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How important was war as a factor in the emergence of Britain as an imperial power by 1763?

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Introduction

How important was war as a factor in the emergence of Britain as an imperial power by 1763? Though trade may have been the primary motivator for expansion in the 18th Century, and government the agents of imperialism, it was undoubtedly conflict which provided the circumstances under empire-building could flourish. The opportunities afforded by confrontation, both to legitimately acquire new territories, and to limit the strength of rival European powers, were integral to British developments overseas, and without them, true, formal expansion may never have been observed. British manipulation of conflict to imperial benefit is demonstrated in the 1714 Treaty of Utrecht, which came at the end of the Wars of Spanish Succession - in which Britain joined forces with Portugal and the Holy Roman Empire to prevent the possibility of Louis XIV's nephew ascending to the thrones of both France and Spain. ...read more.

Middle

Indeed, the capture of Menorca and Gibraltar, mentioned above, was motivated by the Cruisers and Convoys Act of 1708, which obliged the Royal Navy to protect British merchants and trade routes. The acquisition of territory in the Mediterranean was seen as vital to the defence of British interests, and so the islands were captured - conflict may have provided the circumstances for such a takeover, but it was government policy which underpinned it. Furthermore, the establishment of the 'two power standard', which ensured that the Royal Navy's fleet was at least twice the size of its closest competitor's, was crucial to success in international conflicts which raged around the globe, often on the seas - particularly the Seven Years' War of 1756 to 1763. ...read more.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the roles played by trade, government and war were all greatly important - and greatly intertwining. The Bubble Act of 1720, which tightened trading regulations for the benefit of investors, for example, would not have come about were it not for the trade activities of the South Sea Company - which was in turn founded in anticipation of favourable trade relations with the Spanish in South America following the end of the Wars of Spanish Succession. Trade was the match which first ignited the British interest in exotic lands overseas - and it was in the government's political interest to sate the public's interest and fan the flames. But ultimately, war provided the lighter fluid which set British expansionism on an unstoppable path, and was therefore the most important factor in the emergence of Britain as an imperial power by 1763. ...read more.

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