Published online by Cambridge University Press: 05 August 2021
The extraction of wealth from British colonial territories would be justified by the ingenious combination of ideas about improvement and chattel slavery. While the establishment of the Atlantic settlements was an affair of colonial companies and private proprietors, they were gradually taken into direct government by Westminster. But the conflict between settlers’ defence of their autonomy under the theory of the ancient rights of Englishmen and metropolitan sovereignty would eventually push the settlements into statehood – a result that could be understood to open a wholly new global commercial order. By contrast, the East India Company continued to operate as a lucrative, though diminishing source for private enrichment until crown sovereignty was given formal imprimatur in 1813. Not keen to expand Britain’s administrative duties across the world, British lawyers and political leaders would reimagine their empire in terms of occasional interventions to protect private investments and to enforce the system of international rules they held valid all over the world.
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