America and India

October 16 2012

The English [...] were temporarily shaken out of the moderation which they have studiously practised both before and since by the extraordinary lavishness of Fortune when she showered Canada upon them with one hand and Bengal, simultaneously, with the other. In 1763 it seemed “the manifest destiny” of the British Empire to swallow up the whole of North America as well as the whole of India. Yet twenty years later Great Britain had lost the better half of one of the two sub-continents and was in imminent danger of losing the whole of the other. It is true that the verdict of History has now acquitted British statesmanship of exclusive responsibility for the break-up of the First British Empire. American historians have latterly done much to show that in the fratricidal war of 1775-83 the war-guilt was divided; and the name of Warren Hastings no longer sounds so sinister as it was made to sound a century and a half ago. Nevertheless the fact remains that the Thirteen Colonies would never have been lost to the British Crown if from 1763 to 1775 it had shown towards them the same tact and consideration as it has repeatedly shown towards Canada from 1774 [Quebec Act] onwards. Nor would Bengal have been retained – nor, a fortiori, enlarged into an empire embracing all India – if the predatory practices of the Company’s servants in the East, from Clive and Warren Hastings downwards, during the twenty-six years following the intoxicating victory of Plassey had not been discouraged by the abortive India Bill of 1783 and the effective India Bill of 1784 and the long-drawn-out state trial [of Warren Hastings] of 1786-95. However sincerely Clive may have “marvelled at” his “own moderation”, his economy of virtue would assuredly soon have cost his countrymen the loss of an Oriental dominion which his excess of unscrupulousness had suddenly won for them, if they had not exerted themselves to improve upon Clive’s moral standards under the sobering influence of their American disaster.

The victor over the French (and their allies the Nawabs of Bengal, who were nominally subject to the Mughals) at Plassey in 1757 was Clive. The victor over the French at Quebec in 1759 was Wolfe.

Company rule in India began in 1757, when the Nawab of Bengal surrendered his dominions, or in 1765, when the Company was granted the diwani, or right to collect revenue, in Bengal and Bihar, or in 1772, when it established a capital in Calcutta and became directly involved in governance. It lasted until the Government of India Act of 1858, when its powers were surrendered to the Crown. There were Governors of the Presidency of Fort William (Bengal) from 1774 to 1833 (the first was Hastings) and Governors General of India from 1833 to 1858.

The British ruled Canada directly from the Treaty of Paris in 1763 until 1867. There were Governors of the Province of Quebec from 1760 to 1786, Governors General of the Canadas from 1786 to 1840 and Governors General of the Province of Canada from 1840 until the Constitution Act of 1867, which gave Canada virtual independence and in effect founded the Commonwealth.

A Study of History, Vol IV, OUP, 1939

3 Responses to “America and India”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    From 1858 to 1947 the title in India was Viceroy and Governor General. Since 1867 the title in Canada has been Governor General of Canada.

    The Wikipedia Talk pages for both offices discuss whether Governor General should or should not have a hyphen.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    John O’Sullivan actually wrote of “our manifest destiny”.

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Both Wolfe and the French commander Montcalm died at the Battle of Quebec or Battle of the Plains of Abraham.


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