Lord Shelburne and North America

It fell to Shelburne in his public offices to wrestle with the problems of the American colonies. During his Prime Ministership in 1782-83, writes W.O. Simpson, Shelburne concluded the treaty of peace that recognized their independence.

The first great constitutional crisis in the history of the British empire, that beginning in 1763 in North America, produced a host of different attitudes towards overseas possessions. Theories of empire were discussed and brought into the open, if not for the first time, at least in a way that was urgent as it had never been before.

Englishmen were obliged by the crisis seriously to consider what real rights they possessed over the colonies, and the awkward problem of sovereignty could no longer be glossed over as irrelevant.

Among those who thought earnestly about the relationship between Great Britain and her colonies, and those fated to alter it, stands the Earl of Shelburne. He is a significant figure in our colonial history. He was a man of wider acquaintance than most of his contemporaries, being on familiar terms during his lifetime with Franklin, Turgot, Mme. Helvetius, the Abbe Morellet, and among his own countrymen, Priestley, Dr. Price, Garrick, and Bentham.

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