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Let the Past Speak for Itself!

Retain and Explain Detained and Explained

Let the Past Speak for Itself!

There will be a series of quick posts over the next few weeks to show how much opposition there was in the 18th century to the British Empire, colonialism, enslavement and the triangular trade.

Let the past speak for itself!

Today I would like to acknowledge

The Tory new mantra for History:

‘Retain and explain’,

Coupled with their ‘Culture Wars’ assertions:

‘You can’t change and airbrush history’,

And ‘The British Empire was a Good Thing’,

By letting the ‘Past Speak for Itself’,

From the pages of Jack P. Greene’s erudite tome,

Evaluating Empire and Confronting Colonialism

in Eighteenth-Century Britain


‘To dispossess the unoffending natives … nothing but the most wanton cruelty’; ‘perhaps been better, that our avarice had not led us to the discovery of America’;

War against the American colonies?

‘We were the aggressors, that we gave the provocation, and that their disobedience is the fruit of our own impudent and imperious conduct.’

‘What wise nation in pursuit of a false notion of honour would in an unnatural contest with her own children, inconsiderately adopt violent measures, at the risk of a civil war, one third of her commerce, one third of her revenue, and that too at a time when she is groaning under the weight of great army and naval establishments, and an immense national debt at her back?’

‘Instead of humanity, our national character is now stamped with inhumanity; and what is worse, we have the damning proofs before our eyes.’

‘Where is the humanity of Britain? Where that hospitality that was the characteristic of this island? Where that generosity which is the pride of human nature? Depraved, degenerated Englishmen!’

A Great and Glorious Army and Navy? Hearts of Oak? Press Gangs?

‘cruelties and distress … to be found in much greater excess even in this elysium of liberty.’

‘If an Army of Fifty thousand Men and one hundred Ships of Force, are now found necessary, the Word to Parliament is, you must go through. There is no Retreat: It must be done. Every corner of the Three Kingdoms is to be ransacked for Recruits; every Power in Europe is to be solicited for mercenary Aid …’

The British army ‘pillaged, without distinction of friend or enemy’, with ‘great severity’, causing ‘more blood than necessary, or usual to spill on the field’;

‘No regular army has at any time been more ready to stretch out their hands to plunder.’

Ireland? (The first colony)

‘We in Dublin, and you in London, are in the Situation of two Sets of People, who make use of the same Perspective, but at different ends of the Glass; we look at you through that Side which magnifies, and presents you nearer much than you really are; and you look at us through the side which diminishes unreasonably, and throws us at an apparent distance.’

‘every evil … altogether owing to our unfeeling, and uncharitable absentees.’

‘English adventurers’ with their ‘rapacity’ backed by Great Britain’s ‘tyrannical laws’ made their way as conquerors with ‘as little justice as the European plunderers in America and the East Indies.’

Humanity, Justice and Empire?

‘To the instrumentality of Commerce alone, the Britannic Empire is most peculiarly indebted for its opulence and grandeur; its improvements in arts and knowledge and, in general, for the great bulk of its solid comforts and conveniences.’

‘We are zealous of Trade and Gain, but not of good Works.’

“For Britain to declare through the ‘public acts and the reports of our national proceedings,’ that those who went ‘out from us to do great and meritorious services when they’ force ‘tens of thousands into slavery, oppress and destroy millions; deprive foreign princes of their just dominions … plunder whole nations of all that we can bring away from them,’ ‘bring back millions by the same right that robbers take their booty, and acquire whole provinces by perfidy and murder,’ Parker declared, was both to ignore the ‘just degree of enormity’ of the crimes of British colonialism and to ‘proclaim to all mankind and to all future ages, the undisguised sentiments of the present,’, that ‘this or any other nation’ that acted ‘to oppress, enslave, deceive, plunder and destroy the people of any other country but their own … [had] … the countenance,’ support, and ‘sanction of our repeated example’ to excuse it.”

‘But what quarter of our globe has not been convulsed by our ambition, our avarice, and our baseness?’

The Triangular Trade and the Slave Trade

‘Dependants on this Trade, and their families all supported and maintained thereby; such as Ship-Carpenters, Joiners, Caulkers, Sail-Makers, Rope-makers; Anchor-Smiths, Block-makers, Ship-Chandlers; Bakers, Brewers, Butchers, Lightermen, Wharfingers, Porters and Carmen, besides many other Employments.’

Slavery: the ‘mystery of Iniquity’, whereby plantation owners treat ‘their Slaves with far less Humanity than they do their Cattel’; ‘the Devil’s Mint, purposely designed for the murthering of Souls’ where Christianity became ‘a Patroness of the grossest Immanities, for filthy Lucre’.

‘Very few such pieces of Wickedness have ever been acted on the Face of the Earth.’

Enemies to the Negroes, Oppressors, ungrateful and merciless Masters, insolent Enslavers, imperious Torturers, Insulters of the Negro Colour, and proud Spoilers of the Work of God, who dare make Beasts of human forms.’

A trade ‘in human flesh, in the Lives and Liberties of our own Species.’

The cause of the ‘present greatness’ of the country, for the triangular trade constituted ‘the first principle and foundation of all the rest; the main spring of the machine, which sets every wheel in motion … exports and imports, the encouragement of industry at home, the supply of our colonies abroad, and the increase of our navigations … so very beneficial to Great Britain, so essentially necessary to the very being of the colonies, that without it neither could we flourish, nor very long subsist.’

‘The planter, the slave-merchant, the King, the Legislature have each their respective portion of guilt.’

‘It has been established for so long a time, and is now so interwoven with our commercial system and circumstances of finance, any attempt at this day, either to annihilate it intirely, or to restrain it as to prevent any further accession of slaves to the colonies, though it may be morally right, must be politically wrong, absurd and impracticable; the most precious interests of the country being implicated in the measure.’

No Slaves in Great Britain?

Great-Britain ‘indeed keeps no slaves, but publicly encourages the slave-trade …’you are the spring that puts all the rest in motion … You therefore are guilty, yea principally guilty of all these frauds, robberies and murders … Thy hands, thy bed, thy furniture, thy house, thy lands are at present stained with blood … horrible Guilt, therefore, which is incurred by Slave-dealing and Slave-holding’ can ‘no longer be confined to the few hardened Individuals, that are immediately concerned in these baneful Practices, but alas! THE WHOLE BRITISH EMPIRE is involved.’

Supporters of the abolition of slavery?

under the specious pleas of establishing universal freedom …enemies of their country’; a trade ‘which custom immemorial, and various acts of parliament have ratified and given sanction to.’

The Plantation Owners?

‘know no Medium in Things; a Man with you must either be either absolutely a Slave, or licentiously free, free from all Restraints of Law.’

‘The negroes in our colonies endure a slavery more compleat, and attended with far worse circumstances, than what any people in their condition suffer in any other part of the world, or have suffered in any other period of time.’

‘Cruel Task-masters … petty tyrants over human freedom … sincere Worshippers of Mammon … civilized violators of humanity …’

Their days are full ‘of Idleness and Extravagance … habituated by Precept and Example, to Sensuality, Selfishness, and Despotism … at the Expence of the poor Negroes who cultivate their lands.’

King George the Third?

How could he allow, ‘so vast a multitude of his own subjects to be inhumanely scourged, lacerated by whips, nourishment denied, and the task of labour exacted, racked by every species of torture the most wanton tyranny can invent, and either forced to expire under them, or their lives shortened by their severity … all this in the teeth of laws, to which his majesty, by his representatives, has assented.’

‘The careless Inhabitants of Great-Britain and her Colonies’ both accused ‘for the notorious Oppression of an almost innumerable multitude of poor African Strangers that are harassed, and continually wearing out, with a most shameful involuntary Servitude in the British Colonies! … under the sanction of Laws to which the Monarch of England … have given the Royal Assent.’

The West Indies? (St Vincent)

‘English troops, trampling on the laws of God and man … slaughtering even to extirpation a guileless race of Caribs, the aborigenes of the country.’

The East India Company?

‘those shameful triumphs over unwarlike and defenceless nations, which have poured into the laps of individuals the wealth of India … and driven us to plunder and destroy harmless natives fixed so deep a stain on the English name, as perhaps cannot be expiated.’

‘changed, contrary to the intentions of its institution, from a commercial, into a military corporation’, so that India – a ‘country, late so famous for its commerce, whose rich manufacturers brought to it immense wealth from every corner of the tributary world, and whose fertile plains supplied millions of its neighbours with grain’ is ‘unable now to yield itself the bare necessities of life. The loom is unemployed, neglected lies the plough; trade is at a stand, for there are no manufacturers to carry it on’; multitudes are ‘perishing for want of food.’

‘a revenue of two millions in India, acquired God knows how, by unjust wars … their servants came home with immense fortune obtained by rapine and oppression.’

‘and indeed it is clearly proved, that the East India Company is rotten to the very core. All is equally unsound; and you cannot lay your finger on a single healthy spot whereon to begin the application of a remedy. In the east, the laws of society, the laws of nature, have been enormously violated. Oppression in every shape has ground the faces of the poor defenceless natives; and tyranny has stalked abroad. The laws of England have lain mute and neglected and nothing was seen but the arbitrary face of despotism. Every sanction of civil justice, every maxim of political wisdom, all laws human and divine, have been trampled underfoot, and set at nought.’

‘Pride and emulation stimulated avarice, and the sole contest was, who should return to that home … with the greatest heap of crimes and of plunder.’

‘Asiatic plunderers’, ‘they had for many years been disgracing us as a nation and making us appear in the eyes of the world, no longer the once-famed generous Britons, but a set of banditti, bent solely on rapine and plunder.’

‘executions, oppressions, blood-shed, massacres, extirpation, pestilence and famine.’

‘Instead of our fleets crowding our ports freighted with the precious commodities of the East … we have … the importation of the fortunes of splendid delinquents, amassed by peculation and rapine.’

Parallels with the Roman Empire?

‘the dominions in Asia, like the distant Roman provinces during the decline of the empire, have been abandoned, as lawful prey, to every species of peculators; in so much that many of the servants of the Company, after exhibiting such scenes of barbarity as can be scarcely paralleled in the history of any country, have returned to England loaded with wealth.’

Clive of India?

utterly deaf to every sentiment of justice and humanity … this insatiable harpy, whose ambition is unparalleled, and whose avarice knows no bounds.’

America and India Conjoined?

‘We have abused and adulterated government ourselves, stretching our depredations and massacres not only to the Eastern, but Western world … the guilt of murder and robbery … now crying aloud for vengeance on the head of Great Britain.’

‘How melancholy is the consideration to the friends to this country that in the East and in the West, in Asia and America, the name of an Englishman is become a reproach’, and in ‘Europe we are not loved enough to have a single friend … from such a situation there is but a small step to hatred or contempt.’

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