The Library of Original Sources, Vol 7


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English Colonial Views

Of the new lands brought into communication with Europe In the sixteenth century, practically all of South and Central America fell into the control of the Spaniards and Portuguese. North America and India were the fields left to be striven for. The first efforts of the English to push trade were made by giving to chartered companies the right to trade and govern in some part of the new lands. Thus arose the Merchant Adventurers’ Company in 1564, the Muscovy Company and the Turkey Company somewhat later, the East India Company in 1600, the Company of the Merchants of London for the Discovery of the Northwest Passage, the Virginia Company, the Bermuda Company, the Newfoundland Company, the first African Company, the New England Company, the Providence Company, the Massachusetts Bay Company, and many others, all formed in quick succession during the first part of the seventeenth century. Grants of land were also occasionally given to some lord, as Maryland in 1669 to Lord Baltimore, or the Carolinas in 1663 and 1665 to eight noblemen.

The original idea of most of these companies was to trade. Their attempts to govern territory were necessarily for the most part unsuccessful and the management of the colonies gradually devolved upon the home government, which deferred more or less to the colonists themselves.

The greatest exception to this incapacity to govern, the one company that, almost in spite of its own wishes, was forced to build up a mighty empire, was the East India Company.

By virtue of the voyages of Vasco da Gama and subsequentconquests, the trade of India had been exclusively in the hands of the Portuguese throughout the sixteenth century. The weakening of Spain and Portugal by the overthrow of the Armada in 1588 left the way to India open to Dutch and British enterprise. The Dutch seized the opportunity first and were already established in the East when the East India Company was formed in London in 1600, the immediate cause being the raising of the price of pepper by the Dutch from three to six shillings a pound. The English were at first opposed in the East by both the Dutch and the Portuguese, but even their first voyages were so profitable that other companies sprang up to divide the trade. The original company, however, held the advantage and successively absorbed its rivals. Several pitched battles were won against the Portuguese and a factory established at Surat (1614). The struggles with the Dutch still continued, and the Dutch succeeded in expelling the English from the Spice islands, Lantore, Bantam, and other districts. The Portuguese were again defeated, this time by Captain Shillinge, in 1620, and their power gradually declined. The Dutch successes continued and the British were driven from Lantore again and from the whole Indian archipelago (1623). The British trade and influence on the mainland was, nevertheless, constantly extended. Bombay was ceded to England in 1661 as part of the dower of Catharine of Braganza. The continued struggles against Dutch, Portuguese, and Mohammedans finally compelled the company in 1869 to establish itself as an independent sovereign in India. As its resolution runs, "The increase of our revenue is the subject of our care as much as our trade; ’tis that must maintain our force when twenty accidents may interrupt our trade; ’tis that must make us a nation in India; without that we are but a great number of interlopers united by His Majesty’s royal charter, fit only to trade where nobody of power thinks it their interest to prevent us; and upon this account it is that the wise Dutch, in all their general advices that we have seen, write ten paragraphs concerning their government, their civil and, military policy, warfare, and the increase of their revenue, for one paragraph they write concerning trade."

In the meantime the French began to take an interest in Indian trade. Their first company was formed in 1604, but their first important settlement, that at Pondicherri, was not made until 1672. For many years these two nations traded not far apart without serious difficulties, but the Franco-English war in 1745 brought a French fleet down uponIndia the next year, and the English—among them young Robert Clive—were driven to take refuge in Fort St. David. A force of four hundred French under Dupleix defeated the nawab with 10,000 men. In the war that followed Clive won fame by his heroic defense of Arcot (1751), but on the whole honors were about even in this district until the decisive victory of Wandewash, won by the English under Colonel Coote in 1761. But in the meantime the war had been shifted to Bengal. In 1756 Surj-ud-Daul, seeking one of his own subjects, marched upon Calcutta with a large army and seized the English that did not flee. One hundred and forty-six were thrown into the military jail, a room eighteen feet square with only two small windows—the famous "Black Hole of Calcutta." In the morning only twenty-three were left alive, the rest had been suffocated in the stifling heat. Clive and Admiral Watson promptly sailed upon Calcutta and retook the city. Clive attacked the French at Chandarnagar, and Surj-ud-Daul became the active ally of the French. With 1,000 Europeans and 2,100 Sepoys Clive defeated 68,000 Mohammedans under Surj-ud-Daul at Plassey, June 23, 1757. Clive placed Mir Jafar on the throne—an indemnity of some $12,500,000 being the price of his elevation. The Company also received sovereign and landlord rights over large districts. In 1758 Clive was made the first governor-general of the English settlements in Bengal. He drove out both the remaining French and Dutch and left the English influence supreme. In his third visit to India he began the administrative organization of the country by placing the control of the revenues in the hands of the English and the administration of justice in the control of the nawb. Clive returned to England in 1767. He had given his country a new empire.

Many so-called rebellions by native princes followed during the next hundred years, but we need not trace them here. During this period the Board of Control over the Company’s affairs was established by Pitt in 1784, the Company’s monopoly of the trade taken away in 1833, and the entire administration transferred from the Company to the Crown in 1858.

This brief sketch is enough to show that in the beginning the colonial policy of England was to give the exploiting and colonizing of the new countries over to trading companies. In the East these companies were intensely selfish. They made their monopolies pay by forcing out all others, selling their own manufactures at enormous profits, controlling as far as possible the production of the exportableproducts, destroying native products in excess of what it would be profitable to export to Europe; demanding great indemnities for injuries; collecting huge and irregular taxes; and generally forcing as much out of the country as possible.

In America most of these companies were largely formed for the benefit of the colonists themselves, and the companies which did attempt to exercise undue control over the colonists soon found themselves in difficulties and lost their charters to the Crown. While in the East the East India Company had to deal with natives and foreign rivals, in America the colonists were Englishmen and used to English rights.

The whole theory of trade, however, national, as well as that held by companies and individuals, was wholly monopolistic and short-sightedly selfish. The colonies were considered properties; they were thought to be under the control of Parliament, subject to taxes by it; in accordance with the mercantile system of political economics then prevalent over Europe, manufactures in them were prohibited, they could trade only from England and, except where their goods might interfere with English products, only to England. The American colonists, on the other hand, considered themselves subject to the Crown, but not to Parliament—their own assemblies were their parliaments; they thought themselves as capable of acting for themselves as Parliament was; and denied the right of Parliament especially to internal taxation, though long admitting the right to restrictions on trade.

The gradual change in the British colonial policy toward absolute non-interference in colonial affairs, is marked by the American Revolution; by Smith’s argument in the Wealth of Nations, that the colonies are not to be considered mere properties, but that the object is the greatest total production of wealth; the abolition of East Indian monopoly in 1794; the modification of the Navigation Act, which had so restricted trade, in 1823; the abolition of the Corn Laws in 1846; and the entire annulling of the Navigation Act in 1849.


From a Photograph Copyright by Underwood&Underwood

In the meantime the two great empires of Canada and Australia had been developing and, as they grew, reaping the benefit of this change of policy. Upper and Lower Canada were both given a constitution and an elected parliament in 1791. The legislative union of the Dominion of Canada took place in 1867. Since then Canada has been practically independent.

Australia was first populated in New South Wales by convictsexported from England in 1788. New South Wales continued to be a penal settlement up to 1839. Gradually Tasmania (1825), Western Australia (1829), South Australia (1834), New Zealand (1841), Victoria (1851), and Queensland (1859), assumed separate governments under governors appointed from England and elected parliaments. They were recently reunited in the great Commonwealth of Australia, even more independent of the mother country than Canada. These matters, however, belong to a later volume.

The English views at the time of the Revolution concerning the American colonies are touched upon more particularly under the head of the American Revolution, and are illustrated in the sentiments of Chatham, Grenville, Mansfield, Burke and Adam Smith, given below.


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Chicago: "English Colonial Views," The Library of Original Sources, Vol 7 in The Library of Original Sources, ed. Oliver J. Thatcher (Milwaukee, Wisconsin: University Research Extension Co., 1907), 56–59. Original Sources, accessed December 6, 2023,

MLA: . "English Colonial Views." The Library of Original Sources, Vol 7, in The Library of Original Sources, edited by Oliver J. Thatcher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, University Research Extension Co., 1907, pp. 56–59. Original Sources. 6 Dec. 2023.

Harvard: , 'English Colonial Views' in The Library of Original Sources, Vol 7. cited in 1907, The Library of Original Sources, ed. , University Research Extension Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin, pp.56–59. Original Sources, retrieved 6 December 2023, from