Imperial Crisis We started

September 30, 2003

Imperial Crisis

We started into the three-class sequence on the revolution today. Because we had spent so much time on colonial society last week I had to take the top half hour and lay out the workings of the imperial system today. So, I did.

I took a different tack this time through; I framed the entire question using James II and the Jacobites. I put the usual list of English royalty on the board, from James II to George III, then worked through the constitutional questions of the Stuart succession. I pointed out that William and Mary came to the throne by the right of revolution, and that they then had to deny the effectiveness of this right in order to 1, keep the Jacobites from revolting back at them and 2, to keep little revolts from boiling up all over. So, they moved to the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty in order to undercut the Jacobite threat. I had James Francis Edward Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart on the board as offshoots from James II's spot, and I put 1690, 1715, and 1745 next to them just as I put the years of the reigns of the other monarchs. This then framed the larger question.

From there we fought the imperial wars, focusing on the 7 Year's War and on the worldwide empire that grew out of that war. I did the usual thing with debts, costs, and cultural contacts during the war.

From there it was mercantilism, arguing that colonists bought the theory but disagreed with the expedience of some of the implementation. I laid out the theory of specie grabbing, emphasizing the role of cash money in 18th century warfare, and explained export bounties and import tariffs and why they were important for a Mercantilist system. The whole thing was framed in the context of 18th century states as organizations designed to collect taxes and pay soldiers, with any internal governance, legal system, or social safety net coming as an accidental followup.

Finally, we got to the crisis itself. I polled the students on whether they wanted to be stepped through the blow-by-blow or if they wanted the big pictures. As expected, they wanted the big picture. I could have done it either way. I used the sugar acts to set up navigation acts and the proper or improper implementation of the acts. From there I focused on the colonies as defenders of traditional understanding of English rights, using mobs to defend custom against unconstitutional laws, following Pauline Maier's old argument that the Sons of Liberty were using the people out of doors to nullify unconstitional laws without challenging the rule of law itself. I forgot to give her reminder about hue and cry, posse comitas, militia, and all the other ways in which the people formed into groups to police themselves.

I laid out a Jack Greene presentation of periphery and center, using the board to draw pictues. Let me see if I can repeat my structure using html text.

British Empire
Parliament makes general laws for the benefit of the whole

Governor Assembly Colony

Ireland - direct to King
Governor Assembly Colony

(Intercolonial Trade - governed by Parliament) King Parliament Britain


With lines drawn from the King to the governors to indicate authority

and that was then contrasted to the Parliamentary understanding:

British Empire
Parliament makes specific laws for the entire empire

Colony BritainColony

Thus Parliament argued that they were making rules for the whole, that the colonies were dependent on Parliament, and for a colony to attempt to contradict Parliament was to challenge the vertical hierarchy of authority and would necessarily create an imperium in imperio.

I expanded on the two sketches, saying more about how both focused on the rule of law, both focused on the rights of Englishmen, both insisted on representative government but Parliament held to virtual representation not actual representation, and both agreed that Parliament could govern the trade of the empire.

I liked it. I do not know if the kids found it useful.

For the final few minutes I talked about the radical tradition and how the Sons of Liberty felt that they were one of many sons of liberty worldwide. I invoked Paoli from Corsica and Wilkes in England. I talked about the number 45; I never got to the number 92. I think I set things up fairly well for our first Washington letter on Thursday.

On Thursday I will finish the imperial crisis, talk about the war itself, and will spend lots of time on Washington, some time on the Iroquois. (I assigned no readings about Indians, and as a result I am spending more class time on them than I did last time I taught this at this University. Overcompensation has its benefits.)

And so to eat ice cream and then hit the public library.

Posted by Red Ted at September 30, 2003 04:00 AM | TrackBack