A House Divided
IN 1775 the British Empire, long a house divided against itself, became the scene of civil war. The American colonies rose in revolt, declared their independence of the mother country, and fought a seven years' war to make good that declaration. Beginning as a family quarrel within the British Empire, the War of American Independence ultimately involved the great powers, and both hemispheres felt the impact of war. For Great Britain, the struggle became a war of survival against some of the most formidable odds faced by the island kingdom since the days of the Spanish Armada. "It is no longer our task," said Edmund Burke in 1775, "to describe devastation in Poland, or slaughter on the Danube. The evil is at home." Three years later, enemy fleets rode in the English Channel and enemy armies were poised to invade England itself. That the British, as a result of this conflict, lost no more than one third of their empire is a tribute -- scarcely less memorable than the Battle of Britain -- to their indomitable courage in adversity.
In the beginning, however, the odds favored Great Britain as heavily as they later turned against her. With manufacturing and warmaking resources that dwarfed those of her colonies; with nine million inhabitants against two and one-half million; with a mighty fleet and army opposed by militiamen and a few poorly armed naval vessels -- only those blinded by love of liberty would have gone to war with Great Britain upon such terms. Moreover, for the first three years of the struggle, Great Britain enjoyed virtually a free hand: her European rivals pursued a policy of watchful waiting, secretly feeding the flames but refraining from forcing Englishmen to fight the two-front war that alone seemed capable of saving Americans from defeat.
England boasted a long and unbroken string of victories over its enemies.