Why did Britain maintain most of its empire at the conclusion of the War for American Independence, while the end of the Peloponnesian War resulted in the destruction of the Athenian Empire? Steven Pressfield the author of The War of Art says “the principle of priority States (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important and (b) you must do what’s important first. ” Prioritization, this is what Britain did to maintain its power during the end of the American Revolutionary War.
Although the American war for ndependence ended Britain’s 200 year empire, Britain made sure to retain it’s power over the other colonies under its control, by cutting its losses with America and its allies (the French, Spanish, and Dutch), and focus on other priorities. Although there are some minor similarities between the fall of the British Empire and the fall of the Athenian Empire, the differences between them were their focus of priorities; their political objectives, and post war aims.
Looking at the question through these concepts will establish why Britain maintained ost of its Empire after the war. By October 1781, the British Parliament viewed the America War for Independence as a loss cause with the defeat at Yorktown. Parliamentary, and subsequent public, support for the war was waning. Now, it must be of note that from the British perspective, the War for American Independence was a global engagement. First, the British had to contend with French/Spanish alliance and their threat to Britain’s income received from Sugar production.
Second, they had to fight against the same alliance and their danger to the British stronghold of Gibraltar. Third, Britain had to maintain its held territories in India, which were again at risk due to France and French Indian allies. The British had to not only contest the colonial uprising, but the threat of the European neighbors against British commerce. Therefore, the change in priorities went from quelling the rebellion to retaining economic stability. The Problem with France “The acts we consider most important for the defeat of the enemy are…
Seizure of his capital if it is not only the center of administration but also that of social, professional, and political ctivity ” American allies, the French in particular, were a great asset to America’s victory towards independence. However, “French objectives were primarily concentrated in the Caribbean (O? Shaughnessy, p. 294). ” After the French successfully captured Caribbean islands, by 1778 British forces decided to focus less on the Americans and more so on recapturing and retaining those Islands. The Caribbean islands were a major source of income not only for France, but also for the Americans.
Which the islands were used as a supply route to funnel resources for the War in America. The key player in the success of Britain retaining is economic power was Admiral (Adm. ) George Rodney. Beginning in 1780, with his seizure of the Dutch islands of St. Eustatins and St. Martin after declaration of war with the Dutch. The assets gained from the islands merchants ships were saw as a victory from both a naval standpoint, as well as an economic success. But it was his success after the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781 (to which he was accused of its failure), against French and Spanish forces led by Comte de Grasse. Under Adm.
Rodney’s command, British naval forces were able o “break the line” of the French forces in an attack against Jamaica, Britain’s largest sugar producer, resulting in a victory over the French/Spanish forces. As stated previously, starting in 1778, British forces started focusing less in the Americas and more in the Caribbean. This shift in focus was solidified with the defeat in Yorktown. With the British Parliament shifting priority and resources Britain was able to gain financial sources from the Dutch held islands, but also maintain their hold over the island of Jamaica, which held vital importance to the British conomy.
The Rock of Gibraltar In limited war, we can achieve a positive aim by seizing and occupying a part of the enemy’s territory. However, this effort is burdened with the defense of other points not covered by our limited offensive. Another American ally, Spain, also tried to take advantage of the problems that had befallen Britain with its American colonies. The British stronghold of Gibraltar, was a landmark that the Spanish wanted back. Orig British in 1704, the Spanish wanted the fort back due to its significance at the entry way to the Mediterranean Sea .
With Britain occupied, the Spanish decided to declare war and in alliance with France, retake the position. The battle over Gibraltar lasted from 1779 to 1783, with the turning point for the British force happening 13 September 1782. The Spanish in conjunction with the French set up a blockade to prevent British reinforcement of Gibraltar. However, due to the French/Spanish failure, in part to Spain’s “floating gun” invention and subsequent weather conditions, the British were able to not only able to resupply Gibraltar but also able to effectively end a three year siege of Gibraltar.
Not to discredit Adm. Howe and his fleet during the siege, however a modicum of chance played a more significant role, as stated previously, in the victory. As the quote above states, British achieved a positive aim by retaining their hold on Gibraltar. With the position, Britain was able to control an important trade route in and out of the Mediterranean. More importantly it became a symbol for its endurance. However, also in line with the quote by Clausewitz, Britain was overwhelmed with the defense of other points.
Spreading British forces across the Atlantic made it difficult to efend all that they held, to which we had the War for Independence. Nonetheless, the victory over Gibraltar showed that Britain still had the capability to protect assets that they deemed politically important. ally taken by the The Persistent French “… the object of military activity can only be one of two kinds: seizing a small or larger piece of enemy territory, or holding one’s own until things take a better turn. ” The French, out of the American allies, were adamant about destroying British power within Europe.
While the French were attacking the Caribbean slands, they also had their eyes on British territory in India. France partnering with French Indian allies led by Hyder Ali of Mysore, were a great threat to the British economy. From 1780-1782, through both ground and naval battles the British were able to repel the French/Mysore forces, even after gaining reinforcements from the Dutch. Then with a series of naval battles in 1782, fought and won by the British, solidified their control over the Indian territories after a thorough defeat of the Mysore/French forces. This is a testament to the control that Britain had over its empire.
Being able to not only fight in multiple arenas, but also winning in most cases. Being able to hold onto the territories in India, like Jamaica, were an import resource to the British economy. The British embodied the latter of the Clausewitz quote above. They held on to their territory, which looking at the global perspective was a difficult goal to accomplish. From the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean, resources were being spread thin across the multiple fronts. Yet, by prioritizing those colonies and territories that were more economically beneficial to Britain, they preserved their empire. Athens..