The King’s Pirates? Naval Enforcement of Imperial Authority, 1740-76


This paper presents a valuable research agenda that integrates a goodly array of both primary and secondary sources to make the case for seeing the debates over naval discipline in 18th century British imperial history as every bit as important, if not more so, than the arguments over the constitutionality of a standing professional army vs. a militia of citizens. The author does a good job of relating this debate to the American Revolutionary attitude towards the same, underscoring how revolutionaries saw naval power as an unconstitutional assertion of military over civil authority. We are not entirely comfortable with the use of “authoritarian Whigs,” versus “patriot Whigs” to describe the North Atlantic divisions both at the center and periphery, but this has been a perennial problem for historians as they try to make sense of these earlier divisions for modern readers. Her work extends the efforts to push back the date of imperial reform to the 1740s, in line with earlier work by Jack Greene. She also draws on some of the same pamphlet literature to show that the debates in England clearly presaged similar debates later in the colonies.