The Townshend Acts in Virginia: the decay of Anglo-Virginian relations, 1767-1770
Steed, James Augustus
Gruber, Ira D.
Master of Arts
In the period from 1767 to 1770 an attitude toward the colonies matured in Britain which changed in no material way until the Carlisle Commission was formed in 1778. Sovereign power over the empire, lodged in Parliament by the Revolutionary Settlement, could not be shared or divided. So widely was this view held to be orthodoxy that no important political faction ever considered altering the relationship between the mother. country and the colonies. In short, there was no source in British politics from which compromise with America on this central issue might come. Other factors, somewhat less important, complicated imperial relations. Perhaps the chief of these was simple indifference to and ignorance of what was happening in the colonies, Local issues and factional strife within British politics also affected American policy adversely. Finally, the continuing shift in Britain's colonial policy from pure mercantilism to imperialism introduced new elements into policy formation which complicated relations with America yet more. Linked to the supreme consideration of sovereignty, these factors left little ground for peaceful settlement of differences unless the American colonies would give way. Yet Virginians, for example, would not give way. Though they revered the principles of 1688-1689 just as their British cousins did, the influences of a different environing past made Virginians give a different reading to the common Anglo-American intellectual tradition. Reacting against efforts to change their constituted order, the colony's leaders struggled to articulate their understanding of the past. In the course of this process, the Townshend Act episode drove Virginians to assert their sole authority over "internal polity" -- the ordinary but vitally important powers of government -- leaving only foreign affairs and trade regulation(narrowly conceived) to Britain. The uncertainty of local political power and economic troubles aggravated the colony's discontents. In the end neither Britain nor Virginia could imagine an acceptable future if the other's policy prevailed. Neither could yield any essential point to the other. There was no real chance of successful compromise. Law, custom, forbearance--none could avail against the dilemma of who should be sovereign. Only force remained.