History of Great Britain

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The Early Years of King George III

In 1760, the aged George II was succeeded by his 22-year-old grandson, George III. The new British-born king had a deep sense of moral duty and tried to play a direct role in governing his country. To this end he appointed men he trusted, such as his onetime Scottish tutor, Lord Bute, who became prime minister in 1762. Bute’s ministry was not a success, however, and four short-lived ministries followed until 1770, when George found, in Lord North, a leader pleasing both to him and to the majority of Parliament.

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The American Revolution

The fears expressed by Wilkes’s supporters confirmed the more radical American colonial leaders in their suspicion of the British government. Long accustomed to a considerable degree of self-government and freed, after 1763, from the French danger, they resented the attempts by successive British ministries to make them pay a share of the cost of imperial defense in the form of assorted taxes and duties. They also resented British attempts to enforce mercantilistic regulations and to treat colonial legislatures as secondary to the government in London. American resistance led in due course to the calling of the First Continental Congress in 1774 and the commencement of hostilities the following year. Although parliamentary critics such as Edmund Burke continued to urge conciliation, the king and Lord North felt the rebellious colonists had to be brought to their senses.

British governmental authority in the 13 colonies collapsed in 1775. Although British forces were able to occupy first Boston and later New York City and Philadelphia, the Americans did not give up. After the defeat of General John Burgoyne at Saratoga in 1777, the civil war within the British Empire became an international one. First the French (1778), then the Spanish (1779), and the Dutch (1780) joined the anti-British side, while other powers formed a League of Armed Neutrality. For the first time in more than a century, the British were diplomatically isolated. After General Charles Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in 1781, opposition at home to the frustrations and high taxation brought on by the American war compelled Lord North to resign and his successors to sign a new Treaty of Paris in 1783. The 13 colonies were recognized as independent states and were granted all British territory south of the Great Lakes. Florida and Minorca were ceded to Spain and some West Indian islands and African ports to France.

Pitt, Reform, and Revolution

In the wake of the war, many old institutions were reexamined. The Economical Reform Act of 1782 reduced the patronage powers of the king and his ministers. The Irish Parliament, controlled by Anglo-Irish Protestants, won a greater degree of independence. The India Act in 1784 gave ultimate authority over British India to the government instead of the English East India Company. The India Act was sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who was named prime minister late in 1783 at the age of 24. Pitt remained in office for most of the rest of his life and did much to shape the modern prime ministership. In the aftermath of the American war, he restored faith in the government’s ability to pay interest on the much-increased national debt, and he set up the first consolidated annual budget. Pitt was also sympathetic to political reform, repeal of restrictions on non-Anglican Protestants, and abolition of the slave trade, but when these measures failed to win a parliamentary majority, he dropped them.

Reformers, such as Charles James Fox and Thomas Paine, were inspired by the revolution that began in France in 1789, but others, such as Edmund Burke, became fearful of all radical change. Pitt was less concerned with French ideas than actions, and when the French revolutionary army invaded the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) and declared war on England in February 1793, a decade of moderate reform in Britain gave way to 22 years of all-out war.

The Napoleonic Wars

In the 1790s, the wars of the French Revolution merged into the Napoleonic Wars, as Napoleon Bonaparte took over the French revolutionary government. Pitt’s First Coalition (with Prussia, Austria, and Russia) against the French collapsed in 1796, and in 1797 Britain was beset by naval defeat, by naval mutiny, and by French invasion attempts. The war caused a boom in farm production and in certain industries. At the same time it caused rapid inflation: Wage rates lagged behind prices, and Poor Law expenses grew. In 1797 the Bank of England was forced to suspend the payment of gold for paper currency, and Parliament voted the first income tax. Rebellion and a French invasion threat led to the Act of Union with Ireland (1801). The Dublin legislature was abolished, and 100 Irish representatives became members of the Parliament in London; only an Irish viceroy and a London-appointed administration remained in Dublin.

Реферат опубликован: 14/02/2008