Worldwide Economic Concerns
It’s generally accepted that the Revolutionary War was, in part, precipitated upon unwelcomed British taxation in North America. Colonial tax revenues provided the Crown with a valuable source of income. Parliament allocated these funds to expand and maintain Great Britain’s enormous Royal Navy, while simultaneously backing several state-sponsored foreign trade ventures, such as the British East India Company. Colonial America, however, was not Great Britain’s sole source of overseas revenue. The Crown’s interests, along with the watchful gaze of her sworn adversaries, included greater parts of the globe. From the early 1600s onward, the British mercantile economy gradually became dependent upon foreign trade.
The British moved swiftly in establishing a foreign trade monopoly by drafting and enforcing a series of Navigation Acts designed to regulate the movement and transfer of valuable commodities across the Atlantic. A product of mercantile policies, the Navigation Acts were designed to maximize state profits while depriving the Crown’s rivals of gold and silver.
The Molasses Act of 1733, for instance, forced colonists to purchase Caribbean sugar from British subsidiaries, economically undercutting the French West Indies. Other trade regulations were even more oppressive. The earlier Staple Act of 1663 required any colony-bound trade goods from Africa, Asia, or Europe to first pass through English ports.
During this Age of Mercantilism, British assets were spread across four major areas. The lucrative British West Indies relied on slaves to produce profitable Caribbean sugar, while the British East India Company, on the other side of the globe, accounted for half the world’s trade in fabrics, dyes, and tea. The Thirteen Colonies and maritime commerce of continental North America were only part of a larger economic system. Hence, the British were unwilling and unable to leverage 100% of their military and political assets in the suppression of an American rebellion. Nor was this lost on the Crown’s many adversaries, such as the French, who attacked British economic strongholds at will.