A Tottering British Empire, 1780

From The Anarchy: The East India Company, Corporate Violence, and the Pillage of an Empire, by William Dalrymple (Bloomsbury, 2019), Kindle pp. 303-304:

Elsewhere in the world, 1780 saw the British suffering other major reverses – and these were indeed followed through to their logical conclusion. In America, the Patriots had turned on the King, partly as a result of government’s attempts to sell the stockpiles of East India Company tea, onto which was slapped British taxes: the Boston Tea Party, an event that built support for what would become the American War of Independence by dumping 90,000 pounds of EIC tea, worth £9,659 (over £1 million today), in Boston harbour, was in part provoked by fears that the Company might now be let loose on the thirteen colonies, much as it had been in Bengal.

One Patriot writer, John Dickinson, feared that the EIC, having plundered India, was now ‘casting their eyes on America as a new theatre whereon to exercise their talents of rapine, oppression and cruelty …’ Dickinson described the tea as ‘accursed Trash’, and compared the prospect of oppression by the corrupt East India Company in America to being ‘devoured by Rats’. This ‘almost bankrupt Company’, he said, having been occupied in ‘corrupting their Country’, and wreaking ‘the most unparalleled Barbarities, Extortions and Monopolies’ in Bengal, now wished to do the same in America. ‘But thank GOD, we are not Sea Poys, nor Marattas.’ The American watchmen on their rounds, he said, should be instructed to ‘call out every night, past Twelve o’Clock, “Beware of the East India Company.”’

After a horrendous war, the Patriots managed to see off the government troops sent to impose the tea tax. Even as Haidar was pursuing a terrified Munro back to Madras, British forces in America were already on their way to the final defeat by Washington at Yorktown, and the subsequent final surrender of British forces in America in October the following year. There was a growing sensation that everywhere the British Empire was in the process of falling apart. In Parliament, a year later, one MP noted that ‘in Europe we have lost Minorca, in America 13 provinces, and the two Pensacolas; in the West Indies, Tobago; and some settlements in Africa’. ‘The British Empire,’ wrote Edmund Burke, ‘is tottering to its foundation.’

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Filed under Britain, economics, migration, military, nationalism, South Asia, U.S., war

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