Return Of The Native Son: Chapter Twelve

It soon became time for Lord Lipton to return home, at least for a little while. He had been in London long enough to engage in some very worthwhile social business, who knows where it would go, and he could see that London as a whole was starting to pick up. It appeared as if life in England had a similar rhythm to life in many other areas to him. There were places that were intolerable in summer, like London, which led people to flee out to their country estates for around half the year or so, but then those with the means sought refuge from the isolation of their great houses in winter and sought the company of London. To be sure, this was only true among those members of a certain class, those who had enough income to afford two houses, or at least who were associated with those people.

Yet Lord Lipton had remembered that a similar phenomenon had taken place in other areas. In South Carolina, for example, Charleston was similarly a popular place for everyone who could afford it to be in winter, but in the summer everyone fled to their upstate plantations to avoid the heat. It was not exactly the same in England, but one could sense the same sort of phenomenon, where even those from the remote North would go south in the winter and north in the summer. How strange it seemed to him that people should be like migratory birds in such a fashion.

As he was now making his second trip along the roads that connected his Yorkshire estate to his London home, he made an effort to look out at the fields of England as he traveled. If he was no great farmer himself, it was still of interest to him to see the state of the land, since it was something he imagined would be a major topic for conversation. Throughout the roads he travelled along he could see how different people could look at matters quite distinctly. A large part of the countryside he saw was increasingly empty, given over to shepherds and their flocks, in what were considered to be enclosures. He could see plenty of people streaming their way to London on foot and in various rudimentary transportation as they could find. When he stopped at inns, the other people he saw were others not unlike himself, gentry and nobles, prosperous merchants, and the like, who made for fine company while eating and chatting, but who made up only a small percentage of the great population as a whole.

How did the ordinary Briton live? What rents were being charged to those cottagers who lived in villages like those of his own estate? Was he a more generous landlord than most, or what? These things he longed to know, but there was not the data available to provide him with more of a sense than he could gain through listening to others talk about the state of prices and of their businesses and estates. Lord Lipton gathered from this that there was concern about the state of indebtedness in the country, and a wonder of how it was that England would deal with the loss of those wealthy but demanding former colonies, and whether this would change England’s attitude to the lands it held in other parts of the world.

Lord Lipton did not fancy himself to be an imperial expert, but he supposed that given his experience, he would likely be considered as such given the fact that he had seen first hand how it was over the course of the last three decades that those colonies had gone from being quiescent and proud Britons to having been willing to fight and die in order to escape their rule. What had gone wrong? Had it merely been the presence of the French and the way that they stirred up the tribes on the frontier that had kept the two peoples together? Unity in the face of a common enemy had drawn peoples together before in the past, but who could have expected the triumph of arms that had pushed the French out of Canada and the Great Lakes territory altogether? And who could have expected that the colonists would rather join up with the French rather than accept the rule of England any longer?

Clearly there must have been something wrong, and Lord Lipton thought over the laws that had been passed along those years which had prompted the most violent hostility against the rule of King and Parliament. As loyal as Lord Lipton was to his country, and had been through all those years, it was clear that the loyalties of the people had shifted in response to what happened. For one, it appears that the proliferation of legislation from London had violated the expectations of those American colonists. They were certainly not hostile to law and lawyers given the actions of their own provincial legislatures, but there was something different about rules and regulations that sought to limit their freedom of travel and property that came from distant London. They did not think London responsive to their concerns, try as they might to send people to lobby on their behalf, some of them truly able men like Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.

And what else had been done? Lord Lipton believed that the whole taxation without representation thing was a bit of a dodge. As English politicians were keen on pointing out, the colonies were no more unrepresented in Parliament than most of England. While massive cities had sprung up over the last few decades that had no voice in Parliament at all, while he, Lord Lipton, controlled two seats of Parliament in just his estate–his own spot in the House of Lords as Viscount Lipton, and an entire constituency made up of only a few voters, all of whom were his own tenants and dependents. If it was wrong that people should be subject to laws that had passed without their consent, then there would come a day where there was a dramatic change in how Parliamentary seats were allocated, and this would have dramatic changes in how England saw itself. And who had the right to vote for those members of Parliament? These were subjects about which people could argue, and if the example of the Americans was anything to go by, people would be willing to fight and die about them. But the Americans had been the least taxed people in all the earth in 1760, and even after the various excise taxes and stamp taxes and efforts to stop the endemic smuggling of the colonies, the Americans were still not a heavily taxed people and would likely be as heavily taxed if not more to pay for their own government and their own military and to build the infrastructure of their own empty land.

No, it was not in mere taxation that the people of America were riled up, although their hostility to tax collectors was something to behold. Like Burke, he saw a great deal of fault in a few areas. For one, the laws of 1763 made in the aftermath of Pontiac’s rebellion had clearly been a mistake. Those laws which placed the Transappalachian lands under the direct rule of the province of Quebec, itself only lately conquered by English and American arms, provoked fears that England was more favorable to Canadian Catholics than it was to American dissenters. This was clearly a mistake. And the efforts to stop Americans from traveling into tribal lands and seeking to expand the small farms and plantations that formed the backbone of colonial society was also a mistake. Whatever questions of justice existed about the rights of tribes to maintain their territories that they claimed from time immemorial, at least since no one had written about the wars that had led some tribes to rule over certain areas over the past thousands of years, it was clear that no force short of divine and miraculous intervention was going to keep Americans from speculating in property and in seeking to fill empty lands with snug little farms and small market towns full of people with narrow understanding and little imagination, but with a firm understanding of their own interests, and in a diverse group of churches and businesses to cater to their wants and needs.

And so too, the Declaratory Act had also been a mistake. Lord Lipton had understood this clearly at the time, even as a young person just at the beginnings of manhood. When Parliament gave in to the loud cries of excessive taxation from the colonies, in their petulance they had tried to pass a law that claimed that they had the right to pass whatever law they saw fit regardless of what the people in the colonies thought. This had been a mistake for two reasons–it was done in a moment of weakness, so the effort to proclaim the power of King and Parliament over the colonies was not treated with sufficient respect. Second, it was bad policy to tell people who were starting to doubt and question one’s authority that one had an absolute authority over them. It was better to persuade, to demonstrate one’s competence and one’s reasonableness as an authority, and this was not done. Lord Lipton had tried to tell them over the course of years that a people that was growing restive might prove unwilling to be abused and bullied by force of words and of provoking soldiers, as had happened in Boston, but his information on the ground had fallen on deaf ears. Once it proved necessary to attempt to hold on to the colonies by force, the bonds of love and unity that had once held them together without troops had frayed to the breaking point. And what would restore it back together again? There were people who had suffered terribly in the past few years who would remain embittered against his country. There were others who were only amenable to relations based on common material interest. He thought such efforts should be encouraged, but knew well enough to realize that hearts and minds were not to be won over by mere coin and material advantage alone. What was it that would lead people to celebrate their common Anglo Saxon heritage, the body of law enshrined in the informal English constitution, and in the long weight of tradition, as well as the shared language of liberty that the two nations shared. Such unity would wait on happier times.

And what of the state of England? The same issues that divided colony from mother country were similarly at play in England. What responsibility did people like himself have for the well-being of tenants? Was it right to demand prices as high as the market could bear, and to cast people off of their ancestral lands to seek grinding poverty in cities full of smoke and misery? Would new industrial cities enjoying the wealth of commerce and the power of factories accept a lack of political power because of their recent ascent? Would the language of rights, divorced from any understanding of the responsibilities those rights entailed, spread throughout this land and others to bring anarchy and disorder in its wake? Lord Lipton had spent his life dealing with the consequences of ideas tightly held but without proper understanding of their implications and ramifications in other lands, and now it seemed as if such problems were coming home to roost. And though he was an industrious man, he was also someone whose body bore the weight of pressure and pain that resulted from so fierce a struggle to fight against the wicked spirits of an evil age. How much more had he been called upon to fight? These thoughts, and others like them, filled his mind as he rode through England. They did not come all at once, not in a rush of words that were easy to understand and explain. Yet they came all the same. In looking at the state of England, he could not help but wonder if a day of great reckoning had come upon his own land and its own people just as it had come to the land where he had spent so much of his previous life.

Were the nations of Western Europe and their colonies truly part of one civilization? If America caught a cold did it spread to England? If ideas of liberty propounded by hypocrites and charlatans, as well as a great many men of considerable dignity and honesty, were spoken of in cities like Boston and Philadelphia and New York and Williamsburg, did such ideas automatically have currency in London or Paris or Madid or Berlin? Did the problems of Charleston and Savannah of necessity bring difficulty upon Liverpool and Hull and Bristol and Dover and Chester? These things were not clear, not clear to Lord Lipton, and not clear to anyone else. The war that had only recently ended had determined that the United Kingdom, as powerful as it was, could not hold onto colonies who desperately sought to be free with tens of thousands of Hessian mercenaries and the support of loyal loyalists, leavened with a sprinkling of British troops and British commanders. Yet the United Kingdom had preserved its islands and Gibraltar, if not Minorca, against the combined forces of France, Spain, and the Netherlands, and that suggested that if the United Kingdom needed to act against many enemies, that it had enough strength to hold on. Such strength may eventually be necessary. Did England have the health and the character to reform itself before it found itself destroyed by revolution? It remained an open question.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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