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POLITICAL STATE OF GREAT BRITAIN.
Printed in the year 1756.*
THE present system of English politics may properly be said to have taken rise in the reign of Queen Elizabeth. At this time, the protestant religion was established, which naturally allied us to the reformed state, and made all the popish powers our enemies.
We began in the same reign to extend our trade, by which we made it necessary to ourselves to watch the commercial progress of our neighbours ; and, if not to incommode and obstruct their traffic, to hinder them from impairing ours.
We then likewise settled colonies in America, which was become the great scene of European ambition ; for, seeing with what treasures the Spaniards were annually enriched from Mexico and Peru, every nation imagined,
* This was the introductory article to the Literary Magazine, No. I. See p. 300.
POLITICAL STATE OF GREAT BRITAIN.
that an American conquest or plantation would certainly fill the mother country with gold and silver. This produced a large extent of very distant dominions, of which we, at this time, neither knew nor foresaw the advantage
or incumbrance ; we seem to have snatched them into # our hands, upon no very just principles of policy, only
because every state, according to a prejudice of long continuance, concludes itself more powerful as its territories become larger.
The discoveries of new regions, which were then ev... ery day made, the profit of remote traffic, and the necessity of long voyages, produced, in a few years, a great multiplication of shipping. The sea was considered as the wealthy element; and, by degrees, a new kind of sovereignty arose, called naval dominion.
As the chief trade of the world, so the chief maritime power was at first in the hands of the Portuguese and Spaniards, who, by a compact, to which the consent of other princes was not asked, had divided the newly dis.. covered countries between them; but the crown of Por:tugal having fallen to the king of Spain, or being seized by him, he was master of the ships of the two nations, with which he kept all the coasts of Europe in alarm, till the Armada, which he had raised at a vast expense for the conquest of England, was destroyed, which put a stop, and almost an end, to the naval power of the Spaniards.
At this time the Dutch, who were oppressed by the Spaniards, and feared yet greater evils than they felt, resolved no longer to endure the insolence of their mas. ters; they therefore revolted ; and after a struggle, in
which they were assisted by the money and forces of Elizabeth, erected an independent and powerful commonwealth.
When the inhabitants of the Low Countries had formed their system of government, and some remission of the war gave them leisure to form schemes of future prosperity, they easily perceived, that as their territories were narrow, and their numbers small, they could preserve themselves only by that power which is the consequence of wealth ; and that, by a people whose country produced only the necessaries of life, wealth was not to be acquired, but from foreign dominions, and by the transportation of the products of one country into another.
From this necessity, thus justly estimated, arose a plan of commerce, which was for many years prosecuted with industry and success, perhaps never seen in the world before, and by which the poor tenants of mud vralied villages and impassable bogs, erected themselves into high and mighty states, who put the greatest monarchs at defiance, whose alliance was courted by the proudest, and whose power was dreaded by the fiercest nation. By the establishment of this state there arose to England a new ally, and a new rival.
At this time, which seems to be the period destined for the change of the face of Europe, France began first to rise into power ; and, from defending her own provinces with difficulty and fluctuating success, to threaten her neighbours with encroachments and devastations. Henry the Fourth, having, after a long struggle, obtained the crown, found it easy to govern nobles exhausted and
wearied with a long civil war, and having composed the disputes between the Protestants and Papists, so as to obtain at least a truce for both parties, was at leisure to accumulate treasure,
and raise forces which he purposa ed to have employed in a design of settling for ever the. balance of Europe. Of this great scheme he lived not to see the vanity, or to feel the disappointment ; for he was murdered in the midst of his mighty preparations.
The French, however, were in this reign taught to know their own power; and the great designs of a king, whose wisdom they had so long experienced, even though they were not brought to actual experiment, disposed them to consider themselves as masters of the destiny of their neighbours ; and, from that time, he that nicely examines their schemes and conduct, will, I believe, find that they began to take an air of superiority to which they had never pretended before ; and that they have been always employed more or less openly upon schemes of dominion, though with frequent interruptions from domestic troubles, and with those intermissions which human counsels must always suffer, as men intrusted with great affairs are dissipated in youth, and languid in age, are embarrassed by competitors, org without any external reason, change their minds.
France was now no longer in dread of insults and. invasions from England. She was not only able to maintain her own territories, but prepared, on all occasions, to invade others ; and we had now a neighbour whose interest it was to be an enemy, and who has disturbed us, from that time to this, with open hostility or secret inachinations.
Such was the state of England and its neighbours, when Elizabeth left the crown to James of Scotland. It has not, I think, been frequently observed by historians at how critical a time the union of the two kingdoms happened. Had England and Scotland continued separate kingdoms, when France was established in the full possession of her natural power, the Scots, in continuance of the league, which it would now have been more than ever their interest to observe, would, upon every instigation of the French court, have raised an army with French money, and harassed us with an invasion, in which they would have thought themselves successful, whatever numb they might have left behind them. To a people warlike and indigent, an incursion into a rich country is never hurtful. The pay of France and the plunder of the northern counties, would always have tempted them to hazard their lives, and we should have been under a necessity of keeping a line of garrisons along our border.
This trouble, however, we escaped by the accession of King James ; but it is uncertain, whether his natural disposition did not injure us more than this accidental condition happened to benefit us. He was a man of great theoretical knowledge, but of no practical wisdom; he was very well able to discern the true interest of himself, his kingdom, and his posterity, but sacrificed it; upon all occasions, to his present pleasure or his present ease ; so conscious of his own knowledge and abilities, that he would not suffer a minister to govern, and 90 lax of attention, and timorous of opposition, that he was not able to govern for himself. With this charac.