James Steuart Denham papers  1775-1778
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Collection Scope and Content Note

The Sir James Steuart Denham papers contain 10 letters written by Denham to Archibald Hamilton, 9th Duke of Hamilton, between 1775 and 1778. In these letters, Denham discussed his opinions regarding the British war with America and its toll on the British economy. In the first letters, Denham suggested that England should not engage the colonies militarily, but should instead cut off trade with America, and let the economic damage subdue the revolt. He also defended General Gage, governor of Massachusetts and commander of His Majesty's army, for not using his forces to crush the American mobs. Even after the outbreak of the war, Denham preferred using economic means, rather than using military resources, to control the colonies. He was pessimistic about committing troops to North America: "We have seen ten thousand men at Boston, who have not been able to penetrate one mile into the continent of N. America. How far will forty thousand be able to penetrate?" (February 12, 1776). Denham wrote extensively about the economic impact of the war on the value of paper money in the colonies and British and American fiscal irresponsibility.

Though Denham did not support military action, he had no doubt that the British Army would suppress the rebellion. Victory, he believed, would require a system of forts to keep North America under control. "While they are under the Parliament of Great Britain they are under a free Government and people who have made choice of Rebellion should have no choice afterwards with respect to governing themselves" (March 17, 1776).

Throughout 1775 and 1776, Denham anticipated that the American resistance would be crushed. In the few letters from 1777 and 1778, Denham focused on discussing personal and family matters, and in the letter of May 16, 1778, he expressed despondency at the country's state of affairs.

These letters are significant because they document the candid views of an important British thinker as he witnessed the events of the American Revolution.

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