The main rival was France, which had colonies in North America, in the West Indies and in West Africa. The British decisively defeated the French in North America and captured Quebec winning control of Canada (fish, fur and wood trades), in West Africa (gum trade and traffic in slaves – till then controlled by the French), and in The West Indies. Meanwhile, in India the army of the East India Company repeatedly defeated the French, thus confirming that the triumph was mainly due to the British navy.
[center]The slave trade
With the peace treaty of Utrecht (1713) Britain gained Minorca and Gilbraltar, plus a share in the slave trade (Asiento treaty) and became the leader in the triangular trade between Britain, Africa and America: British ships carried to the Caribbean islands, and to North and south America; many of them died during the passage. In America they were sold by auction. The same ships were then loaded with sugar, tobacco, cotton and coffee, for the trip back to Europe. The last decades saw the birth of the Anti-slave-trade Committee, and some politicians fought for the abolition of slavery.
Troubles came from the Stuarts and their supporters – the Jacobites – who made two attempts to put the Stuart heir on their powers, cottages were burnt, people were imprisoned or sent to America, the wearing of the kilt and the playing of bagpipes were forbidden, and the traditional way of life the Scottish Highlands came to an end.
The 18th century saw the last Stuart sovereign and the coming to the throne of the Hanoverians. For many years the Whigs were in power. They were popular because they avoided war, protected trade and lowered taxes.
In 1707 the Act of Union brought the union of England and Scotland. With this Act Scotland lost its parliament and its sovereignty, but was allowed toh ave its own church and its own legal and educational systems. (It was only the Scottish Referendum of September 1997 that gave Home Rule to Scotland, i.e its own Parliament in Edinburgh.)
As a result of the Bill of Rights of 1689 Parliament had firm control over the king, and it was in this period that the figure of the Prime Minister began to acquire great revelance. Robert Walpole – considered the first Prime Minister in Britain – was a capable and cunning politician, who encouraged trade and industry by abolishing export duties and lowering import duties on raw materials.
The most influential politician of the century was William Pitt. This far-sighted politician understood that the main area of attention lay overseas. He also understood that in a mercantilist age wealth came from trade, and a trading empire was based on the control of world trade. Therefore, his first aim when he was in the government was to make the British navy stronger than that of any other country.
The American colonists were another source of trouble. The British conquest of Canada relieved American colonists from the French threat, so the government decided that they should bear part of the cost of the protection; in 1765 taxation duties were increased, but the colonists protested on the principle of “No taxation without representation”. As a matter of fact it was only apparently a question of taxation as the American colonies wanted to be independent.
Duties on the goods imported into America were repealed, except for that on tea. In response, a cargo of British tea was thrown into the sea at Boston harbour in 1773 (Boston Tea Party).
As a result the harbour was closed and British troops were stationed there. The first blood was shed at Lexington in 1775, and in 1776 Thomas Jefferson and other American leaders wrote the famous Declaration of Independence. The war finished with the victory of the colonists, led by George Washington. The British surrendered at Yorktown in 1781 and in 1783 Britain officially recognized the thirteen colonies as an independent nation called The United States of America.