Sunday, November 4, 2007
The American Revolution: A Blessing for England?
Is it possible that the American Revolution was just as beneficial (if not more beneficial during the 19th century) for Great Britain? In his book "Rise and Fall of the British Empire" author Lawrence James devotes an entire chapter to this assertion. He claims that during the years immediately following the war with the American colonies that Britain reaped huge rewards.
For the British, the reality of parting ways with its former American colonies was better than most expected. Trade between the two nations actually increased after 1783, particularly cotton exports, which augmented from 15.5 million pounds in the 1780’s to 28.6 million pounds in 1800 (James, 119). Along with an increase in trade, the British Empire benefited by not having to pay for the protection of its American colonies, which had proven very costly in the past. American colonial independence also added a measure of credence to Adam Smith’s assertions that the American colonies were more of a liability than an asset. In his book Wealth of Nations, Smith pointed out that colonies were beneficial to empire, so long as control could be maintained. The American colonies, however, had become “less in the view and less in the power of the mother country,” and were therefore a liability
The reality of the post-war period was that the American colonists needed the British more than the British needed the colonists. As James points out in his book:
“Naturally there were alarms about the commercial consequences of a break between Britain and America,” but those fears subsided as British experts came to the realization that the infant American republic, 'could not survive economically without Britain'” (119).
The fact that the United States joined in an economic accord with thier former rivals is also indicative of how powerful the British economy really was. This economic agreement between America and Britain (known as the Jay Treaty) helped to deliver the former colonies from economic ruin (not to mention the fact that it made Britain a lot of money). As Joseph Ellis points out in his book Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, “The Jay Treaty, in effect, bet on England…as the hegemonic European power of the Future, which proved prophetic” (136-137).
Often we look at the American Revolution from the perspective of the colonists. When we take a step back, however, and examine the revolution's impact on everyone involved, we can see just how "revolutionary" the American Revolution really was. Not only did it benefit the colonies, but it also greatly benefited Britain.