How Does History Connect Westborough and India?: Imperial Administration and Rule

Note: The following is the sixth in a series of eleven weekly posts that present my attempt to answer the question, “How does history connect Westborough and India?” See the Introduction for an overview of the series and to start reading it from the beginning.

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian, Westborough Public Library

Imperial Administration and Rule

After near complete British victory in the Seven Years’ War, England was now responsible for administering two colonial empires on opposite sides of the globe with differing governing needs. The fact that America was populated with British subjects did not exactly play to England’s advantage, because these citizens automatically assumed that they had a right to direct participation in their government and could not be ruled with an authoritative hand. But for the most part, the British government tended to interfere in the American colonies only in matters of trade and commerce, because they were more concerned with European foreign policy due to fear of falling back into war with France at any given time. The Americans, on the other hand, were obsessed with following news about the overseas affairs of England in order to discover clues about British intentions for ruling its colonies.

Over in Asia, granting Indians the right to a representative government was out of the question, since doing so would undermine Britain’s economic goals. Instead, the British developed an administrative system whereby officials from the East India Company—many of them former military generals, including the Earl of Cornwallis, who surrendered to Washington at Yorktown to end the American Revolution—ruled India and collected taxes both to pay for their rule and to profit from the arrangement. The East India Company now transformed itself into being less of a trading company and more of a military and administrative power headed by a group of oligarchs who sought to expand British control into other areas of India beyond Bengal. And because the wealth generated in India was so much greater in comparison with the American colonies, the British were much more attuned to the political situation in the East than they were in the West.

“The Reception of the Mysorean Hostage Princes by Marquis Cornwallis,” 26 February 1792
by Robert Home
(National Army Museum, https://collection.nam.ac.uk/detail.php?acc=1976-11-86-1)

This painting shows General Lord Cornwallis—who had surrendered to General George Washington at Yorktown to end the American Revolution and was now serving as Governor-General of India—receiving two of Tipu Sultan’s sons as hostages after the 3rd Mysore War (1790-1792). Cornwallis led British troops in capturing large sections of Mysore in southern India, demanded a hefty financial settlement, and took the sons hostage to ensure that Tipu carried out the treaty to end the war. The sons were returned in 1794. In a show of propaganda, the artist, who appears in the far left-side of the painting, depicts Cornwallis as a paternalistic ruler.

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Read the next post in the series: Taxes.

Westborough-India Series Bibliography

Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Bunker, Nick. An Empire on the Edge. New York: Vintage Books, 2014.

Collingham, Lizzie. Taste of Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. New York: Basic Books, 2017.

Darwin, John. Unfinished Empire: The Global Expansion of Britain. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2012.

Eacott, Jonathan. Selling Empire: India in the Making of Britain and America, 1600-1830. Chapel Hill, NC: U of North Carolina P, 2016.

Frankopan, Peter. Silk Roads: A New History of the World. New York: Vintage Books, 2015.

Freeman, Joshua B. Behemoth: A History of the Factory and the Making of the Modern World. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018.

Schama, Simon. Civilizations. PBS television series, 2018. http://www.pbs.org/civilizations/home/.

Vaver, Anthony. The Rebellion Begins: Westborough and the Start of the American Revolution. Westborough, MA: Pickpocket Publishing, 2017.

Wilson, Jon. The Chaos of Empire: The British Raj and the Conquest of India. New York: Public Affairs, 2016.

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