Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 57.djvu/265

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

contrary, a remarkable democratic advance was made. Recognizing that though 'politics lie outside the profession of merchants' (as the Swedish and British governments declared), yet trade is eminently within their scope, the restored monarchy set up a Council of Trade and Plantations, of whose forty members twenty were elected representatives of the five merchant companies and the incorporated trades. But there was ever a tendency, at least under the despotic rule of the Stuarts, to revert to the privy council, and in 1674 a standing committee of it was appointed Lords of the Committee of Trade and Plantations. The change appears to have been unimportant. Trade still governed the committee and shaped its policy.

The Board of Trade set up in 1696, rather by the House of Commons than by the Ministry, marked the more popular character of the revolution of 1688, and lasted for ninety years. As if foreshadowing the despotic character of the English reaction against the greater French revolution, this board was abolished by an act introduced by the chief reactionary—Edmund Burke. A committee of the Privy Council for Trade and Plantations was in 1786 again resorted to, and this committee in a shadowy manner survived (perhaps it still survives) till 1849, when it was for the last time summoned by Earl Grey. But the real administration of the colonies had long been in the hands of a department of state, directly responsible to Parliament, though it was still a department that dealt with other affairs as well. Specialization began in 1702 by the colonies being assigned to the Secretary for the Southern Department. In 1768 a separate department with a secretary was created for America, where almost all of the colonies were then situated. After the loss of most of the American colonies the new department was abolished in 1782. The colonies were then annexed to the home department. In 1794 the newly created war department nominally included the colonies, though these were not actually united with it till the Committee for Trade and Plantations ceased to act, seven years later. In 1854 a separate colonial department, with an independent secretary of state, was finally created.[1]

As there were twenty-three secretaries in forty-one years, it will be readily understood that the practical work of administration remained with the permanent officials. With a longer tenure of office, previous training and thorough mastery of details, they held all the threads of colonial administration in their own hands. A newly appointed minister, with little knowledge of the colonies and no acquaintance at all with the business of his department, was no match for an experienced officer who had colonial affairs at his fingers' ends.

  1. The history of the relations between the government of Great Britain and her colonies will be found many books, but best in Mr. Egerton's comprehensive survey of British colonial policy.