chapter  3
30 Pages

National Identity and Empire: Britain and the American Colonies, 1763-1787

In the 1760s and 1770s, those British colonists in America who voiced their discontent with aspects of government legislation moved incrementally, in pro-government publications, from being stalwart upholders of British imperial ambitions against the French to ‘canting, whining’ wretches and fodder for the Tyburn gallows/ The political struggle that culminated in the Declaration of Independence and the British government’s eventual acceptance of America’s loss to Britain’s first empire generated a flood of satire and political polemic, both visual and verbal. So much research has already been undertaken of this material that the appearance of a further study seems bizarre. Yet the bounds within which any study of Anglo-American relations in the last decades of the eighteenth century takes place were redrawn in the 1990s. In 1992 Linda Colley’s Britons charted the gradual emergence of British nationhood in the eighteenth century, suggesting that no matter how tenuous the eighteenth-century Englishman’s accommodation with his Scottish neighbour in the Union, both were at least content to define their relationship in opposition to any ‘other’ that the Union excluded: an ‘other’ that was typically Catholic and politically threatening.2 In 1994 Jonathan Clark’s Language o f Liberty agreed with Colley that ‘among the most powerful negotiations of eighteenth-century transatlantic discourse was its rejection of the foreigner and, especially, of the Roman Catholic religion’, although Clark locates this discourse in a framework in which nationalism becomes ‘a consequence, not a cause’ of the American Revolution.3 Independence becomes ‘the work of a few disaffected individuals’: individuals whose intellectual matrix is one in which the power being exercised by the ‘King-in-Parliament’ can no longer be reconciled with a Protestant subject’s understanding of his rights under English common law.4