Wednesday, December 06, 2006

War and Empire, 1739-1748

The War of Jenkins’ Ear
Britain and Spain were in dispute over the seizure of British ships. They also had a dispute over the boundaries between Georgia (British) and Florida (Spanish). These disputes were partially resolved at the Convention of El Pado, 1739 though in the Commons, ‘Patriot’ opposition was stirred up by the young MP, William Pitt, who argued that commercial interests could best be fostered by war and further colonial conquests Following the mutilation of Captain Jenkins, Britain, much to Walpole’s reluctance, declared war on Spain. In November Admiral Edward Vernon captured Puerto Bello. Otherwise, the war was unsatisfactory for Britain.

The War of the Austrian Succession
The war with Spain merged into a more general war that began over a dispute over Frederick the Great’s seizure of Silesia from Maria Theresa in December 1740, the heiress of Austria. It became a four-sided conflict between Britain and Austria against France and Prussia.
In the War of the Austrian Succession Anglo-French hostilities took place mainly in Flanders. However fighting spread to North America, West Africa and the Indian sub-continent. The contest with France was not about territory for its own sake, but about trade: the cottons and spices of India, the sugar of the West Indies, the tobacco and rice of the southern colonies of North America, the furs and fish of the northern colonies, the slaves of Africa. Such acquisitions were the only secure guarantee of lasting commercial supremacy.

In June 1745 Britain captured Louisburg and Cape Breton Island. In September the French captured Madras from the East India Company. The Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle ended the war in 1748. Britain gave up Louisburg in exchange for Madras; France repudiated the Pretender.
But the peace seemed almost irrelevant to the British and French settlers and the traders across the oceans. The fundamental problem was that Franco-British colonial and commercial ambitions were mutually incompatible. Their rivalry could no longer be confined to Europe and the high seas. It now extended world-wide.