A fresh look at the Revolutionary War from an international perspective.
That America, with help from France, won independence by defeating the mighty British Empire may be the History Channel view, but it cuts no ice with the dozen international historians in this collection of lively, generously illustrated essays, a companion to a current exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. In their view, which is not controversial, the war began in 1775 as a Colonial rebellion but attracted attention from Britain’s European rivals, who supported it not-so surreptitiously and then openly. European powers offered a more potent threat than Colonial rebels. As naval history professor Andrew Lambert writes, they “could invade Britain, disrupt British trade, and attack British possessions in the Mediterranean, the Caribbean, and India….Responding to these threats took priority over subduing the rebel colonists.” Soon after France declared war in 1778 (Spain joined in 1779), Britain re-evaluated its strategy. Trade, not national glory, supported its empire, and West Indian sugar islands were far more lucrative than North America. The same was true of Asia. By 1780, Britain was engaged in a life-or-death struggle, its outnumbered army and navy battling across the world from India to Africa to Latin American to the Mediterranean. After 1778, it sent more troops to the West Indies than to America. Some of those regiments were sent from America itself. Most startling of all, the contributors conclude that Britain won the world war. Losing the Colonies was upsetting, but France was bankrupt and Spain more moribund than ever. Britain became absolute master of the sea (always its first priority) and acquired a slew of new colonies. Within a generation, she possessed a new empire more extensive than the old. In addition to editors Allison and Ferreiro, the contributors include Alan Taylor, John Garrigus, and Kathleen DuVal.
A fine corrective to the traditional David-vs.-Goliath account of our War of Independence and a thoroughly entertaining read.