural result being retaliatory legislation. The English government was often called in as umpire, but its decisions seldom met with the approval of both parties.
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