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44
Gould 2000; Miller 1994. 45 Gould 2000, p. 214.
46
The voyages took place in 1768À1771, 1772À1775 and 1776À1780.
47
See Veit 1972; Smith 1992; Wilson 2003; Russell 2004; and Fulford, Lee and Kitson 2004.
182 karen o™brien
empire and gain, a pursuit motivated (as Seward states repeatedly) by
˜Benevolence™ (or, in the earliest versions, ˜Humanity™):
Say first, what Power inspir™d his dauntless breast
With scorn of danger and inglorious rest,
To quit imperial London™s gorgeous domes
[. . .]
It was BENEVOLENCE! À on coasts unknown,
The shriv™ring natives of the frozen zone,
And the swart Indian, as he faintly strays
˜Where Cancer reddens in the solar blaze™,
She bade him seek; on each inclement shore
Plant the rich seeds of her exhaustless store;
Unite the savage hearts, and hostile hands,
In the firm compact of her gentle bands.48
Seward ends the poem by addressing Cook™s widow, the private
embodiment of the nation™s public grief. The poem™s domestication of
Cook very effectively enhances his status as an imperial hero, and it
enables Seward to take shrewd advantage of her femininity. It is
indicative, more generally, of the late eighteenth-century feminization
of patriotism, and the process by which women laid claim to moral
authority and proximate political influence in the shaping of the nation.49
Emboldened to speak on national matters from a domestic position of
address, women poets, including Seward, Yearsley, Hannah More
(discussed below), play an increasingly prominent role in the articula-
tion of Britain™s imperial duties and destiny. Seward™s focus upon the
domestic pathos of Cook™s death here detracts from the official aspects
of the voyages as pre-emptive assertions of the right of discovery
against future territorial claims by rival European powers. The President
of the Royal Society, Lord Morton, had reminded both Cook and
Joseph Banks before they set out that the native inhabitants were ˜the
natural, and in the strictest sense of the word, the legal possessors of
the several Regions they inhabit™ and had insisted that ˜no European
Nation has a right to occupy any part of their country, or settle among
them without their voluntary consent™.50 Yet Cook took possession


48
Anna Seward, ˜Elegy on Captain Cook™ (1780), 1810 version, in Kelly 1999, iv, p. 36; the
quotation is from Thomson™s The Seasons. See also Fitzgerald 1780; Ode to the Memory
of Captain James Cook . . . By a Sea Officer 1780.
49
Guest 2000. 50 Quoted by Williams 1998, pp. 560À61.
Benevolence in the Case of the British Empire 1680À1800 183
of Queen Charlotte Sound in New Zealand after the most cursory
explanation to the local Maori, and claimed the east coast of Australia
on the grounds that it was terra nullius (no man™s land). The dimensions
of illegal territorial acquisition and European rivalry were usually miss-
ing from poetical accounts, even the more critical ones, which like
Seward™s emphasized entitlement by benevolent intent or focused instead
on the experience of the encounter between Europeans and indigenous
peoples.51
In the years leading up to the creation of the first penal colony at
Botany Bay, the posthumous Cook grew in stature into ˜a figure capable
of reconstituting British imperial authority™.52 His respect for indigenous
culture continued to be held up for poetic praise, in contrast to the
practice of slavery and abuse elsewhere in the empire. The difference was
not so much between the freedom and rights accorded to the South
Sea islanders and those withheld from black slaves, as one between
exploitation and collective social responsibility. Filtered through the
language of Evangelicalism, this idea of responsibility became one of
brotherhood and sisterhood, and the brothers and sisters of the empire
were imagined as members of a virtual global congregation. The influen-
tial Evangelical writer Hannah More, in her Slavery, A Poem (1788),
distinguished Cook from earlier explorers whose discoveries had lead only
to destruction and slavery:
Whether of wealth insatiate, or of pow™r,
Conquerors who waste, or ruffians who devour:
Had these possess™d, O COOK! thy gentle mind,
Thy love of arts, thy love of humankind;
Had these pursued thy mild and liberal plan,
DISCOVERERS had not been a curse to man!
The, bless™d Philanthropy! thy social hands
Had link™d dissever™d worlds in brothers bands;
Careless, if colour, or if clime divide;
Then, lov™d, and loving, man had liv™d, and died.53
Both Cook and William Penn find a place in More™s pantheon
of imperial philanthropists, although Oglethorpe and his benevolent
colony, long since given over to slave-owners and large plantations,
appear forgotten. The ˜Conquerors who waste, or ruffians who devour™
include slave traders and Spanish conquistadors, notably Cortez.54

51
See, most famously, Cowper, The Task (1785), i, ii. 620À77 in Cowper 1980À1985, ii.
52
Wilson 2003, p. 62. 53 More 1788, ii. 233À42. 54 More 1788, i. 220.
184 karen o™brien
More™s negative and positive typologies of greedy conquerors and
philanthropic colonizers were utterly standard by this time, and often
formed part of much fuller accounts of the benefits of voluntary
economic exchange as against the disadvantages of forced labour and
indiscriminate plunder. For instance, William Cowper in his poem
˜Charity™ (1782) observed: ˜While Cook is loved for savage lives he
saved, / See Cortez odious for a world enslaved!™55 These lines follow
Cowper™s consideration of Cook™s fair dealings with the native peoples
of the South Seas:
Wherever he found man, to nature true,
The rights of man were sacred in his view:
He sooth™d with gifts and greeted with a smile
The simple native of the new-found isle . . .56
The soothing gifts are not merely gifts; they initiate the ˜simple natives™
into a system of property and commerce which in turn gives them a point
of access to the global operations of charity through international
exchange:
The band of commerce was design™d
T™associate all the branches of mankind,
And if a boundless plenty be the robe,
Trade is the golden girdle of the globe.57
Cowper sees commerce as a redemptive activity, potentially capable of
engendering fraternal interdependence between peoples where before
there was isolation or exploitation. Cowper, a strident and influential
critic of both the slave trade and the East India Company, was far from
optimistic that he would ever live to see a regenerated empire, but he
never doubted that imperial commerce and colonization were potentially
compatible with benevolence.58 Others who, like Cowper, advanced the
idea of commerce as form of global sociability, were more confident that
empire could be salvaged for the cause of humanity. The former slave,
Olaudah Equiano concluded his popular autobiography with the
argument that the abolition of slavery would open up a ˜commercial
Intercourse with Africa™ which would bring both financial and moral
benefits to all concerned.59 Equiano was a government commissary

55
˜Charity™, in Cowper 1782, p. 182. 56 Cowper 1782, pp. 181À2.
57
Cowper 1782, pp. 184, 186.
58
On Cowper as an ˜imperialist™, see Faulkner 1991 and more sceptically, O™Brien 1998.
59
Equiano 1995, p. 333.
Benevolence in the Case of the British Empire 1680À1800 185
and enthusiastic supporter of the period™s most experimental benevolent
colony, the ˜Province of Freedom™, established in 1787 in the Sierra Leone
estuary, as a home for settlers and ex-slaves of African descent. Its founder,
Granville Sharp, received active encouragement from the elderly James
Oglethorpe, as well as from Hannah More, for his aim of creating a self-
governing colony and beacon of British humanitarianism.60 Naturally,
there were poetic outpourings of support, including a poem, published in
the Morning Post, by the future poet laureate Robert Southey celebrating
the colonial settlers and authorities: ˜Their minds enlarged, their hearts
humane, / They come to break the oppressive chain . . .™.61 Southey™s
belief that Sierra Leone offered an enlightened model of colonization and
an alternative way for Britain to deal with Africa was widely shared, but,
in this case, at least, there is substantial evidence about the quite different
feelings and views of the intended recipients of colonial paternalism. The
settlement (which became a shareholding company in 1791) recruited
a group of escaped American slaves (˜Nova Scotians™) who, throughout
the 1790s, consistently petitioned the government and the company
authorities for their full civil rights: as they wrote to governor John
Clarkson, ˜we are willing to be govern by the laws of England in full but
we do not Consent to gave it in to your honer hands without haven aney
of our own Culler in it™.62 Far from submitting cheerfully to the yoke
of benevolence, these imperial subjects demanded, and continued to
demand, the right to representation implicit in their original consent to
the governing authority.


conclusion
In the decades that followed, the idea of benevolence as both the moving
spirit of British imperial egress and the outcome of British trade went
through more Dissenting, Evangelical and Anglican permutations, and
gained its familiar hold. Literary writers were engaged very early on in
an attempt to integrate the ideal of benevolence into the language of
political thought, and they identified the colonies as a promising sphere
in which both private and state benevolence could be exercised and tested
for its viability at home. To a degree, benevolent colonization represented

60
Sharp 1820, pp. 157À8.
61
˜On the Settlement of Sierra Leona™ (1798), in Southey 1994, i, p. 169.
62
Fyfe 1991, p. 25. In general, see Coleman 2005, chs. 1À3.
186 karen o™brien
a trial-run for a new idea of the paternal state, one that might charter,
underwrite, finance or supervise the voluntary efforts of high-minded
individuals. In both the domestic and imperial contexts, liberty (in the
sense of protection from arbitrary government by the constitution)
was essential to the benefactor, much less so to the beneficiary. The first
generation of Romantic poets bolstered the moral case for empire, partly
by characterizing white colonial emigration as a remedy for the
Malthusian perils of over-population, and partly by depicting colonizers,
not as the standard-bearers, but as the casualties of the British imperial
state. Wordsworth™s vagrants and displaced poor are Britain™s internal and
external migrants, deserving of sympathy and state support. They have
been deprived of a productive relationship to the land, and are different
therefore, in quality and in kind, from the property-less, pre-social native
Americans who figure so frequently in his poems. Southey, too, depicted
colonial migration sympathetically as an activity issuing from Britain™s
Celtic, economic or political margins. In his Madoc (1805), the
eponymous hero, a medieval Welshman, is pushed out of his native
home by the forces of corruption and Anglicization. Madoc turns into a
Brutus figure when he migrates to Florida, takes benevolent control of the
local native population and cultivates the land. In later life, Southey
argued vigorously for government-assisted colonization of the ˜unculti-
vated parts of the earth™, and he has a good claim to be considered
as a precursor to the colonial reform movement of the 1830s.63
The Romantic emphasis upon man™s natural property in the land he
cultivates À which coincided, not by chance, with the first settlements in
New South Wales and the acquisition of the Cape Colony À added a
Lockean element to a moral case for empire built upon notions of
responsible metropolitan trusteeship. Duncan Ivison has explored, in his
chapter, the exclusionary implications, for indigenous subjects of the
empire, of Locke™s agriculturalist notion of property rights, and the
ways in which the lack of such forms of property disqualifies native
peoples from collective political agency.64 His argument allows us to see,
at the moment of the formation of the second British Empire, the
implication of the Romantic figure of the free, noble, nomadic native
in imperialist conceptions of human political competence. Lockean ideas
of property entitlement by cultivation, as well as by first occupancy,
played an enduring role in the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century debate

63 64
Southey 1832, i, p. 154. Ivison, in this volume.
Benevolence in the Case of the British Empire 1680À1800 187
about empire, both to justify dispossession and to challenge it.65 Despite
their potential complicity with native dispossession, Locke™s ideas of
natural rights, consent and self-determination, as Ivison suggests, retained
their potential as the basis of a thorough-going critique of empire. The
language of benevolence À central to the campaigns against slavery and
the slave trade À was highly effective when geared to the amelioration
and regeneration of empire; but it was not created to offer a similarly
fundamental critique of empire, and ultimately informed a nineteenth-
century idea of imperial trusteeship. David Armitage has written of
how the mid-eighteenth-century notion of the empire as Protestant,
commercial, maritime and free, when recast as liberalism, lingered into
the nineteenth century, less as an ideology by which policy was governed
and measured than as a corner stone of British national identity.66
It might also be said that the nineteenth-century idea of the empire
as morally purposeful, benevolent and humanitarian had deep roots
reaching back to the late seventeenth century À roots which found
an early and fertile soil in the writings of poets. It is certainly essential
that we recognize their contribution to this area of political thought if
we are to understand the entanglements of ideas of empire, liberty and
benevolence.

65 66
Armitage 2000, pp. 96À8. Armitage 2000, pp. 195À8.
part iii
British Political Thought and Political Theory
chapter 10

The Nature of Rights and the History of Empire
Duncan Ivison




i
This chapter is a study in the globalization of the history of British
political thought. What do I mean by ˜globalization™ in this context?
If the history of British political thought has been deconstructed
into something more than the history of English political thought À and
the idea of ˜political thought™ itself into more than just explicitly
political treatises, speeches or pamphlets1 À then what happens when
we extend this multi-centred approach beyond the edges of the British
Isles to the settler-colonial contexts of North America and Australasia,
for example? British political discourse, now a complex of discourses
as opposed to one, engages with and becomes part of a new bundle of
discourses that includes but is not reducible to either English or British
political thought.
To illustrate this approach, I shall consider the genesis and afterlife of
one strand of the discourse of rights. The language of rights À especially
that of ˜subjective rights™ or, as we call them today, individual rights À

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