The British Empire changed in territorial and demographic terms as a result of the loss of the thirteen American colonies through the American Revolution. But this shift was also due to three additional factors: the declining economic importance of the West Indies; Latin
American independence; and the substitution of a free trade regime for a mercantilist system.
The change meant that the British Empire shifted its geographic focus from America and the
Atlantic to Asia and the Pacific. The loss of the thirteen colonies also meant that the population of the Empire changed from English Protestants to people of different ethnic, linguistic and religious background. But British interest in the Americas persisted although it took different form.
The American Revolution can be seen as a process in which two incompatible concepts of empire were brought into conflict by imperial reforms in the wake of the Seven Years War
(1756-1763) that triggered a violent reaction from the American colonists leading to war
(1775-1783) and independence (1783).
British government’s view of empire was hierarchical. Britain and Parliament governed the colonies, which were British dependencies. American colonists’ view of empire was a federation or union of formally equal states or polities sharing a common allegiance to the
Crown. Two quotes:
Government view: “the colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain.” British government has “full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever”
(Declaratory Act, 1766).
Colonists’ view: “that in constituting indeed our several forms of government, we had adopted one common king, thereby laying a foundation for perpetual league and amity with them [i.e. the British people]: but that submission to their parliament was no part of our constitution, or ever in idea, if history may be credited” (Draft Declaration of Independence, 1776).
Timing of imperial