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British North America under the Britannic Design, 1782.

The Britannic Design was a bill passed by Parliament and signed by King George III of Great Britain in January 1781 reorganizing the colonies in North America in the wake of the North American Rebellion. The Britannic Design formed the colonies into the Confederation of North America.

Following General John Burgoyne's victory at the Battle of Saratoga, Benjamin Franklin began clandestine negotiations with Paul Wentworth in Paris on a negotiated peace to end the Rebellion. On 16 February 1778, Lord North won approval from the Cabinet of a proposal to grant the colonies limited self-government similar to the Galloway Plan of Proposed Union of 1774. Lord North appointed the Earl of Carlisle to negotiate with the Second Continental Congress. The negotiations took place in May and June 1778, and resulted in the signing of an armistice on 12 June by Carlisle and Joseph Galloway.

Lord North

Prime Minister Lord North.

Lord North's speech before the House of Lords on 12 November 1778 established the Brotherhood Policy of allowing past mistakes by both sides to be forgotten. Galloway and John Dickinson were summoned to London along with other moderate colonial leaders to aid the Cabinet in drafting a new instrument of government for the North American colonies which became known as the Britannic Design. The Design incorporated elements of Franklin's Albany Plan of Union of 1754 as well as the later Galloway Plan.

Under the Britannic Design as originally envisaged, the thirteen colonies would retain their own governments, consisting of a bicameral legislature and a governor appointed by the Crown. In addition, the thirteen colonies would be grouped into three confederations. Each confederation would be governed by a Council made up of one representative from each colony, along with a Governor-General appointed by London. Sobel does not mention the length of a Council member's term of office, but it was most likely three years, since that was the length prescribed by the Albany Plan and the Galloway Plan.

In the course of Parliamentary debate on the Design in 1780, the three confederations were reduced to two, a Southern Confederation made up of Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland, and a Northern Confederation made up of the other eight colonies. Guy Carleton was able to persuade Parliament to add Quebec to the Design, and the decision was made to separate the lands south of the Great Lakes to form the confederation of Indiana. Finally, the north coast of Lake Superior was separated from Quebec and added to the Hudson's Bay Company's domain of Rupert's Land to form the confederation of Manitoba. These five confederations together would make up the Confederation of North America.


John Burgoyne, Duke of Albany and Viceroy of the C.N.A.

With the number of confedrations in the C.N.A. now set at five, the decision was made to establish a capital for the whole at Fort Pitt, where the Councils of the five confederations would meet annually as a Grand Council to discuss matters of mutual concern. In addition, an executive known as the Viceroy was created to oversee the five councils.

The final version of the Britannic Design was sent to the King on 23 January 1781, and received the royal seal on 26 January, afterwards celebrated in the C.N.A. as Design Day. Some opposed the Design, complaining that it granted too many of the colonists' demands. A piece in the London Inquirer stated, "Why did we fight? To give this rabble all they wanted, victory or no?" On the other hand, politicians who had supported the American cause such as Edmund Burke and Charles James Fox praised the Design, calling it "prudent" and "generous." (Burke, though, continued to despise Lord North privately, telling a colleague, "See what we have here; the flea has given birth to an elephant.")

Following passage of the Design, the North Ministry made appointments to fill the offices it created. General John Burgoyne, now Lord Albany, was named Viceroy of the C.N.A. and Lord Cornwallis was named Lieutenant Viceroy, while Dickinson became Governor-General of the N.C., John Connolly became Governor-General of the S.C., Guy Carleton became Governor-General of Quebec, Francis Legge became Governor-General of Manitoba, and Pierre Concordé became Governor-General of Indiana. The new leaders of the C.N.A. were sworn in in their respective capitals on 2 July 1782.

The Britannic Design remained the governing instrument of the C.N.A. until the adoption of the Second Britannic Design in 1842.

Sobel's sources for the Britannic Design are editor Victor La Lumia's One Hundred Years Under the Britannic Design (New York, 1882); Rodney Brown's Parliament and the Cabinet in the Age of North (London, 1911); Sir Charles Williamson's The Grand Design: Decision in London (London, 1939); Desmond Lefevre's Lord Dorchester and the Britannic Design (New York, 1945); Russell Snow's Decision in London: Forging the Britannic Design (New York, 1953); Morrow McVeigh's The Britannic Design as Seen by Foreigners (London, 1954); Barbara Brooks's Historians and the Britannic Design: A Study in Interpretation (New York, 1965); Martin Greene's The Britannic Design: Symbol for an Age (Canberra, 1965); and George Jackson's The New Day: The First Years of the C.N.A. (New York, 1967).

Sobel discusses the drafting, passage, and implementation of the Design in Chapter 4 of For Want of a Nail ...: "The Britannic Design."

C.N.A. Historical Eras
American CrisisNorth American RebellionFour ViceroysBritannic DesignDickinson EraTrans-Oceanic WarEra of Harmonious RelationsCrisis YearsRocky Mountain WarEra of Faceless MenAge of RenewalBloody EightiesCreative NationalismStarkist TerrorYears of the PygmiesMalaise YearsDiffusion EraGlobal WarNew DayWar Without War