Great Britain: The Growth of Empire and Eighteenth-Century Political Developments
The Growth of Empire and Eighteenth-Century Political Developments
The beginnings of Britain's national debt (1692) and the founding of the Bank of England (1694) were closely tied with the nation's more active role in world affairs. Britain's overseas possessions (see British Empire) were augmented by the victorious outcome of the War of the Spanish Succession, ratified in the Peace of Utrecht (1713). Britain emerged from the War of the Austrian Succession and from the Seven Years War as the possessor of the world's greatest empire. The peace of 1763 (see Paris, Treaty of) confirmed British predominance in India and North America. Settlements were made in Australia toward the end of the 18th cent.; however, a serious loss was sustained when 13 North American colonies broke away in the American Revolution. Additional colonies were won in the wars against Napoleon I, notable for the victories of Horatio Nelson and Arthur Wellesley, duke of Wellington.
In Ireland, the Irish Parliament was granted independence in 1782, but in 1798 there was an Irish rebellion. A vain attempt to solve the centuries-old Irish problem was the abrogation of the Irish Parliament and the union (1801) of Great Britain and Ireland, with Ireland represented in the British Parliament.
Domestically the long ministry of Sir Robert Walpole (1721–42), during the reigns of George I and George II, was a period of relative stability that saw the beginnings of the development of the cabinet as the chief executive organ of government.
The 18th cent. was a time of transition in the growth of the British parliamentary system. The monarch still played a very active role in government, choosing and dismissing ministers as he wished. Occasionally, sentiment in Parliament might force an unwanted minister on him, as when George III was forced to choose Rockingham in 1782, but the king could dissolve Parliament and use his considerable patronage power to secure a new one more amenable to his views.
Great political leaders of the late 18th cent., such as the earl of Chatham (see Chatham, William Pitt, 1st earl of) and his son William Pitt, could not govern in disregard of the crown. Important movements for political and social reform arose in the second half of the 18th cent. George III's arrogant and somewhat anachronistic conception of the crown's role produced a movement among Whigs in Parliament that called for a reform and reduction of the king's power. Edmund Burke was a leader of this group, as was the eccentric John Wilkes. The Tory Pitt was also a reformer. These men also opposed Britain's colonial policy in North America.
Outside Parliament, religious dissenters (who were excluded from political office), intellectuals, and others advocated sweeping reforms of established practices and institutions. Adam Smith's
Sections in this article:
- The Thatcher Era to the Present
- <named-content content-type="electronic">The 1960s and 70s</named-content><named-content content-type="print">The Late Twentieth Century</named-content>
- World War II and the Welfare State
- World War I and Its Aftermath
- Victorian Foreign Policy
- Economic, Social, and Political Change
- The Growth of Empire and Eighteenth-Century Political Developments
- The Stuarts
- Tudor England
- Medieval England
- Early Period to the Norman Conquest
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