To answer this question, Ihave first looked at what is meant by force. I have been able to see that it means “The capacity to do work or cause physical change, power made operative against resistance, aswell as military strength” (free dictionary). So re-looking at what thequestion is asking, I would have to say that as the question is more complexthan being able to say yes or no. I therefore would have to say yes and no.This is because when we look at force it could be defined as the threat ofviolence enforced by the military and/or naval power, this being the mainsource of the British ability to control the Empire.
Or force could be taken asmeaning the entire methods the British use to control and pressure the peopleof its Empire. With this in mind, this essay will look at the impacts thesesinews of power (the military, economics, cultural and bureaucratic) played inthe role of maintaining the British Empire by force. These elements will beconsidered when looking at the British Empire’s involvement with China, India,and America, and highlight how the different forces where able to take intoconsideration the different needs required to maintain the British Empire be itformal or informal, direct or indirect.The eighteenthcentury was a time when the military power built and controlled the advancementof the British Empire, (p14).
However, Britain during the eighteenth centurydid rise to a position of dominance among the European trading empires. We candefinitely see that during this time there was rivalry between the militarypowers of Britain, France and Spain. Nonetheless, many historians believe thatBritain’s main aim during the eighteenth century was not to build an Empire bymilitary force using their navy but to protect themselves from the threat ofattack from strong effective nearby countries: “the first priority of the Royal Navy was to protect Britain from invasion,not to conquer an overseas Empire” (SS 8.
1). This demonstrates that militaryforce was not in this circumstance a primary force for the advancement of theBritish Empire but as a military force for the protection of its Empire. The British Empire’s militaryconsisted of both land based armies and the Royal Navy.
However, these were notinitially set up by the Metropole, the Sepoy regiments in India were theproduct of the East Indian Company. The East Indian Company was licenced by theCrown to import commodities that were in great demand in Britain like tea,spices and silk and later the African slave trade. However, by the middle ofthe eighteenth century most of India was being ruled by the British Merchants,(Timelines.tv) meaning that the force of economics which was driving commercebecame a force of conquest, by both the Europeans and the Princes who ruledIndia who were fighting for territory between themselves. The soldiers hired tokeep the peace by the East Indian Company led to imperial power and a BritishEmpire materialized in India as if by accident (in as much as Britain in Indiamoved from an informal influence authority, driven primarily by a private albeita state chartered company, the East Indian Company, it only becoming a formalcolony after the so called mutiny of 1857). This force of the desire to tradeand make a profit drove the spread of the British influence aboard. Thisdemonstrates how the force of military was utilised to support the force ofeconomics.If youthink about imperial spaces, economic or finance power might dominate, but nonethe less the Royal Navy, the military extension of power would still be thereas an important force to maintain free trade which in turn would maintain theso called freedom of the seas.
Military power was used as a direct applicationto maintain this ideology of free trade; it wasn’t always maintained simplythrough economic and financial power. This became evident with the BritishEmpire’s relationship with China. It is apparent that economicswas a powerful force in the drive for the British Empire. This became clear inthe war between Britain and China. The import of opium into China affected theeconomy of China and then led to war between them and Britain. In 1833 the EastIndian Company monopoly of trade with China was ended which created theopportunity for other private monopoly companies that could develop trade inIndian cotton goods and opium, (an essential part of the extension of Britishtrading of interest from India to China).
The British engagement with China wasabout trade and about finance. It was not about territorial conquest. The forceis certainly important, the superiority of the navy was crucial, but Britainnever had any serious territorial designs on China. Britain never intended totake over Chinese landmass, it was all about negotiating favourable terms oftrade, which highlights the notion that the British Empire was primarily acommercial capitalist empire, so maintaining it may have involved force, but italso may have involved the use of economic and cultural power too. One of the key issues inmediating the relationship between Britain and China was opium.
The reasonopium was so important was because India relied upon exports to China to meetits financial obligations to pay their taxes to Britain. Opium was a veryimportant commodity, although it was a pernicious commodity in the point of viewof the Chinese but vital for India to maintain its trade. As a result of theaddiction and immobilisation of the Chinese people due to the opium, Chinamoved to restrict the trade access of opium. Britain believed this to be aserious threat to free trade and the multilateral payment system betweenBritain, India and China, which led to the opium war. This war was over theright to export hard drugs. This highlights again how the nuanced picture ofhow imperial power was articulated and possibly the simple division that is betweenformal and informal imperialism. The idea of Treaty Portswas sold by the British to the Chinese to provide a mutual interest in exchangefor concessions.
The British would support the government in Peking; it wouldallow the Chinese to export and would facilitate a return trade primarily inmanufactured goods from Britain and India. As Britain was the first industrialisednation, industrialisation would have been a key part because industry andempire have a strong connection. These ports allowed a certain amount ofindependence due to not being covered by Chinese law. These particular spaceson the coast of China were much more like a colony than an enclave. It allowedEuropean governments to establish consulates which provided diplomaticrepresentation, as well as allowing the imperial Chinese maritime customs. Weare not just looking at economic power, there is actual administrative,political and to some degree military elements in the way the treaty portsystem functioned.
This again demonstrates the practise of formal and informal imperialism. We shouldremember that the British Empire consisted of settler colonies and non-settlercolonies. The way in which the British Empire exercised control over thediverse territories could and would be shaped by the nature of the colonyitself. The British Empire was not one simple entity; it was very varied interms of colonial type. Even though large parts of the globe were not formallysettled by British imperialism, this would be what could be called informalempire – exploitation of resources and the accumulation of capital fromdifferent countries; although this was more efficient if there was a physicalpresence. Formal colonisation was not needed unless there was no otheralternative. The City of London was very keen on maintaining these methods ofcontrol with the sinews of power, across the empire.
Therefore, not relying onthe military power due to financing it, but more on economic force. These wouldhave been Latin America, South America and Argentina.TheBritish Royal Navy along with its European rivals expanded its fleet of shipsduring the late eighteenth century, but for Britain this was hastened by theirdefeat in the American Independence War. This led Britain to begin guaranteeingthat their “sea power would not be beaten again” (33). This was evident at theend of the Napoleonic Wars when the dominant naval power was Britain, and thissupremacy “was to play a significant role” (33) during the expansion amid thenineteenth century for the British Empire.
No other nation had a navy thatwould challenge the British Royal Navy. This powerful British Royal Navy had tobe funded and this was not possible solely by the metropole, so this is whereeconomics supports the military, and the military supports trade and economics.Many of the Naval ships and the land military were owned by state charteredcompanies like the EIC and the Virginia Company. Unlike the French there was noconscription, so the quest for men for the navy was often done throughpress-gangs. We could consider military force being demonstrated not onlywhilst abroad but also at home. One partof the British Empire that we should also consider is the effect it had on theculture of these colonies that it acquired, through the force of trade,military or just by chance.
In the case of the Americas, this was the arrivalof the Pilgrims on the ship called the Mayflower and later the Puritans whocame with a Charter, giving official permission by the government to find a newcolony. These pilgrims and Puritans were seeking freedom to practice theirreligion. At the beginning, the pilgrims and Native Indians accepted each otherand the Native Indians shared their technology in farming; if they hadn’t thepilgrims would have most likely have been wiped out. Despite this therelationship soon changed and the settlement of the Europeans soon lead to thewidespread of disease uncommon to the natives and affected them by reducingtheir numbers dramatically as well as trying to inforce their religious beliefson them and eventually enforcing displacement and the destruction of theirculture. It soon became clear that having colonies in the Americas was aproblem for the British Government. (22). These practises were not muchdifferent in India. The British Empire had interfered with native customs,legislated against traditions, (which Britain felt uncivilised) and hadintroduced their own cultures.
They brought in Christian missionaries toconvert the locals to believe in the one true faith and English education wasintroduced. It was clear that the British economic policies were meant to helpthe interests of the East India Company and afterwards the British Empire. Itis here that we can see the root of the mutiny and what led the Indians intodiscontent erupting into rebellion and culture clashing with military. Thiseventually led to the implementation of the Raj, which was to be direct Britishcontrol. This is demonstrating militaryforce So, to conclude, when we compare the British militarybase setup in India to that in North America it becomes very clear that it is acomplete contrast.
We also realise that the Europeans were more than anythingelse traders, working for well established companies like the East Indian Company. This military power increased the growing power of the EastIndian Company and in turn the British Crown(27) showing that the British empire was not primarily about force at all; itwas about commercial capitalism; it was about economic power and very often itwas private trading companies and financial institutions like banks that weredriving the extension of British power to the Far East and other parts of theworld. So therefore it wasn’t simply about British formal colonisation organisedby the state. Showing again informal imperial state. So to answer the question”was the British Empire primarily maintained by force?” againwe have to look at the meaning of force which is the capacity to do work or cause physical change (freedictionary).
Has the British Empire achieved this? Yes, it has, but it has doneit by sinews of power, the military, economics, cultural and bureaucratic. Noneof these could have done it without the other.