Radicalism and the loss of the American colonies
In 1764 there was a serious quarrel over taxation between the British government and its colonies in America. It was a perfect example of the kind of freedom for which Wilkes had been fighting. The British government continued to think of the colonists as British subjects. In 1700 there had been only 200,000 colonists, but by 1770 there were 2.5 million. Such large numbers needed to be dealt with carefully.
Some American colonists decided that it was not lawful for the British to tax them without their agreement. Political opinion in Britain was divided. Some felt that the tax was fair because the money would be used to pay for the defence of the American colonies against French attack. But several important politicians, including Wilkes and Chatham, agreed with the colonists that there should be "no taxation without representation".
In 1773 a group of colonists at the port of Boston threw a shipload of tea into the sea rather than pay tax on it. The event became known as "the Boston Teaparty". The British government answered by closing the port. But the colonists then decided to prevent British goods from entering America until the port was opened again. This was rebellion, and the government decided to defeat it by force. The American War of Independence had begun.
The war in America lasted from 1775 until 1783. The government had no respect for the politics of the colonists, and the British army had no respect for their fighting ability. The result was a disastrous defeat for the British government. It lost everything except for Canada.
Many British politicians openly supported the colonists. They were called "radicals". For the first time British politicians supported the rights of the king's subjects abroad to govern themselves and to fight for their rights against the king. The war in America gave strength to the new ideas of democracy and of independence.
Two of the more important radicals were Edmund Burke and Tom Paine. Paine was the first to suggest that the American colonists should become independent of Britain. Burke, who himself held a mixture of both radical and conservative views, argued that the king and his advisers were once again too powerful, and that Parliament needed to get back proper control of policy.
Date: 2015-01-02; view: 751