Despite the centrality of slavery to its empire, eighteenth-century Great Britain prided itself on being the world’s most advanced and freest nation. It was not only the era’s greatest naval and commercial power but also the home of a complex governmental system with a powerful Parliament representing the interests of a self-confident landed aristocracy and merchant class. In London, the largest city in Europe with a population approaching і million by the end of the eighteenth century, Britain possessed a single political-cultural-economic capital. It enjoyed a common law, common language, and, with the exception of a small number of Jews, Catholics, and Africans, common devotion to Protestantism. For much of the eighteenth century, Britain found itself at war with France, which had replaced Spain as its major continental rival. This situation led to the development of a large military establishment, high taxes, and the creation of the Bank of England to help finance European and imperial conflicts. For both Britons and colonists, war helped to sharpen a sense of national identity against foreign foes.
British patriotic sentiment became more and more assertive as the eighteenth century progressed. Symbols of British identity proliferated: the songs “God Save the King” and “Rule Britannia,” and even the modem rules of cricket, the national sport. The rapidly expanding British economy formed another point of pride uniting Britons and colonists. Continental peoples, according to a popular saying, wore “wooden shoes”—that is, their standard of living was far below that of Britons. Writers hailed commerce as a progressive, civilizing force, a way for different peoples to interact for mutual benefit without domination or military conflict. Especially in contrast to France, Britain saw itself as a realm of widespread prosperity, individual liberty, the rule of law, and the Protestant faith. Wealth, religion, and freedom went together. “There is no Popish nation,” wrote the Massachusetts theologian Cotton Mather in 1710, “but what by embracing the Protestant Religion would... not only assert themselves into a glorious liberty, but also double their wealth immediately.”