People

Dr. Richard Samuelson

Postdoctoral researcher

Project: "The Imperial Problem, 1763-1776"

This is an exploration of the discussion in the English-speaking world between the end of the Seven Years War and the American Declaration of Independence about how the British empire was and ought to have been constituted in the period. Richard Koebner pointed out many years ago that it was only in this period that political men started to describe the combination of Britain and the British colonies on both sides of the Atlantic as forming a single "empire." The change was significant, and many noted it, though few noted the linguistic turn. Many of George III's subjects throughout the Atlantic world tried to figure out the significance of that change. Should this "empire" continue to be organized along the successful though ad hoc lines along which it had been organized? Or was it necessary to re-organize it in order to make it function? If the latter, what should the empire look like? Should there be Americans, Irishmen, and others in a new, comprehensive Parliament, as some suggested? Others held that the British Parliament in London should simply assert its right to make law for all of the King's subjects? Still others held that there were many Parliaments in this British Empire, thus raising the question of what the proper relationship among them was? Moreover, it was impossible to think about reforming this empire without asking what ends that empire should serve. Was a functioning empire one that best served the interests of Great Britain? or was it one that served the interests of the King's subjects throughout the world? What were those interests anyway? Where they liberty, peace, prosperity, health, or other things? My research at the Centre for the Study of Human Settlement and Historical Change is an attempt to understand how political men throughout the English-speaking world answered those questions in this period.