History of the English Empire

England Empire Colonies

In 1883, the British historian J. R. Seeley surveyed his nation's empire with bemusement: "We seem to obtain conquered and peopled half the entire world in a fit of absence of mind. " Considering the many American empires before c. 1815, could you argue that they were acquired and preserved absentmindedly?

In his collection of lectures entitled 'The Expansion of Britain', J. R. Seeley exasperatingly mentioned that the creation and expansion of the British empire had been found with "a fit of lack of brain. " Seeley detailed the worrying tendency between his contemporaries that the North american colonies had not yielded sufficient revenue for Britain, as the loss of the British American colonies had been as unavoidable as the ripening of berry.

This sentiment was inextricably from the simple fact that Britain acquired endowed its American colonies with liberty and representative government, without obsessively exerting metropolitan expert; conducive factors to the American revolution. As Britain had lacked the explicit idea of conquest in deciding her imperial project in THE UNITED STATES, and was somewhat, and generally, a commercial empire, the question as to if the various imperial projects have been conducted in "lack of mind" is increased.

The reality the British, People from france, and Dutch American empires were commercial ventures conducted by private individuals and companies to settle and procure profit from America, illustrates the somewhat ad hoc maintenance of empire. However, to suggest that the foundation and settlement deal of the many American empires was done within an only non-purposeful manner - across the five centuries in which the continent was observed, settled, and financially exploited - is difficult.

The sheer length of the North american empires places to question how the various empires could have spanned centuries if they had been obtained and preserved absentmindedly. Further, in evaluating the conquest of SOUTH USA by the Spanish, an empire intrinsically founded on the nature of the conquistador and nutrient exploitation, the recommendation of 'absent-minded imperialism' is further put to question.

In addition to the situation of synthesising the various imperial missions under the questionable label of inattentiveness, there also is placed the inherent concern that Seeley didn't consciously intend to accuse the various American empires of governing with an "absence of mind". Thus, the issues increased by the length of time and ideological differentiation of the American empires cloud any simple creation of your definitive conclusion as to how, and by whom, the empires were purchased and preserved.

From the building blocks of the first British isles colony at Jamestown in 1606 to the Declaration of Freedom in 1776, the English American empire to which Seeley described got spanned one-hundred and seventy years. This colonial durability implicitly places to question the sign of an absent-minded empire. Although there was no singular, cohesive force which resolved, economically-exploited, and governed the American empires, there was purpose found in all the imperial assignments.

The idea that there was not just one, but several, interwoven missions with different intentions and benefits obscures the purposeful character of the imperial tasks. However, the very inception of the American empires obviously displayed purpose. Within the royal charters awarded by Elizabeth I and Henry VII, explorers such as Sir Walter Raleigh were given prerogatives to locate and conquer ideal areas of the New World for British ownership. The creation of colonies had a two-fold purpose; to emulate the financial success of Spainand create ting new regions of business and agricultural produce for England.

Indeed, not only were royal charters awarded by European monarchs to explorers wanting to claim and negotiate the Americas, but they were also granted to trading companies. This delegation of ability showed pragmatic solutions to the acquisition of the virgin American market segments. As the Uk, French, and Dutch state governments did not have sufficient capital to perform the risk of acquiring new land, it was the goal of companies like the Plymouth and London categories to settle New Britain and the Chesapeake and create agricultural produce and symbiotic trading contracts with the natives present there.

Therefore, the control exuded by the private companies in the American empires should not suggest absent-mindedness with respect to the mother countries, but rather, a practical measure to maximise profit and minimise investment in an untested as well as perhaps ruinous structure.

In explaining the "absence of brain" of the United kingdom state, Seeley highlighted the issue of reluctant British imperialism and that this reluctance led to imperial disorganisation, which finally epitomised the lack of head which he directed to identify.

However, this is not a direct invasion on the commercial dynamics of the American colonies, but instead Seeley directed to highlight a lack of a cohesive imperial identification which primarily referred to Britain's Indian empire. Seeley claims quite openly that "our acquisition of India was made blindly" while "when our first settlers went to Virginia and New Britain. . . We did intend to establish a new community".

Thus, by first allowing private buyers to settle and find an economic basic in America, followed by a direct software of metropolitan control when the colonies started to prosper, the United kingdom state experienced indeed acquired and preserved her commercial empire with purpose.

The beneficial monetary motives which resulted in the granting of an royal charter for Jamestown in 1606 resulted in the eventual - if tortuous - success of the colony; discovering the commercial purpose of the British American empire. Though it took several decades for Jamestown to prosper and become fully recognised by metropolitan power in Great britain may suggest a tenuous hyperlink for imperial purpose and direct control.

But, by the seventeenth century, the United kingdom state experienced created the Navigation Take action of 1660 which looked for to consolidate previous economic polices and in the end, make trade more prosperous for England. By proclaiming that no goods could be brought in or exported into territories managed by Charles II, unless carried in British vessels, ensured the commercial hegemony of Britain in her American colonies.

This coherent monetary rules, legislated just fifty-four years following the foundation of Jamestown, testifies to a purposeful maintenance of Britain's commercial empire.

Furthermore, the energy of the British metropole, epitomised in the increased regulatory disturbance in the post-Seven Years' Warfare local climate shows further purposeful maintenance of the American colonies. After Britain got curtailed French and Spanish power in THE UNITED STATES, the British point out aimed to use the dictates of an centrally-based parliament, enthusiastic about the idea of sovereignty.

This ideological shift primarily resulted from the changed power framework created in the aftermath of the Seven Years' War. Due to a British isles sentiment that the colonies got defiantly 'dragged their feet' during the course of the war combined with the simple fact that Britain defeated its imperial competitors - in course learning to be a hegemonic drive in North America - created a perceptible vitality shift. In creating a monopoly of electricity, the economic and political status of colonists and Indians worsened, culminating in Pontiac's rebellion and the subsequent grievances and retaliations of white settlers, such as the Paxton Boys, inserting Britain within an unprecedented situation.

In reaction to the increasing frontier disputes, growing prejudices between settlers and Local People in the usa, and the changed power-structure present after the Seven Years' Conflict, the metropolitan became more and more authoritative in colonial legislation. Parliamentary revenue acts were enacted to cover a ten-thousand strong land army to maintain specialist in the colonies; the Royal Proclamation of 1763 aimed to bolster the Crown's control of new colonies in North America, as the Stamp Take action of 1765 attempted to apply immediate taxation to the American colonies.

This shift in metropolitan attitude, following a Seven Years' Battle, was to be significant in the colonial grievances before the Declaration of Self-reliance while showing direct evidence of the purposeful governance of the Britain's American empire.

Nevertheless, the assertion that the American empires were bought and managed absentmindedly is not baseless, and can be persuasively attributed to the 'commercial empires' of North America. The limited design and short-sighted aspect of the various imperial projects is especially visible in the creation of a few of the first American colonies in the early seventeenth century.

The preliminary setbacks of the English colonies at Roanoke - which completely vanished - and Jamestown, which witnessed continual deprivationand ruinous warfare contrary to the Powhattan empire to the similar inability of Cartier's French colonies shows the limited design and purpose behind the formative North american colonies. The actual fact that such ventures failed for simple, and surmountable, reasons such as lack of source and poor location and experienced initial, and unneeded, setbacks in declaring war against Native People in the usa, demonstrated that the American empires, from the very beginning, got limited success and little central control.

In substance, Jamestown had not been the centre of metropolitan attention, almost all of its initial settlers quickly died, and by 1622 the Virginia Company was near to personal bankruptcy. Indeed, the sixteenth and seventeenth century French and British explorers and settlers at first sought the lucrative promise of Gold and Silver akin to the Spanish breakthrough and exploitation in SOUTH USA.

Explorers such as Raleigh and Cartier became enthusiastic about the acquisition of precious metalsin a vain attempt to match the prosperity of the Spanish empire. Therefore the English and People from france colonies, following a lack of a codified plan, essentially stumbled, 'half-reluctantly, after their system of agricultural produce and commerce, instead of Gold.

Moreover, the criticism put on the absent-minded metropole in the foundation of the American colonies can be further applied to the random maintenance of the American empire. Since private companies and individuals had been in control of colonial affairs in varying senses and have been granted differing vested capabilities, the maintenance of metropolitan authority was not cohesive.

Effective metropolitan control had not been in place before radically altered political structure following Seven Years' Battle in America. Indeed, rather than the Seven Years' War being regarded as a prime exemplory case of purposeful metropolitan maintenance of an economic and politics empire, it was the increase in metropolitan expert after 1763 which highlighted prior absent-mindedness regarding America.

Until the last mentioned 50 percent of the eighteenth century, metropolitan authority had been a secondary idea behind the commercial characteristics of the North american empire, that was founded not on exploitation, but the granting of politics freedoms, liberty, and local representation.

Given the overall notion that the English, People from france and Dutch empires started out ignominiously in the seventeenth century, as the respective Claims ruled their mercantilist empires with a laissez-faire attitude, it would seem apt to label their imperial activities as absent-minded. However, despite the initial setbacks in America, each of the American empires do aim to negotiate and govern their colonies in the best interest of business.

Trade was the pre-eminent purpose for the shareholders of the Virginia company, while specific instructions received to prospective colonists of Jamestown to increase productivity. Further, the type of French imperialism in THE UNITED STATES shown in the machine of trading posts on the St. Lawrence and Mississippi River, epitomises the commercial occurrence of the European powers in the us. In presiding over a large portion of sparsely filled land the French sought to make a monopoly of trade with the Native People in america without impinging on place or imposing a big military; their empire was built on a trade relationship in which both French investors and talk about, as well as the natives, benefited.

Further, in the tiny colonies of the brand new Netherlands and New Sweden, army deployment and status control was in the same way fragile, creating the perfect environment for rewarding trade. Indeed, a continuing theme in Shorto's depiction of the New Netherlands was the realisation created by explorers and governors that the Dutch colony was situated in an perfect location for the control of trade over the seaboard and in to the American interior. This turned out that it was the identification and exploitation, through colonisation, of profitable economic regions which was important to Western imperial regimes; suggesting a purposeful maintenance of the commercial North American empires.

The debate for absent-minded imperialism further falls aside when applied to the Spanish design of empire employed in South America. The Spanish status, while recognising the commercial benefits of the South North american colonies, acquired and taken care of her empire purposefully.

Inspired by the legitimisation to New World conquest awarded by the Alexandrine Bulls and through the use of the requerimiento, the Spanish pursued an empire of conquest purpose on the subjugation of the native peoples, exploitation of bullion, and the evangelisation of the indigenous population.

By conquering the Aztec and Mayan empires in the sixteenth century and exploiting numerous silver and gold debris, the South North american Spanish Viceroyalties were intrinsically founded on the 'Soul of Conquest'with an aim to increase Spanish ability via the importation of bullion. The Spanish thus used the plunder and mineral deposits of South America as a way to increase their power in Europe and also to consolidate their position in the Americas.

Furthermore, the central aspect of this issue, that of Seeley's bemusement at the imperial 'absence of head' in America, has already established its original intention taken out of context. Seeley found the American empire as a fundamental element of 'Greater Britain' which had been unfairly neglected by British historians.

By declaring that the "lack of mind", Seeley was discussing the fact that Britain's imperial project in America acquired failed to modify British perceptions of Great Britain, that it had failed to "change our means of thinking" which "we do not reckon our colonies as really belonging to us". Thus the "absence of mind" was not directed at the acquisition and maintenance of empire, but instead at the "indifference which we show for the mighty sensation of the diffusion of our own competition and the growth of our express. "

To conclude, the declaration that the American empires were received and managed with an entire absence of brain is inappropriate. Each European imperial project experienced differing motives, were resolved by different individuals and spanned across decades, and so a feeling of continued purpose was undoubtedly lost. But there was, of course, goal behind the imperial assignments, or they would not need been settled or economically exploited in the first place.

Both France and England settled in America for commercial passions while the Spanish purposefully exploited the financial wealth of SOUTH USA. Further, the value of questioning J. R. Seeley's quote can't be understated. He had not been automatically accusing Britain of any 'lack of mind' when it comes to America, but instead in a historical sense; that the greatness of the imperial schemes had be ignored, and a re-assessment of the importance and centrality it held to British background must be produced.


Appelbaum, Robert (ed. )Envisioning an British Empire: Jamestown and the Making of the North Atlantic World (2005).

Armitage, David, The Ideological Roots of the United kingdom Empire (Cambridge, 2000).

Elliott, John, Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in the us 1492-1830 (New Haven, 2006).

The Old World and the New, 1492-1650 (Cambridge, 1970).

Games, Alison, Migration and the Origins of the English Atlantic World (Cambridge, 1999).

Pagden, Anthony, Lords of all the World: Ideologies of Empire in Spain, Britain and France, c. 1500 - 1800 (New Haven, 1995).

Richter, Daniel, Facing East from Indian Country (Cambridge, Mass. , 2001).

Samson, Jane (ed. )The English Empire (Oxford, 2001).

Seed, Patricia, Ceremonies of Possession in Europe's conquest of the New World, 1492 - 1640 (Cambridge, 1995).

Seeley, J. R. , The Expansion of Britain (London, 1883).

'A Declaration and Remonstrance of the Distressed and Bleeding Frontier Inhabitants of the Province of Pennsylvania' (Philadelphia, 1764)

Also We Can Offer!

Other services that we offer

If you don’t see the necessary subject, paper type, or topic in our list of available services and examples, don’t worry! We have a number of other academic disciplines to suit the needs of anyone who visits this website looking for help.

How to ...

We made your life easier with putting together a big number of articles and guidelines on how to plan and write different types of assignments (Essay, Research Paper, Dissertation etc)