An Empire on the Edge How Britain Came to Fight America

Review :

An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America is an an outstanding contribution to the history of the era of the American War for Independence and the politics and economy of pre Industrial Britain. What sets this book as new and unique among the copious amounts of popular and accessible literature of this time period is an examination of the motivations of the British government and political establishment, especially in regards to finances.

Nick Bunker, a British journalist and historian, has done extensive work in the British central government archives of the period. He has illustrated in this book, through many examples, how the pre industrial British government simply had no real workable plan for managing a vast overseas empire, nor were they capable of handling the era's equivalent of credit and commodity crisis, and as a result, were completely blindsided when issues that had been boiling for decades, erupted in the 1770's.

Far from painting the picture of deliberate tyranny, Bunker, through extensive use and investigation of the primary sources of the era, has shown that the British Crown and ministry were devoted to petty personal concerns, and if they thought of the North American colonies at all, if was purely in reflection of the latest balance sheet. I have read numerous studies of this time period, most of which concerned with political and military action in the American colonies, and came away from this book surprised at how the world of 1770's British political and economic establishments cared little, nor thought much about the American colonies. While appreciative of the financial gain, they mostly saw the colonies as another Ireland - a lesser land solely for economic development.

I have long wondered why the American War for Independence was not averted for a gradual independence like Canada and Australia enjoyed, and thanks to this book, I have a greater understanding why that did not happen. The economic and political structures simply would not have thought or considered it. By the time 1775 rolled along, the conflict became one of pride for the London establishment, to protect investment, and to squash any who remembered the revolt of 1745 or any of the many Irish revolts to not get any ideas. By the time 1778 rolled along, it became a European economic and military war of Empire, and again the Colonies themselves took on a lesser role in the ministry.

As an examination of the economic error and political inattention that led to the War of Independence, from the perspective of the British establishment, this is really a first rate, popular account, and highly recommended.


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