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Progress of the Nation


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From the period at which we reviewed the state of the nation, namely, that of the revolution of 1688, to the present era, closing the reign of George II., the most striking feature of our history is the almost perpetual wars in which our countrymen were engaged. From the day that we received a continental monarch, we became involved in all, or nearly all, the quarrels of the continent. First, Dutch William engaged us in the defence of Holland, on the plea that we were not fighting for Holland, but only in the same cause as Holland, that of constitutional liberty, and still more for protestantism. France, a great catholic and despotic power, ambitious of extending her empire at the expense of Spanish, afterwards Austrian, Flanders, was considered to be identical with, popery assaulting protestantism, though Spain and Austria were as much popish as France. As this fact was too palpable, another reason for engaging us in these wars, which virtually were for the defence of Holland, was the favourite idea of the balance of power. France, enlarged at the expense of Spain or Austria, after Austria inherited Flanders, was represented in most frightful colours, as a power which would domineer over the whole world - as if Austria and Spain united, and these, according to the fitful changes of politics, in alliance with France, would not be equally formidable. In fact, to prevent this very contingency, Dutch William was driven to most unjustifiable interference with the laws of nations, in what was called the Partition Treaty. The theories of William were inherited by queen Anne, and hence the great wars of her time. To Anne succeeded the Hanoverian monarchs, and thus wo were engaged with first one power and then another for the defence of the little electorate of Hanover. For a long time we fought with Austria against France and Prussia, and then with Prussia against Austria and France. Amid all the pretences for these wars, nothing was so clear as that the true cause for which we fought was the defence of Holland, so long as we had a Dutch monarch, and then for the defence of Hanover, so long as we had a Hanoverian one. Nothing can be more certain than that, had we not had continental kings, we should have had no interest in continental wars, and that continental nations, compelled to take care of themselves, would have left the balance of power just where they had found it, and that we should have escaped an enormous expenditure of energies, and an equally enormous debt, which still remains, under which we suffer, and which we must inevitably hand down as an incubus on the energies of our posterity.

The question is whether, involved in all this foreign war - foreign to our interests and our necessities - we still made progress as a nation? It cannot be denied that we gained great prestige as a most brave and wealthy nation. The name of Marlborough became exalted above all the names of military commanders of modern times, and the valour of the British soldier as unparalleled; but to have purchased this at the cost of some hundreds of millions of money, and of some hundreds of thousands of lives, was a dear purchase. It is certain that we could have achieved an equal name on our own element of the ocean at a far less cost, and have acted as a friend and peacemaker amongst the conflicting nations. That we did make progress both in wealth, in national activity, and in colonial expansion, in spite of these monstrous wars, is sufficient proof that without them we should have made infinitely more. If the men and money which were buried on the reeking plains of Flanders - that great slaughter-house of Europe - had been employed in defending, and populating, and improving our great colonies of North America and the West Indies, how much more rapidly would our colonial commerce - that great source of our national power - have been developed!

As it was, with this mighty drawback, we made considerable progress in that direction. In 1704 admiral Rooke took and secured Gibraltar for us, which has given us such power and security in the Mediterranean, wonderfully promoting our commerce on the shores of that sea, and keeping open the shorter way to our Indian possessions. Under Georges I. and II. we took Guadaloupe - which we retained till 1810 - St. Lucia, St. Vincent, and other West Indian Islands, from the French. Under the second George, we effectually planted the colony of Nova Scotia, by building Halifax in 1759, though we had won and lost that territory once or twice before. At the same time, we made the great conquest of Canada, and drove the encroaching French out of the whole of North America, with the exception of New Orleans. About the same time, we laid the foundations of our vast East Indian empire, through the victories of Clive, of Eyre Coote, the conqueror of Arcot, and other generals. We were also then making settlements on the Mosquito shore, in the Gulf of Mexico, and getting a firm foothold in the Bay of Honduras. We drove the French from many of their settlements in both the East and West Indies, North America, and on the African coast. These were proofs of the immense extension of our empire, which we might have accomplished in that direction so consonant to our naval habits, and so conducive to our commerce, had we thus employed our power instead of wasting it on the continental nations, from whom were never reaped anything but ingratitude, and who were always ready to fight against us the moment we ceased our subsidies. But whilst we were thus, through the misguidance of our monarchs, abusing our wealth and energies, we accomplished certain internal labours which became sources of immense strength, and, by the prosperity they gave birth to, enabled us to sustain, with comparative ease, the wonderful sacrifices that we endured for our continental neighbours; these were acts of union and peaceful policy. The first, and undoubtedly the fountain of all the rest, was the Revolution of 1688. This, accomplished through the medium of Dutch William, we may certainly place as a grand item in the balance against the mischiefs into which he afterwards led us. The revolution established our liberties on a firm and permanent basis, and stands a great monument of popular achievement, from which we date all the clear principles of our constitution - principles which are so deeply and jealously laid in the British heart, that no monarch or ministry can, spite of the wonderful patience of Englishmen, long infringe them with impunity. It is to purge our constitution of all the feculence of aristocratic selfishness and assumption, and bring our executive system to the plane of these great principles, that all our reforms and agitations for reform tend.

The next great act of internal peace and strength was the union with Scotland, effected in queen Anne's time. By this means a thousand causes of international jealousy and heart-burning were done away; invidious distinctions were obliterated; the whole people was taught to consider itself as one race; a great simplicity in the functions of government was introduced; and to the industrious and enterprising Scots a much wider field for their energies and ambition was opened in England, in its commerce and its colonies. They were no longer confined to their beautiful, but, to a great extent, barren country, but were free of the whole great empire. The revolution of 1745 tended to settle the Highlands, as the victories of Dutch William had settled Ireland,' and though, in both countries, Ireland and the Highlands, a partial and severe regime was maintained, the way was opened for the broader sympathies which now operate towards these quarters of the empire; and the sons of those who had been the most violent opponents of the British government became gradually the most valiant of the common defenders.

The influence of these auspicious events were, before the termination of the period under notice, obvious enough in the growth of our commerce, of our wealth, and our population. This growth, though at the present time it may appear inconsiderable, was a growth, notwithstanding the vast and violent exhaustion of our wars. During this period our exports had increased from an annual average value of three million five hundred thousand pounds to fourteen million seven hundred thousand pounds. Our colonies were already taking considerable quantities of our goods, and sending us in return, coffee, sugar, indigo, timber, rice, molasses, dye-woods, cocoa, spices, cotton, furs, copper, hides, tobacco, corn, flour, provisions, and many other articles, showing what the colonial trade would eventually grow to. The tonnage of the merchant navy, including foreign ships employed in our trade, showed also this steady growth. The tonnage of the merchant navy in 1697 amounted to two hundred and forty-four thousand seven hundred and eighty-eight tons; in 1760, the year of George II.'s death, to five hundred and seventy-three thousand nine hundred and seventy-eight; that of the royal navy, at the end of queen Anne's reign, was only one hundred and seventy thousand eight hundred and sixty tons; at the end of George II.'s reign it was three hundred and twenty-one thousand one hundred and four tons. The population at the time of the revolution of England and Wales was about five million four hundred thousand; at the end of George II.'s reign, notwithstanding the enormous drain for the wars, it was seven millions. The establishment of the Bank of England, established in king William's reign, was a great means of extending mercantile transactions, and, towards the end of this period, great improvements in agriculture, breed of cattle and sheep, horticulture, &c., were introduced. The reign of machinery was beginning. Watt, Arkwright, Hargrave, Crompton, and others, were engaged in preparing those machines which were to make such an amazing revolution in our manufacturing system. Brindley was making canals; Savary, Newman, and others were employing steam for draining and working our mines. The first silk mill was erected, and many other improvements were in progress for the manufacture of broad cloaths, cutlery, plated ware, glass, paper, &c. In short, that reign of steam and steam-driven machinery was commencing, the particulars of which we have to write under different heads of this review, and which was about to make England the great workshop of the world.

The progress of material improvement was marked and substantial; in the intellectual and moral phases it was not so satisfactory. In our literature there was more smartness and cleverness than creativeness or originality. There was a French style, a glaring deficiency of elevation of tone, or depth of religious feeling. The same low tone ran through the principles of government, through the spirit of parliament, and that of society. Education of the people was utterly neglected; drunkenness, especially in gin, was on the increase; and crime and the defective nature of our police regulations went hand-in-hand. England was materially, rather than spiritually, growing, both at the end of this period and for a long time after; but the dawn of a more encouraging era appeared in the birth of Methodism, which took place now.

Constitution and Laws

At the commencement of this period the greatest change in the constitution took place which it had ever undergone. The revolution of 1688, which introduced Dutch William introduced also the Act of Settlement, comprised in the Bill j of Rights. This event was a far greater triumph for the people than the acquisition of Magna Charta. The people of this country had enjoyed charters from the Saxon times, which recognised those popular rights which were contained in the charter of king John. John having repudiated that charter as soon as granted, under a plea considered entirely valid by all nations and ages - namely, that it was obtained from him by coercion - it became consequently a dead letter; but the same popular liberties were again established by the charter obtained by the people under Hugh de Burgh and William de Collingham. This charter - which Blackstone very properly contends is our true charter - however, like all that went before it, left untouched the doctrine of "the right divine of kings to govern wrong." That doctrine remained in force till it was destroyed by the commonwealth, but was again introduced at the Restoration. At the revolution of 1688 it received its final death-blow from the pride of William of Orange, who refused to accept the crown as the hereditary right of his wife, and the whigs of that day were thus reluctantly compelled to recognise the doctrine, that all power resides in the people, and that kings have no right to reign except as conferred by them. In our history of that period we gave the whole particulars of this grand step in the establishment of constitutional liberty, but we may here with advantage advert briefly to its great principles.

The Bill of Rights, indeed, admits that William and Mary were, are, and, of right, ought to be liege lord and lady - king and queen of England; but then it declares them to become so by accepting the crown from the representatives of the people in parliament assembled. In no other sense could they be the rightful sovereigns, for James II., the rightful sovereign according to the principle of right divine, was still living; and though the act of parliament declared that he had "abdicated," that was a fiction - James neither having then, nor at any other time, abdicated, but continued to demand his crown, and to attempt its recovery by force and arms. Had he abdicated, his son was the true heir, on the divine-right principle. This principle the parliament of England had broken in favour of the objects of their free choice. The Scotch, more properly, never pretended even that James had abdicated, but declared him to have "forfaulted" - that is, forfeited - the crown by his tyranny. The Bill of Rights again declared the lawful issue of William and Mary, were there such, should succeed to the crown; in default of that, the issue of the princess Anne, &c. But it took care to preserve the right of the people to elect or set aside its monarchs, by declaring that in case the next heir at any time should either be a catholic or marry a catholic, he or she should be excluded, and the succession should pass on to the next heir. Having deposed the monarch for attempting to violate the fundamental principles of the constitution, there was no occasion to assert that a repetition of such attempt would necessarily produce the same result; but it enumerated what were those rights of the people, which it was forfeiture to infringe; more, that the pretended power of suspending laws, or the execution of laws, by regal authority, without consent of parliament, was illegal; that the erection of the late high commission court and other courts of like nature - meaning the Star Chamber, &c. - was illegal; that it was the same to raise soldiers, or keep a standing army in time of peace, without parliamentary authority; that it was the right of the people at all times to petition the king, and to prosecute or commit to prison for the exercise of such right, was a violation of the constitution; that the subjects, being protestants, were entitled to have arms for self-defence; elections to be free, and freedom of speech and debate in parliament was not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of parliament; that excessive bail, excessive fines, or punishment, were illegal, and all grants or promises of fines and forfeitures before conviction equally so; that jurors were to be properly empanelled and returned, and were to be freeholders in cases of high treason; and that, for the preservation of these rights, for redress of grievances, and the making and amending the laws, frequent parliaments should be held.

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