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Old February 6th, 2012, 10:47 AM   #1

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Did the British have much a chance of winning the American War for Independence?


The (exceedingly long) title question is self-explanatory.

We (Americans) are of course taught to imagine the British as some kind of evil empire, with the rugged American patriots going through unbelievable hardships to finally oust them.

And there may be an element of truth to that stereotype - the patriots did indeed suffer much in this long War; it must have been a daunting task indeed for an army made up predominately of militiamen and volunteers to go toe-to-toe with the finest infantry in the world.

But to me, the Revolutionary War is much like the American Civil War a century later; the strategic and economic circumstances had already decided the eventual outcome before the shooting even began. When studied from its international context - with the French, and then the Spanish, and then the Dutch all ganging up on Britain, and with both French and Indian forces clashing with the British in India, it seems that it was the British, more so than the Americans, who were only surviving by the skin of their proverbial teeth.

Was Britain (or rather the British presence in America) doomed from the start? How could the British have decisively won the war - was that even possible?

Thoughts?

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Old February 6th, 2012, 11:21 AM   #2

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In India we were taking over a state which already had its own basic form of government, we also got the Indians on our side to fight alongside us against the French and our rule was via the Raj and existing chiefs.

In the US we had plucky Brits fighting against plucky Brits, you could even suggest there were more Brits in the US ranks due to the use of German mercenaries for the British Army. I think if we had tried to gain more loyalist support, like the 60th Royal American Reg, then we may have stood a better chance. Also, the use of skirmishing troops like Rogers Rangers and the later use of Rifle Brigades for patrolling would be wiser than sending redcoats into the field. An attempt to get more Native Americans on side, as well as establishing American representation in Parliament. It would have been far more beneficial to Britain if we could have held onto North America like we did with Canada. Tho I spose the jewels in the East with all the diamonds and wealth eclipsed any loss of the 13 colonies at the time. Even the Caribbean Islands had greater wealth from sugar. Only with industrialisation did the US really take off.
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Old February 6th, 2012, 12:05 PM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Salah View Post
But to me, the Revolutionary War is much like the American Civil War a century later; the strategic and economic circumstances had already decided the eventual outcome before the shooting even began. When studied from its international context - with the French, and then the Spanish, and then the Dutch all ganging up on Britain, and with both French and Indian forces clashing with the British in India, it seems that it was the British, more so than the Americans, who were only surviving by the skin of their proverbial teeth.
I don't know, Britain as I understand it did rather well in the global war, especially with the conquest of India. This was the beginning of the golden age of the British Empire.


Quote:
Was Britain (or rather the British presence in America) doomed from the start?
No. The entrance of France, Spain, Dutch into the conflict was not an inevitable occurance. Spain IIRC didn't even ally with America, merely with France to gain position in the West Indies. The strain of the international conflict certainly did much to distract British attention away from America, to the point many thought it wasn't worth th price in the end.
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Old February 6th, 2012, 12:27 PM   #4
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Gage lost most of Massachusetts the year before Lexington and Concord. In Worcester county the citizens shut down the courts and removed the Kings presence, By the time Gage sent out troops the state and NE were lost. He didn't have enough men to hold against popular will. Gage and other generals were involved in political infighting and this is why he was reluctant to use force early, the whole british vs british thing.

Maybe if Gage had shut down the radicals like Otis and Adams the war could have been delayed. But many citizens had been living without the crown's help or authority for sometime.

They could have tried shut down smuggling operations like Hancock's but when did any government ever succeed in that.

The British could have won if they destroyed Washington and his army. They came close in Long Island, NY and ft Washington but failed.

They also could have settled it politically. There were chances but the crown was intransigent and unwilling to bend in the slightest.

If the British played the game differently and much earlier they might have put the revolution off, maybe.

If anyone is up to it Ray Raphael's book the first American Revolution covers this (the home page also). Be warned it is not easy reading.
http://www.rayraphael.com/First_American_Revolution.htm

Last edited by yakmatt; February 6th, 2012 at 12:34 PM.
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Old February 6th, 2012, 02:16 PM   #5

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Of all the great "what-ifs" of history, this is the one that truly could have gone either way, or so it seems to me. Simply put, the British were certainly capable of crushing Washington's army early on, and that would have been it.

My favorite example is Sept 16, 1777. (Google "The Battle of the Clouds" sometime.) Washington, smarting from Brandywine five days earlier, aggressively gets himself into a serious spot at White Horse Tavern, PA. And then it rains. And rains some more. (I would call that "Divine Providence". )...
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Old February 6th, 2012, 02:25 PM   #6

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America won its independence on a lot of luck.
If the mother country really wanted to smash the rebellion,
she could have, but it would have taken more years, more
loss of life and be greatly expensive. Timing was everything
in the AR & the French/Spanish assistance & other European loans
was timely. British commerce wanted the rebellion over for monetary
sake and could apply serious pressure.
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Old February 6th, 2012, 03:30 PM   #7

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I find it extremely interesting to see that neither side felt at all optimistic about their chances of victory. Nor should they have. The Patriots suffered defeat after defeat in the major battles and always seemed on the very edge of collapse. Yet, the British never appeared to be the slightest bit 'in control' of the interior. In my opinion, they never came close to re-establishing a viable colonial government. Even in GA and SC the occupation was a disaster in terms of money and required manpower. They never controlled any significant portion of the land but were always contained to a few strongholds.

I sometimes think they may have come close to salvaging South Carolina and Georgia but the truth is, after the loyalists were run off in 75 and the British were blamed for the Cherokee invasion in 76, I don't think the population there was in much more danger of pacifying than the population of New England. Even in England they had long recognized that returning New England to British control was not gonna happen.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 03:41 AM   #8

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I definitely think the British could have won the war. But they had to do it quick and go all out right from the beginning. Time was on the Americans' side.

But even if Britain won the war, they would be unable to win the peace. Ultimately the colonies were just too large and too far away to be governed fairly and effectively.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 03:55 AM   #9

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Short term, the Brits could have won, and it took a lot of luck on the part of the Americans.

Long term, the Brits were faced with guerilla warfare over a long period of time. This is something they weren't familiar with yet in 1776. In a quarter of a century they were going to be faced with the Napoleonic wars. America was going to be a very expensive piece of real estate for them. Long term, independence for the colonies was inevitable.
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Old February 7th, 2012, 03:57 AM   #10

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We would have easily but for the French/Dutch/Spanish intervention,and the fact we had to keep half the navy back to guard the English channel.

Also it wasnt worth it for the cost of lives and especially financially.
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