Ideas of Empire 1763–1776: The ‘Old’ Empire


in The Making and Unmaking of Empires

Published in print September 2007 | ISBN: 9780199226665
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780191706813 | DOI:
Ideas of Empire 1763–1776: The ‘Old’ Empire

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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The British Empire before the Seven Years War – hence the ‘old’ empire of the chapter's title – was a miscellaneous collection of colonies and settlements loosely attached to Britain. The American and West Indian colonies were largely self-governing through their elected assemblies. British opinion accepted that representative government was appropriate for people of British origin overseas, but insisted that they must obey the authority of the Crown and of the British parliament. The extent of parliamentary power was highly contentious. In Britain few doubted that parliament was the sovereign power over the whole empire. Americans increasingly insisted on limits to that sovereignty and ultimately they were to reject parliamentary authority altogether. Both sides in these disputes invoked British liberty, but they disagreed profoundly on the limits of that liberty.

Keywords: Seven Years War; British Empire; Crown; parliament; colonies; West Indies; colonial assemblies; sovereignty; liberty

Chapter.  11296 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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