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Economic Warfare and the SeaGrand Strategies for Maritime Powers, c. 1600-1945$
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David Morgan-Owen and Louis Halewood

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781789621594

Published to Liverpool Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.3828/liverpool/9781789621594.001.0001

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Merchants of Fortune: Negotiating Spanish Neutrality in the American War of Independence

Merchants of Fortune: Negotiating Spanish Neutrality in the American War of Independence

(p.85) Chapter Four Merchants of Fortune: Negotiating Spanish Neutrality in the American War of Independence
Economic Warfare and the Sea

Anna Brinkman

Liverpool University Press

Economic warfare, in the form of commerce predation, was a crucial part of Britain's strategy in the West Indies during the American War of Independence. The rebels relied on a flow of goods provided by Spanish, French, Dutch and British merchants which British warships and privateers tried to stem. Britain's peaceful relations with the other three powers in the region depended greatly on being perceived to justly conduct economic warfare without breaking maritime law or bilateral treaties. British strategy during the war, therefore, was a fine line between crippling the rebels through aggressive commerce predation without giving cause for grievance to the other regional powers. The war opened several commercial opportunities in the form of smuggling and privateering. Merchants intentionally blurred the boundaries between enemies and allies to suit a given commercial venture. These blurred boundaries in the Americas were problematic for British ministers and Admiralty officials entrusted with prosecuting the war. Maritime treaties and international law were constantly reinterpreted in an attempt to avoid ruptures with other colonial powers, achieve Britain's war aims, and lend credence to British policy.

Keywords:   Neutrality, American War of Independence, International Law, Early Americas, Spanish Empire, 18th Century, Maritime

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