How the imposition of Crown rule across the British Empire during the Age of Revolution corroded the rights of British subjects and laid the foundations of the modern police state.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the British Empire responded to numerous crises in its colonies, from North America to Jamaica, Bengal to New South Wales. This was the Age of Revolution, and the Crown, through colonial governors, tested an array of coercive peacekeeping methods in a desperate effort to maintain control. In the process these leaders transformed what it meant to be a British subject.
In the decades after the American Revolution, colonial legal regimes were transformed as the king’s representatives ruled new colonies with an increasingly heavy hand. These new autocratic regimes blurred the lines between the rule of law and the rule of the sword. Safeguards of liberty and justice, developed in the wake of the Glorious Revolution, were eroded while exacting obedience and imposing order became the focus of colonial governance. In the process, many constitutional principles of empire were subordinated to a single, overarching rule: where necessary, colonial law could diverge from metropolitan law. Within decades of the American Revolution, Lisa Ford shows, the rights claimed by American rebels became unthinkable in the British Empire. Some colonial subjects fought back but, in the empire, the real winner of the American Revolution was the king.
In tracing the dramatic growth of colonial executive power and the increasing deployment of arbitrary policing and military violence to maintain order, The King’s Peace provides important lessons on the relationship between peacekeeping, sovereignty, and political subjectivity—lessons that illuminate contemporary debates over the imbalance between liberty and security.
Finely argued…untangles the corrupted and corrupting logic of colonial peacekeeping…Outstanding in virtually every respect.
Delivers on its claim to demonstrate a rising autocracy across the empire. This top-down story provides the perspective of British authorities. Ford is a compelling writer and each of the chapters draws on a wide range of archival and published sources…Any book that raises this many questions is certainly a valuable addition to undergraduate and graduate syllabi and is sure to generate productive historiographical conversations.
Ford’s arguments are innovative, straightforward, and clear-cut, and her methodology comprehensive…Highly recommended for scholars and students interested in the history of British Empire, and more broadly, the functioning of the complicated system of colonialism.
[The King’s Peace] has the potential to contribute to aspects of the increasingly fractious debates on the rights and wrongs of colonialism…[and] offers an opportunity to interrogate, through a look backwards, certain arguments on the perennial difficulties all governments face when balancing, on the one hand, the needs of security and public order, and, on the other, the personal liberty of those subject to their jurisdiction.
The King’s Peace traces the British Empire’s increasingly authoritarian law and order from Boston before the American Revolution to Canada, Jamaica, India, and Australia during the first half of the nineteenth century. If making war was how Britain acquired its empire, keeping the peace, as Ford reminds us in this elegant and important book, was how the British justified their imperial persistence and rule.
Examining the heart of law—the king’s peace—Ford reveals its many moods during a period when Britain’s empire covered ever more peoples in ever more fraught circumstances. By telling us wonderful stories filled with fascinating characters, she has given us a major new global legal history of an era of rapid constitutional change.
In a wonderfully wide-ranging book, Ford argues that controversies over order and disorder not only preoccupied British officials, they also propelled reassertions of crown power, shifts to autocratic rule, legal divergences between center and periphery, and coercive peacekeeping across the empire. Powerfully argued and masterfully written, this book compels readers to grapple with the constitutional compromises made in the name of peace and good order.
A persuasive and elegant study of law and governance in the British Empire from the mid-eighteenth to mid-nineteenth century. Ford examines the legal slippages which occurred as imperial officials across the empire wrestled with the challenges of suppressing crime and disorder and maintaining the social order. This book will appeal to a wide range of readers interested in the British Empire, ‘war capitalism,’ and the nature of violence in imperial expansion.
With global reach and local depth, this remarkable book fundamentally revises how we should understand the British Empire’s critical eighteenth-century transformations. In so doing, Ford makes a powerful argument for locating the violence that underpins modern state sovereignty not merely in its exceptions but its rule.
- 2023, Joint winner of the Robert E. Dalton Award
- 336 pages
- 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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