Navies, Deterrence, and American Independence: Britain and Seapower in the 1760s and 1770s

Navies, Deterrence, and American Independence: Britain and Seapower in the 1760s and 1770s

Navies, Deterrence, and American Independence: Britain and Seapower in the 1760s and 1770s

Navies, Deterrence, and American Independence: Britain and Seapower in the 1760s and 1770s

Synopsis

This book focuses on British defence policy in the period between the Seven Years' War and French intervention in the American Revolution. It is a study of coercive diplomacy and of the influence of defence considerations in foreign policy, particularly as applied to the naval relationship between Britain and Fance at the outbreak of the American Revolution -- a subject of considerable significance in understanding how American independence was made possible. For the British government, the Royal Navy, which had become the premier force in the world's oceans, was the essential instrument of coercion. Dependence upon its naval strength not only defined Britian's ability to satisfy foreign policy objectives but also, to a large extent, determined what such objectives should be. In consequence, the international crises calling for vigorous British action in the years following the Peace of Paris (1763) were those which apparently put at risk the power of the British fleet. During the first twelve of the fifteen years between the Peace of Paris and France's declaration of support for the American Congress, British statesmen had employed a system of deterrence by which the threat of naval action was openly employed. Nicholas Tracy's account of the first Falkland Islands Crisis in 1770-1 not only demonstrates the validity of the British defensive system before the American Revolution but also throws important light on the early history of Britain's Falklands establishment. The psychological stress of the American Revolution, more than the practical difficulties it produced, led to the abandonment of aggressive deterrence. The importance of controlling French action, hitherto London's top priority, was subordinate to the campaign against the rebels. The adoption of a minimalistic deterrence policy, however, gave the appearance that a window of opportunity existed for France, which an examination of the naval balance indicates did not really exist. French intervention was indeed decisive in the American struggle for independence, but largely because of British wartime command failures.

Excerpt

Analysis of Britain's strategic system in its successes and failures between 1763 and 1778 has depended on a wide range of documentation, primarily from Admiralty records and State Papers, but also including the private papers of statesmen. The constant focus of attention has been on the questions of what the British government thought they could do with Britain's naval force, what they felt obliged to do because of Britain's dependence on naval force, and on what information they based their decisions. Other aspects of naval institutional history, and of British diplomatic history, have had to be given no more than slight attention. The study of British policy does not depend on foreign documentation, and I have made only limited use of foreign published material. It is possible that some insights into British policy-making have thus been missed, but the most important implication of this one-sided approach to diplomatic history is that I have been able only to give second-hand answers to the question of why foreign governments reacted as they did to British démarche. There have been a number of studies made of French foreign policy in the period, however, J. R. Dull has added his study of French naval policy in the years leading to the French intervention in the American Revolution, and James Pritchard his study of the French navy in the period 1748-62.

I am indebted to the Canada Council and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada for financial support over the years that I have worked on this project. Without a subvention in aid of publication by the Social Sciences Federation of Canada it is problematical whether this book would ever have been published. The privilege of attending Ian Christie's seminars at the University of London has contributed fundamentally to my understanding of the historian's craft, and I am indeed grateful to Professor Christie for his advice. The technical support of the University of New Brunswick, and the National University of Singapore, have been gratefully received. Especially, however, I thank my wife Antoinette for her support during my years of study. This book is dedicated to her memory.

NICHOLAS TRACY FREDERICTON, NB

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.