The British Library Homepage
homeHome  >   Online Gallery  >   Online exhibitions  >   Features  >   The American Revolution >  




British Revival

Enlarged image
Mr. Lunardi's new balloon "An exact representation of Mr. Lunardi's new balloon as it ascended with himself 13 May 1785. The balloon was decorated with a Union Jack, in which manner he wished to express his respects and devotion to everything which the word "British" stands for"
Mr. Lunardi's new balloon [L.R.301.g.3]
Copyright © The British Library Board

The loss of the colonies rocked the ship of state, but did not cause it to capsize, despite hyperbolic talk of civil war or rebellion at home and a growth in radical agitation. Indeed, some historians argue that support for the crown grew. Political life quickly settled into much the same patterns as before the war, albeit with a greater emphasis placed on public opinion, a stronger sense of political parties and more concern with economic reform and corruption. Demobilisation caused temporary difficulties, but low tariffs helped to stimulate trade and the economy recovered rapidly: by the 1790s, Americans were purchasing twice the as much from Britain as they had as colonists in the 1760s.

Ironically, perhaps, the war bolstered British self-image, seeing itself as a beleaguered nation attacked facing alone an unprecedented alliance of America, the French, the Spanish and the Dutch. News of Admiral Rodney's victory in the Saints Isles off Guadeloupe and the successful defence of Gibraltar was received euphorically, pointing to a growing sense of national identity and pride.

Enlarged image
Plan of encampments in London Part of a printed map of London, from Southwark to Stamford Hill, with annotations showing the disposition of the troops, and the routes of their patrols, after the Gordon Riots in 1780. The anti-catholic Gordon Riots have been seen by historians as symptoms of class resentment and also a sense of a British, protestant national identity.
Plan of encampments in London [Add. MS. 15533, f. 39]
Copyright © The British Library Board

Attitudes towards empire also shifted. In the long term, imperial ambition did not decline, despite the loss of the thirteen colonies, and British interest and influence in India continued to increase. Arguably, Britons began to think of empire more in terms of conquest and annexation rather than white colonies and in consequence imperial structures became more authoritarian. America also continued to attract British settlers.

The Revolution also had unexpected and far-reaching consequences. Deprived of a dumping ground for British convicts (Franklin remarked that Americans should send back rattlesnakes in return for the 50,000 men and women Britain had resettled there), from 1787 Botany Bay became a convict camp, helping to found British Australia. France's relative weakening through the costs of war enhanced Britain's strategic position; France's embattled finances would also precipitate the French Revolution in 1789, leading to even greater challenges to the British nation.

Read more: Stephen Conway, The British Isles and the War of American Independence (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000) [YC.2000.a.2384].

Previous in tour - General Strike The Peace of Paris Next in tour - Peace for our time Dawn of the American republic  

Top of Page Top of page

Discover more:
The North American
Colonies and the British
Costs of empire:
the stamp act crisis
Pamphlet war and the
Boston massacre
War of independence
Peace of Paris
British revival
Dawn of the American republic
Rights and liberties: the legacy of the American revolution
Further reading and links
Accessibility Terms of use Site map
Copyright The British Library Board