JDB Communications LLC is proud to announce the publication of Britain and the American Revolution, another collection of essays by John D. Beatty, author of The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War.
Most scholars—especially Americans—when writing about the American Revolution (also called the American War) emphasize the Western Hemisphere when considering the effects. However, in this scribe’s opinion this view is short-sighted. Great Britain, after all, is still around, and its Empire indeed flourished a century after it lost its then-largest and most prosperous colonies. The Empire may have steadily degraded after Victoria’s diamond jubilee gala in 1897, but by the much-ballyhooed “Brexit” from the European Community in 2016, Britain herself was still a force to be reckoned with.
Recent writers, especially Steven Sears in The British Empire, have suggested that the British Empire was really nothing more than a jobs program for the English middle and upper classes. In some ways, this is arguably true. However trivial this may seem in the great scheme of things, it was also the largest single influence on human civilization between the fall of Rome and the triumph of the United States and the Soviet Union in 1945. As these essays argue, this influence was in part because of the sheer genius of hard-pressed Britons to survive on their harsh, rocky islands.
“Changing the Great Game” is an exploration of how the concept of “rights” was grudgingly preserved by dynasty after dynasty ruling the British Isles. Even if the Scots, Irish and other ethnic groups didn’t recognize it, the rights enjoyed by Englishmen that were unique to their legal system did rub off on them as well, if only in small doses from time to time. The ancient legends of Arthur, Alfred and the rest of the traditional lawgivers may have been perfected in the 19th century, but their origins are clearly much older. The legal tradition that no sovereign is above his own laws far predate the Normans.
“Kings, Kin and Killers” is something of an experiment. Steven Pincus in 1688: The First Modern Revolution talks extensively about the motives of the supporters of the Stuarts and those who…well, did not support the monarch. They hadn’t yet expressed a desire to throw out the monarchy as they would later, but the non-supporters of the Stuart kings were far more interested in the power of capital than that of land. Their arguments were eerily similar to those that would take place in America before the shooting started in 1861. It is almost certain that many of the philosophical animosities in English society between country and town, between farm and workshop, were locked into American society after the Revolution, and hung on in animus for another three generations.
“The Limits of Empire” is explicitly that: an essay into the administrative and technical limitations of imperial administration in the late 18th century. Law, trade, finance, and community administration all depended on communications, and there was simply no good or reliable way to improve trans-Atlantic communications in the 1770s such that the Revolution, or one like it, could be put down. Even if India were to become the most prosperous of all of Britain’s imperial properties, it wasn’t yet. If the Gandhi revolution had come two centuries earlier, by that remove it may have succeeded much faster.
“Copper-Bottomed Wizardry” began as a challenge—a sort of a bet. This writer was wagered that he could not find enough technological innovation between 1775 and 1805 to explain how Britain defeated France at Trafalgar. Knowing that coppering became standard by 1783, the research started there and produced this essay. The carronade, the short-barreled “smasher” that was the terror of small-vessel warfare before the shell gun, was intentionally left out because of other innovations that made British ships not only reliable and easier to handle, but overall better vessels. Any sailor can tell you that, pound for pound, any well-handled warship in peacetime is worth three that are better gunned. In wartime, it’s how well the guns are laid and how long they can stay on station, not just how well they can blast a target.
Four essays are hardly a working thesis, but they may point to one: Britain was strengthened by the conflict that resulted in the loss of her thirteen colonies that would eventually become the United States. Both she and the United States, ultimately, resolved the last of a conflict in Anglo-Saxon society that had raged since the Tudors: Do governments have a right to rule, or a duty? Is society the master of an economic structure, or a servant or product of it?