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Ever since humans begun to organize themselves into groupings and associations, conflict has been an inevitable aspect of their lives. The birth and growth of civilizations have been characterized by bloody wars between different groupings fighting for dominance and supremacy. Almost all existing texts are full of historical writings on the struggle of humans against humans, expressed in the terms of war. No civilization on the surface of the earth has ever came up and conquered without the use of war. There are those battles, so great that they did alter how history was to be written. Those battles have seen civilizations emerge and empires strengthened. Such are the wars that integrated and destroyed confederations leading to the emergence of new form militarization and administration. This paper is solely interested in a war which saw the Great Britain emerge as a world dominant power.
The British Empire is one of the few empires whose formation has been a topic of long debates by historians. The question of how and why Britain managed to accumulate such a formidable and large empire in the years between 1500 and 1800 has been of much contention. What made them replace the Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch empires in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and finally overcome the Russian, French and German domination and challenges in the nineteenth century? Did the seven year war have any impact on British expansion? This paper argues that the seven year war which may be rightfully termed as the First World War had a tremendous impact on the rise of Britain as the world’s dominant colonial power. In order to comprehend how this war was important to Britain, a background information bout Britain is necessary.
Britain had experienced a series of expansion and contraction over the years. However, with the expansion of its colonies in America in 17th and 18th centuries, it became considerably large. This came with the conclusion of the seven year war in which the French suffered defeat. However, British expansion suffered a setback during the American Revolution in which much of the territory was lost. This vacuum was filled with its expansion in India. The British victory in the Napoleonic wars further facilitated its expansion even though such victories were achieved owing to her success in the seven year war. Britain asserted her position across the world by setting up naval bases. This made expansion a lot easier.
Advent to the seven year war
The peace deal that was signed in seventeen thirteen in Utrecht temporarily stopped the struggle for domination which characterized Europe. A generation of tranquil respite was thus inaugurated. During this period, North America British colonies’ economy flourished since they were involved with extending Atlantic trade. Similarly, the exposure that the British manufactured goods received also made the colonies to be more British in nature. He colonists who were in America distinctively viewed themselves as British citizens abroad. The process of Anglicanization was abetted by the mild approach which the government considered imperial economic policies. Simultaneously, maturation of colonial political system was encouraged by salutary neglect which extended the trends which had begun at the wake of the Glorious Revolution.
The colonists did not expect interference from the British home government as the colonial societies experienced expansion. The colonists were enjoying a period of prosperity and autonomy which they did not want the mother government to disrupt. The change in Britain’s external and internal affairs, calls for fundamental restructuring of imperial policies increased. However, colonies were averse to changes which they considered could jeopardize their interest.
The condition of Europe
In the late sixteenth and seventeenth century, a greater part of Europe was increasingly been swept by mercantilism and Chartered Monopoly Companies. These were an easy way for the feudal monarch to accumulate wealth under the cover of their nation’s prestige and exploitations made in over seas exploration. The monarch could grant permission to explorers to claim on his behalf discovered lands. He could also grant permission to particular companies to make use of the natural resources on these lands in exchange of a fixed income to the monarch. In various circumstances, the rulers got nothing.
The ruler could give certain rights which guaranteed monopoly for his cronies in exchange for money or political support. In most cases, these agreements ignored the rights of the indigenous people. Alliances or military support could be given to the companies in situations where the political entity was either too powerful or large. This system of governing was long used by the Portuguese and the Spanish. It was picked up by the Dutch and the French. As such, it never came as a surprise when Britain also adopted this model. Since this system was not expensive in terms of cost, this economic model appealed especially to the Stuart monarchs. However, over time, conflict became inevitable.
The companies which were granted exclusive rights to exploit the natural resources got interested in making profit than considering the wellbeing of the people. In situations where rebellion arose, it was the government that came to the rescue of the companies since this would mean that the companies’ resources would be quickly depleted by long and expensive campaigns. The British government had to come to the aid of the East India Company when it was at the verge of bankruptcy.
Technological innovations such as gunpowder and navigational equipments were not monopolized by Britain. Europe had become an area where new ideas flourished at an alarming speed and hence different nations had technological capacities. Britain benefited from this European Renaissance. It was also in a position to modify these ideas and spread them to other parts of the world. Britain was the first nation to embrace the power of steam which was to introduce the world to industrial revolution and the production of high quality goods which were to flood world markets.
These developments led to technological gap between Europe and other non European nations. They therefore found it difficult to compete with Europe. British armed forces were to have unparalleled advantages with the development of steam ships, trains, machine guns and rifles. They could, subdue, oppress and crash larger and braver enemies. The British were superior due to the effectiveness of their weaponry and the efficiency in their communication system which allowed them to use their scarce resources to overcome their enemies. Their soldiers could also penetrate deep into inaccessible areas owing to the medical resources that it had. However, Britain was not the only nation that had technological advantage over non-European nations. However, the way it combined maritime power and industrial might meant that it had an enormous advantage over the other nations and hence could not be easily challenged.
The British Empire was acquired for various reasons which could not be integrated into a whole. The British acquired more colonies so as to defend the existing ones. The British wanted to acquire Cape Colony from the Dutch so as to as to secure the main sea route to another colony which she considered as its Jewel, India. Similarly, Mauritius, the coastline of Aden and St. Helena were to be acquired for the same reasons.
The Royal Navy became a formidable military institution even though this did not guarantee that they would easily ride in a world characterized by the quest for resources by nations that consider themselves powerful. Because England is an island nation, sailing and ship building skills would naturally be skills of great importance. However, Spain and Portugal had started on a successful maritime domination earlier. As such, they had acquired shipbuilding, navigational and long distance skills which were important in the exploration and exploitation of the discovered routes. Britain was therefore aimed to recollect what was left by the Portuguese and the Spanish. The Portuguese and Spanish control of the seas was first challenged by the French and the Dutch.
This situation remained stable until the eighteenth century. Interestingly, this also came as a result of the Glorious revolution since the Dutch brought banking techniques which were very sophisticated that enabled the British to borrow money. The British used these loans to build her navy. The loan was to be repaid once the British became victorious. The French navy did not possess such an infusion of investment and hence were under pressure to counter the challenge of the British Navy.
The seven year war
The first global conflict was the seven year war. Mainly sparked by the rivalry between Britain and France, it came to include other European nations. Alliances were formed between Britain, Hanover and Prussia who were the protagonists against France, Saxony, Russia, Sweden, Austria and later Spain. Britain depended on Prussian and German mercenaries, declining to use its main forces on the continent. These it used to George II in Hanover. The aim of Britain was to destroy the merchant fleet and the navy of the French, take its colonies and basically destroy France as a commercial rival. France found itself at a position in which she had to defend Austria, a nation which was of no significance to it with regard to helping France overseas.
The seven year war was the longest war, besides being the third being fought over Silesia’s. Silesia was an area in Poland which was contested and involved in the partitioning in the eighteenth century which saw Poland being erased from the European map. However, the war turned to be a wider conflict which came to involve all Europe’s major powers with exception of Britain, against Prussia. The British did not play a major role in the European conflict even though she distracted France from investing her full force against Prussia through engaging her in India and North America. The battle in Europe was mainly focused on the control of Silesia.
Prussia was almost completely destroyed but the death of Tsarina Elizabeth finally rescued her. Fredrick the great Seizure of Silesia was seriously resisted by Austria’s Maria Teresa. By the mid seventeen fifties, she became seriously involved with a campaign to recover Silesia. Fredrick was however prepared for the Austrians making a preemptive attack on Saxony. He seized Dresden on October 1756 but was defeated at Kolin in June seventeen fifty seven. At Rossbach, he defeated the French. By the end of the year, both Silesia and Saxony was in the hands of the Prussia. However, war took a negative turn for the Prussians in the fourth year when the combined forces of Russia, Austria and other allies joined forces against her.
Prussia’s military power was drastically reduced by the combined forces and it was apparent that Fredrick would be defeated. However, the death of Elizabeth saved Fredrick. After her death, Peter III assumed the throne. Elizabeth had adopted Peter who was Danish. He had much hatred for Russia which he considered as barbaric. Fredrick was his role model besides having idealized Prussia since he was a small child. He made Russia withdraw from the alliance was could have defeated Prussia. He also induced the withdrawal of Sweden as well. Fredrick was then capable to focus his forces against Austria.
Meanwhile, the issue of domination in North America was resolved that it was to be an English extension of Europe. This was also to have huge consequences for Europe in the twentieth century. Britain also felt the consequences of the war since the relationship it had with its colonies was to be changed. With the expulsion of the French from the North American colony, the English colonists detached themselves from England since they felt that they could provide their own security. Inadequacies of British colonial system were exposed to the colonialists. The colonists also realized that they could beef up their cooperation. With the confidence they had with their militias owing to the effectiveness they displayed, the colonists were slowly bracing for complete detachment.
The British Empire begun to shrink. The colonies came together especially in handling Native Americans. Independence movement begun to surface which further saw many colonies integrating. These developments were not understood by the British since their position was that the colonialist ought to show their appreciation since they had been saved from the French. Since the war consumed much of the British resources, they sought to impose taxes on the Americans so as to support colonial administration’s cost.
Anti-British sentiments started to develop in America due to these taxes. Ten years later, the American Revolution was to follow ten years later. With these developments, the vast British Empire was on a steady path to contraction after years of expansion. The seven year war thus had double consequences for Britain. She gained domination immediately after defeating France in the seven year war which was not to last for long since the overseas wars were largely fought by the colonists and hence did not see the reasons why they still depended on Britain for security.
The seven year war also had far reaching consequences since it fueled the onset of Napoleonic wars. When Napoleon set on a conquering campaign, his efforts were largely frustrated by the Royal Navy. For instance, his Pyramid campaign was killed off by the destruction of his fleet by Nelson. He attempted to coerce the Royal Navy across the Atlantic by combining the Spanish and French fleets so as to launch an attack on England. The battle which resulted from this move was to define naval battle for the succeeding century. The Royal Navy did not fall to the scheme and instead blockaded the Spanish and French fleets. An aggressive assault which was to destroy the French and Spanish fleet was directed by Nelson when they set sail. This guaranteed the Royal navy domination in the seas until world war one and even beyond. It was thus clear that the British were now the dominant force in the world making imperialism easy to implement.