English Colonial Policy

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXVII

Some few English writers have had the honesty to admit that their colonial policy has not been the most admirable; "nor should we forget," says the author of the History of the United States, "that the spirit in which these colonies were ruled from England was one, in the main, of intense selfishness. The answer of Seymour, an English Attorney-General under William and Mary, or towards the close of the seventeenth century, to the request of Virginia, for a college, when her delegate begged him to consider that the people of Virginia had souls to be saved as well as the people of England: "Souls! damn your souls! plant tobacco!" is scarcely an unfair exponent of that spirit.[2] Another writer says: "Historians, in treating of the American rebellion, have confined their arguments too exclusively to the question of internal taxation, and the right or policy of exercising this prerogative.

The true source of the rebellion lay deeper—in our traditional colonial policy."[3] One more quotation must suffice: "The legal rights of those colonies have been perpetually violated. Those which were strong enough were driven to separation; those which adhered to us in that great contest, or which we have subsequently acquired or founded, are either denied constitutions, or, if the local authorities oppose the will of the Imperial Parliament, find their constitutions changed, suspended, or annulled."[4] It will be remembered that the original colonists of America were principally Englishmen, who were driven from their own country by religious intolerance; yet no sooner had they established themselves in their new home, than they commenced to practise even more fearful persecutions on others than those from which they had fled. There was one honorable exception; the Roman Catholics who fled from persecution in England, never, even in the plenitude of their power, attempted the slightest persecution, religious, social, or legal.

It will be seen, then, that the first emigrants to America from the British dominions, could not have had any special attachment to the country they had left; that, on the contrary, their feelings were embittered against the mother country before their departure from her shores; and after that departure she did nothing to allay the irritation, but much to increase it. For several centuries after the arrival of the "May Flower," the number of emigrants from England and Ireland were, probably, tolerably equal, and by no means numerous. It was not an age of statistics, and no accurate statistics can be given.


[2] Spirit.—History of the United States, p. 7.

[3] Policy.—Morley's Burke, p. 153.

[4] Annulled.—Historical and Philosophical Essays, Senior, vol. i. p. 197.