Perhaps the biggest legacy of the British empire is linguistic influence over the world making me, living in a country far from the former empire's borders and born almost fifty years after its collapse, do a research paper in a language which is not my native tongue. Or perhaps it is the making of the foundation to the globalised world as we recognise it today that is the heritage's most important component. This essay is a compilation study of the British empire with an emphasis of the decline. With the help of the literature and lectures of the subject it clarifies and comprises the withdrawal from India as well as the Suez crisis as the most crucial elements of the fall. The report also takes on the rise and the darkest moments of Britain's history. The British Empire was in fact the largest in the history of mankind, spreading over and influenced the whole world. Leaving it as a completely different place than it was before, the legacy of which we can see today.
History as a subject has always been one of my interests, and when a got the assignment in which I were to write about an English-speaking country the subject was obvious. Since I do not know that much about the British empire, especially the decline of which, I decided that this should be the subject of my research.
2. Aim and questions
The purpose of this study is to compile the literature of the history of the British empire with an emphasis on its fall. The questions that I want to answer is:
How did the British empire rise, and fall?
What is the legacy of the British empire?
For this study I have used a quantitative method by collecting information from earlier studies, literature and lectures, which I thought was the most suitable method for this type of study. To find the needed data I used the online search engine Google-books and chose the ones that suited the essay's aim. However there was a falloff; I could only use the books which was available for online reading since English non-fiction literature is not very accessible at my local library. Nevertheless, Google-books provided a copious amount of literature so my limited resources did not affect the outcome of the study. Other sources used in this research is lectures, also online, from Gresham college.
4. The world shaped by Empire
The colossal territorial empire ruled by the British extended over a large part of the North America, much of the Caribbean, great portions of Africa south of Sahara, the whole of the Indian subcontinent and Australasia, South-East Asian and pacific dominions, and even the Middle East for some time. The British empire deeply shaped the modern world, many of the today's non-European countries owe their existence to empires, especially to the British. Boundaries where fixed by conquest and partition treaties, and the ethnic composition of many countries was determined by the empire. Once the indigenous people had been displaced, societies became overwhelmingly European, especially the North American and Australasian. The British empire were also the major carriers of the estimated eleven million Africans transported to America as slaves. Most of those carried by the British went to Britain's own Caribbean colonies, whose present population are for the most part the consequence of that involuntary migration. There were also a large number of Indian and Chinese people, whom in the middle of the nineteenth century went to labour in colonies ruled by Britain. Their descendants make up a large part of the population of many countries in South-East Asia.1
The influences by the British can be noticed in various degrees throughout the globe; the governmental systems, religious adherence, educational structure, the towns and cities layouts, sports and cultural tastes. English as virtually a universal language in the contemporary world is partly a reflection of the United States' power, but the fact that the United States is an English-speaking nation is a consequence of the British empire; so are many other countries. The empire did not only change the people but the land in which they lived. The land and its resources were used in new ways due to new structures of farming, mining and manufacturing. The environmental change was sometimes rapid and dramatic as when islands, previously forested, were inverted into sugar plantations; the full effect of others related to the colonial period have only become unmistakable in present times.2 The contemporary world is sharply divided between rich and poor. The legacy of empire has played a part in bringing about this divide, although it is not a part that is easy to interpret. Some ex-imperial countries are rich; some are very poor.3
5. The rise of an empire
The rise of the British empire can be traced back to the colonization of Ireland in 1494 But the empire as we know it started to take its form in the sixteenth century when the idea of territorial expansion of America began. John Dee, urged the expansion 'Brytish Impire' and drew the English claim to an North Atlantic empire. Richard Hakluyt later joined Dee, Hakluyt was the editor of volumes of reports of explorations by Englishmen, his 'discourse of western planting' (as the colonies were called) was issued 1584 which summed up the statements of justifications for the colonizations of America; it would increase the possibility for trading, and military and naval resources. Colonies would would be strategic for Britain's defence against the French and the Spanish. They would act as a destination for England's excess population and act as a religious sanctuary for British fleeing from the wicked catholic powers (Spain, France). The first attempt to colonize America took place in 1583, but first relatively successfully colony was not established until 1607 Jamestown Virginia. The planters were driven by greed, although some were impelled to bring God to the natives, as the Puritan's 'Great Migration' of the 1630s to Massachusetts with the intention to establish a theocracy. Another example is the Quakers, which wanted economic improvement as well as freedom of religion when they established Pennsylvania, as did the Catholic Lord Baltimore as he guaranteed that Maryland was to become a refuge for Catholics. The West Indies, however, was all about natures resources such as sugar, and Newfoundland began as a settlement for fishing. All of these settlements were actually a result of private enterprise, and when Cromwell's Parliament tried to claim the control of the colonies with the argument that they originally were established by the state, all of the colonies, whatever their political or religious sympathies might have been, contested this claim. But as the conflicts of Europe were transmitted to the colonies the government had to get more involved. The seven years' war, also known as the French and Indian war, of 1756 to 1763 began in the continent of North America, France claimed Quebec and a large part of the Mississippi Valley. As a result of this war Great Britain took a hold of the huge French colony of Quebec. The national debt of Britain's had grown into an enormous amount during the war, which led to a tax-reform regulated by the parliament to pay off the debt as well as to pay for the military protection of its colonies in North America and West Indies. The British regime believed that the colonies should help to pay for their own protection, and for the first time the parliament imposed taxes on the colonies, all earlier duties had been customs and excise taxes. But as the colonists not being able to vote refused to pay the taxes, the British position hardened which encouraged the development of the conflict into an outbreak of a war. Britain was, at the same time, fighting Spain, France and the Netherlands, both on land and sea, so the resources were need more urgently elsewhere, thus the outcome of the American Revolution was not so much an American victory but Britain's inability to maintain control. The loss of the American thirteen colonies was a profound economic loss, as well as a great blow to Britain's prestige, which brought to an end of the First British Empire.4
The rest of the empire not only remained intact but continued to grow. The British colonies in the West Indies and those from which modern Canada later emerged did not defect. Twenty to thirty million Indian people were already living under British rule, most of them in the very rich province of Bengal. Britain was by far the largest naval power in Europe. The loss of America did little damage to Britain's overseas trade. Britain was still the major distribution point through which the products of non-European world, such as tobacco, tea, sugar, silk, or cotton cloth, passed to Europe and elsewhere. Within a few years after 1783 the value of British exports to the new United States of America would comfortably exceed the highest totals for the colonial period there. Britain also remained the biggest carrier of slaves from Africa to the Americas.5
5.1 The transatlantic slavery
During the 15th an 16th centuries, the European traders began to involve in the Slave Trade. The traders had previously been interested in African nations and kingdoms due to their refined trading networks, but soon the traders saw the profit in trading humans. The enslaved people were taken from Africa to Europe and the Americas, at first in a quite small scale but the trade grew during the 17th and 18th century, due to the European countries conquests of many of the Caribbean islands and much of the North and South America. The European settlers in the Americas were enticed by the idea of owning their own land and were unwilling to work for others. At first European convicts were sent to work in the plantations but there were never enough so, the tremendous demand for labour could never be satisfied, so the planters purchased slaves.6 The Atlantic slave trade, is now believed, dispatched 11,863,000 Africans to America and the West Indies. Fewer actually arrived in the New World, the death toll on the fifty-one-day 'middle passage' across the Atlantic being on average about 15 per cent. During the eighteenth century, Britain became the major contributor to the traffic, shipping a total of about 30,000 slaves every year in the hundred years before abolition in 1807.7
6. New imperialism and the Scramble for Africa
In the turn of 1880s only small regions of Africa was under European rule, and those areas were largely limited to the coast and short distance inland along major rivers. The Berlin Conference was convened in late 1884, which had been summoned by Germany's Prince Bismark , sought to colour in the map of what was commonly known as the 'dark continent'. According to the act of the Berlin Conference, Africa was to be partitioned among five primary European national contestants ' Britain (red), France (blue), Germany (green), Portugal (yellow), and Italy (brown) ' and King Leopold II of Belgium (purple).8 By the turn of the century there were only two independent African nations; Liberia and Abyssinia (gray). Britain controlled most of the highway of land from the Cape to Cairo as well as the old colonies on the west coast, Kenya, Sierra Leone and the Gold Coast.9
7 The collapse of an empire
The World War Two had a devastating impact on the British imperial power. Its financial and economic independent, the imperial system's foundation were destroyed due to the catastrophic British defeats in both Europe and Asia between 1940 and 1942. Not only did the war change the Britain's economy, but it wiped out the balance of the world's power in which Britain's security had largely depended, both home and abroad. Despite the fact that Britain was a part of the victorious allies, the defeat of Germany was mainly due to America and Soviet. Britain recovered their dominions lost during the war, but the imperial authority, prestige, and wealth was gravely decreased. 10
7.1 Withdrawal from India
The retraction from India in 1947 was the first evidence of Britain empires recent weakening. Britain had mobilized India's resources for their imperial effort during the World War Two, crushing Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian National Congress' attempt to 'quit India' in 1942. However, in an earlier attempt to win the Congress' support, Britain made the crucial promised that once the war was over, Britain would declare India's full independence. After the war, it was obvious that Britain lacked the strength to stand against a revived mass attack by the Congress, but yet the British government was desperate to keep India, and its army, since the colony was an important part of 'imperial defence'-system. For apparent reasons Britain.11 But by the time Lord Louis Mountbatten, the last governor, arrived in India by the end of March 1947 it was too late. The last viceroy Field-Marshal Wavell had been removed by Atlee for his pessimistic attitude towards the facing mounting disorder during 1946. Within months these disorders had escalated into erosions of morale of Indian servicemen, which stunningly was demonstrated by a four-day mutiny by 7000 ratings of the Royal Indian Navy. The trouble began on a frigate, whose commanding officer frequently addressed his men as 'black buggers', 'coolie bastards' or ' jungli Indians', which given to the tension in India was bound to provoke a violent reaction. This mutiny soon spread to other other ships and the attempts to suppress the revolts led to serious rioting onshore. The British and Mahratha restored the order and their troops left 223 dead and over 1,000 wounded. The mutiny followed by 'strikes' by the Royal Indian Air Force, mutiny by 75 signallers at Allahabad, a strike by 300 policemen in Dehli, as well as desertions of Indian troops. These incidents made the defense committee of the cabinet to decide that the resignation of India could be made unless the Indian army reconciled. There were in fact rumors that the Soviet was behind the agitations which lead to the uprising 12
During the summer of 1946 the cabinet mission met with the Indian Congress and the Muslim League to construct the constitution of independent India, at first acquiescing, but soon the old mutual suspicions proved to deep-rooted, which led to a demand from the Muslim League of an independent Pakistan. Religious riots followed in Calcutta, in four days 4,000 were killed and 10,000 wounded. The news of the riot spread to Bombay were 1,000 died and over 13,000 were wounded, and in Bihar Hindus murdered 150 Muslim refugees. India appeared to be on the verge of a civil war and Wavell drew up plans to evacuate all British civilians and servicemen. Atlee was determined to prevent this political disaster, thus the replacement of governors and Mountbatten was installed. The date on which Britain would hand over the power was brought forward from June 1948 to August 1947. As the aggressions worsened Britain was forced to recognize the partition of India and Pakistan, which they had tried to prevent almost any cost, not only because a united India could come in hand, but to the fact that Pakistan borders to Afghanistan which also is a neighbour of Soviet's. Unfortunately the officials who drew the borders did not pay very much attention to the regions within the country and bisected the Punjab, home to a substantial portion of India's Sikhs. By late spring Punjab was wrecked by massacres, counter-massacres, looting and arson. Soon Britain left India and the bloodshed which occurred across northern India after the partition is well known 13
7.2 Repairing Britain
This more or less dignified exit followed by an immense sense of relieve as Britain could disguise the fact that the end of Raj was an enormous blow to British world power, leaving the empire kneeling. India had provided Britain with much of its military strength east of Suez, as well as acting as a supplier of soldiers to much of Britain's own army. The empire was both weaker and poorer than before the war as the burden of its defence altered back to Britain.
Clement Atlee, Britain's Prime Minister, at the time, and his colleague in the cabinet Ernest Bevin, believed Britain's economic recovery, and the survival of sterling as a great trading currency, needed closer interactions between Britain and its old white dominions, meaning Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. The empire, Commonwealth and a few other countries composing the sterling area, which during the early post-war years stood for almost half of the world's trade. Britain was in desperate need for dollars and was determined do exploit colonies for coveted goods. 14 Britain's new threat Soviet required air bases strategically located from which they could bomb Southern Russia, which meant a prolonging stay in the Middle East even after Britain lost the control over the region in 1948, Britain insisted on to hang on to their bases in Iraq, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf, including the huge Suez canal zone. Britain saw Europe as a economic and political impotence and that it was Britain's overseas assets that would help to defend it. British leaders, across the whole range of party opinion, had no doubt that Britain must uphold its status as the third great power, and that it could only do so by upholding its empire and the Commonwealth link.15
7.3 Suez Crisis
British governments attempted to accomplish a post-war imperial vision in the 1950s. The Commonwealth had already been recreated in 1949 in order to let India proceed as a republic, the old rule that the head of state in a Commonwealth country must be a British monarch had been overturned. The government recognized the demand to grant an increasing self-government and later independence to a few of their most valuable colonies with the agreement that they stayed in the British domain of financial and strategic influence.16 But things were not going well, by the end of the decade Britain's stay in the Middle East had led to a confrontation with the President of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and the disastrous decision to, in coalition with Israel and France, seek to overthrow him by force. The Suez Crisis in 1956 brutally revealed Britain's financial and military weakness and obliterated much of the remaining of Britain's influence in the Middle East. The Suez war itself was a success, Nasser did not expect Israel to join Britain in their attempt to crush the Egyptian uprising, as the Israeli irruption took Nasser by surprise slicing through the Egyptian army, Britain and France 'issued an ultimatum' giving both sides twelve hours to stop fighting, which of course was ignored. Britain and France began their attacks on October 29th but the next day the United States and other nations, such as Britain's old colony Australia, supported the United Nation's motion for all the belligerents to an immediate ceasefire. Britain bargained for time and insisted that the only way they could agree to a truce was if the United Nations forces took control of the Canal, in the meantime hurrying forward the deadline for the invasion. British and French troops landed in November 5th and 6th, disregarding two further calls for truce by the UN. Within hours the forces had taken possession Port Said and a 23-mile-long section of the canal, and on the evening of November 6th Britain and French complied the United Nation. The consequences of the successful operation were, however crucial for the British empire's existence, causing a huge rumpus throughout not only the nation, but all around the world. The invasion of Egypt coincided with the final stages of suppression of the Hungarian uprising by the Soviet, Nikita Kruschev used this to his advantage and accused Britain and France for doing the same thing in Egypt. The United States, whose public exposure of Soviet brutality was greatly undermined by the action of their allies. Soon the world's wrath, which should have been concentrating on Soviet was diverted to Britain and France and a hate Britain campaign was launched all over the world. Meanwhile, having agreed to an armistice, Britain insisted that the Anglo-French units should remain in Egypt and form a part of the United Nation's army which would take over the control of the canal. This was rejected, especially by the United States whose moral was on discussion, demanding an unconditional evacuation. What followed was a test of wills, which lead to an exposure of Britain's financial weakness. When the Suez crisis began, foreign dominion holders of the sterling, especially in the Middle East were extremely nervy due to the fear of having their assets frozen like Egypt if they stepped the wrong way. During August 1956 '129 million was withdrawn from sterling accounts, when the situation worsened another '85 million was removed and when the invasion began '279 million was lost to dollar or gold. The desperate Britain appealed for $560 million from the International Monetary Fund but the American government refused, relenting only when British forces are pulled out of Egypt. Britain was forced to accept and in December 10th $1,300 million was placed at Britain's disposal.17
A wide resistance and reinforced nationalist movements aroused in the colonial territories, making it much harder for Britain to control the political changes, especially where the presence of settlers (as in Rhodesia and Kenya) intensified the conflicts. Britain, as a great world-power, was threatened by the revival of France and West Germany who together commanded over the new European Economic Community (EEC.) Britain could no longer take American support for granted and Britain's own economy was far from accelerating.18
7.5 Loss of the Colonies
With the new conditions, it had become more and more challenging for Britain to hold up or even the appear as a world power. Hoping partly to startle its stagnant economy, partly to crush the Franco-German 'alliance', Britain tried to enter the EEC and failed twice. Britain backed out of most of the remaining colonies with carelessly haste to avert being cornered in a costly conflict with local nationalist movements as they did in India. In 1959, the British authorities went public with the scheduled withdrawal from Uganda, Kenya and Tanganyika and all became self-governed between 1961 and 1963. But the British leader insisted that Britain would remain a world power and assured this with nuclear deterrent and a continuing influence in the ex-colonial world. But it was not that easy. In 1965 the white settler revolted in Southern Rhodesia and Britain's failing attempts to stop it was hugely embarrassing and brought furious condemnation from many of the new states within the Commonwealth. It got more and more costly to protecting the new federation of Malaysia against Indonesian aggression in South East Asia. The burden became unsustainable when British economy staggered from crisis to crisis, ending in the devaluation of the pound in November 1967 and the withdraw Britain's military presence east of Suez followed within weeks.19
7.6 End of Empire
The lines of imperial age had been drawn when Britain finally entered the EEC in 1973. But it is rarely a tidy affair when an empire comes to an end. The rebellions in Rhodesia proceeded until the late 1970s. As late as 1982 Britain fought a war to retain their colony Falkland Islands and, with the tacit Chinese agreement, Hong Kong continued as a British state until 1997. Apart from these issues Britain now had to come to terms with the large inflow of migrants, mostly from South Asia, an unforeseen legacy of their imperial past. Old imperial links still survive In the 21st century, particularly those based on language and law, which may assume growing importance in a globalized world.20
The rise of the British empire can be traced back to the colonization of Ireland during the end of the fifteenth century, but the empire as we think of it today did not begin its expansion until the colonization of America in 1607, about a hundred years after the colonization of Ireland. The colonies expanded over the years to include every continent in the world, hence the legacy of the empire can be found in various places throughout the globe. The World War Two had a devastating effect on Britain and its empire, its financial and economic independence was destroyed and the impact on Britain's security-system were severely injured, the balance of power in the world faltered. Britain could no longer could hold on to the dominions and India, the most important colony partitioned with the empire acted as a starting signal for the decolonisation of the British empire. But the imperial demography hindered the decolonisation as no one was concerned about ethnic, racial, tribal or religious groups while drawing the frontiers of the empire, which also set the boundaries of the future independent states. The these antagonisms became apparent and the imperial administration backed by police and military could contain them. But when the empire fell these divergences, which previously had been frozen by the empire began to thaw, as in India, and the new independent governments of the colonies were left with a shattered population in conflict with one another, and to provide for the continuing safety of their vulnerable minorities. But the legacy of the British empire is not only genocides and people scattered around the world due to slave-trade, it also spread the industrial revolution and was the starting point of the globalisation that makes today's world to look more and more like a global village.
List of reference
Burk Kathleen, 2006, The rise and fall of the British empire, Gresham College, lecture (http://vimeo.com/53672607)
BBC, Britain the Commonwealth and the End of Empire, Dr John Darwin, 2011 http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/modern/endofempire_overview_01.shtml
Abolition, The arrival of European Traders (web page)
1996, The Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, Cambridge University Press
Harlow Barbara & Carter Mia, 2003, Archives of Empire: Volume 2. The Scramble for Africa, Duke University Press
Hyam Ronald, 2010, Understanding the British empire, Cambridge University Press
John Darwin The Empire Project: The Rise and Fall of the British World-System, 1830'1970, Cambridge University Press
Lawrence James 1994, The Rise And Fall Of The British Empire, Little Brown and Company
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