Politics and finance

Politics and finance

When Queen Anne, the last of the Stuarts, died in 1714, it was not entirely certain that the Protestant ruler of Hanover, George, would become king. There were some Tories who wanted the deposed James II’s son to return to Britain as James III. If he had given up Catholicism and accepted the Anglican religion he probably would have been crowned James III. But like other members of his family, James was unwilling to change his mind, and he would not give up his religion. Nor would he give up his claim to the throne, so he tried to win it by Politics and finance force.

In 1715 he started a rebellion against George I, who had by this time arrived from Hanover. But the rebellion was a disaster, and George's army had little difficulty in defeating the English and Scottish "Jacobites", as Stuart supporters were known. Because of the Tory connection with the Jacobites, King George allowed the Whigs to form his government.

Government power was increased because the new king spoke only German, and did not seem very interested in his new kingdom. Among the king's ministers was Robert Walpole, who remained the greatest political leader for over twenty Politics and finance years. He is considered Britain's first Prime Minister.

Walpole came to power as a result of his financial ability. At the end of the seventeenth century the government had been forced to borrow money in order to pay for the war with France. There was nothing new about this, except that because of the war the government's borrowing increased enormously. In 1694, a group of financiers who lent to the government decided to establish a bank, and the government agreed to borrow from it alone. The new bank, called the Bank of England, had authority to raise money by Politics and finance printing "bank notes". This was not an entirely new idea. For hundreds of years bankers and money dealers had been able to give people "promisory notes" signed by themselves. These could be handed on as payment to a third or fourth person. This way of making trade easier had been made lawful during the reign of Henry I, six hundred years earlier. The cheques we use today developed from these promisory notes.

At a time when many people had money to invest, there was popular interest in financial matters. People wanted to invest money in some of the trading companies Politics and finance doing business in the West Indies, the East Indies or in other newly developing areas. The possibility of high profits, and the excitement this possibility caused, made the cost of a share in these trading adventures expensive. In 1720 the South Sea Company offered to pay off the government's national debt if it was given monopoly rights to trading in the South Seas. It raised money by selling shares which quickly rose in value with the increasing excitement. When people's confidence in the South Sea Company suddenly fell, so did the price of shares, and Politics and finance thousands of people who had invested their money lost everything. Robert Walpole was able to bring back public confidence. He made sure that something like the "South Sea Bubble" could not happen again. This was the first step in making companies responsible to the public for the money which they borrowed by the sale of shares.

In the other countries of Europe kings and queens had absolute power. Britain was unusual, and Walpole was determined to keep the Crown under the firm control of Parliament. He knew that with the new German monarchy this was more possible than it Politics and finance had been before.

Walpole skilfully developed the idea that government ministers should work together in a small group, which was called the "Cabinet". He introduced the idea that any minister who disagreed deeply with other Cabinet ministers was expected to resign. From this basic idea grew another important rule in British politics: that all members of the Cabinet were together responsible for policy decisions. Walpole built on the political results of the Glorious Revolution of 1688. It was he who made sure that the power of the king would always be limited by the constitution.

The limits to monarchy were these Politics and finance: the king could not be a Catholic; the king could not remove or change laws; the king was dependent on Parliament for his financial income and for his army. The king was supposed to "choose" his ministers. Even today the government of Britain is "Her Majesty's Government". But in fact the ministers belonged as much to Parliament as they did to the king.

Walpole wanted to avoid war and to increase taxes so that the government could pay back everything it had borrowed, and get rid of the national debt. He put taxes on luxury goods, such as tea, coffee Politics and finance and chocolate, all of which were drunk by the rich, and were brought to Britain from its new colonies by wealthy traders. Tea had become a national drink by 1700, when 50,000 kg were already being imported each year. Walpole raised the government's income, but this had little effect on the national debt, and he became very unpopular.

The most important of Walpole's political enemies was William Pitt "the Elder", later Lord Chatham. Chatham wanted Britain to be economically strong in the world, and he agreed with Daniel Defoe, the author of Robinson Crusoe, who had written Politics and finance in 1728, "Trade is the wealth of the world. Trade makes the difference between rich and poor, between one nation and another." But trade also involved competition. Chatham had studied French trade and industry, and he was certain that Britain must beat France in the race for an overseas trade empire.



In 1733 France made an alliance with Spain. Chatham feared that this alliance would give France a trade advantage over Britain through freer trade possibilities with the Spanish Empire in South America and the Far East. England had been trying unsuccessfully to develop trade with the Spanish Empire since the Politics and finance days of Drake. Once Chatham was in the government, he decided to make the British navy stronger than that of France or any other nation. He also decided to take over as many as possible of France's trading posts abroad.

War with France broke out in 1756. Britain had already been involved in a war against France, from 1743 to 1748, concerning control of the Austrian Empire. However, this time Chatham left Britain's ally, Prussia, to do most of the fighting in Europe. He directed British effort at destroying French trade. The navy stopped French ships reaching or leaving Politics and finance French ports.

The war against France's trade went on all over the world. In Canada, the British took Quebec in 1759 and Montreal the following year. This gave the British control of the important fish, fur and wood trades. Meanwhile the French navy was destroyed in a battle near the coast of Spain. In India, the army of the British East India Company defeated French armies both in Bengal, and in the south near Madras, destroying French trade interests. Many Indian princes allied themselves with one side or the other. In defeating France, Britain eventually went on to control most Politics and finance of India by conquest or treaty with the princes. Many Britons started to go to India to make their fortune. Unlike previous British traders, they had little respect for Indian people or for their culture. So, while India became the "jewel in the Crown" of Britain's foreign possessions, British-Indian relations slowly went sour.

Meanwhile, in 1759, Britain was drunk with victory. "One is forced to ask every morning what victory there is for fear of missing one," an Englishman said at the time. British pride had already been noticed by a Swiss visitor in 1727. The British have a Politics and finance very high opinion of themselves, he wrote, and they "think nothing is as well done elsewhere as in their own country". British pride was expressed in a national song written in 1742: "Rule Britannia, Britannia rule the waves, Britons never never never shall be slaves."

But a new king, George III, came to the throne in 1760. He did not wish Chatham to continue an expensive war. In 1763 George III made peace with France. Britain did this without informing Prussia, which was left to fight France alone.

For the rest of the century, Britain's international trade increased rapidly. By the end Politics and finance of the century the West Indies were the most profitable part of Britain's new empire. They formed one corner of a profitable trade triangle. British-made knives, swords and cloth were taken to West Africa and exchanged for slaves. These were taken to the West Indies, and the ships returned to Britain carrying sugar which had been grown by slaves. Britain's colonies were an important marketplace in which the British sold the goods they produced, from the eighteenth century until the end of the empire in the twentieth century.


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