The political economy of Anglo-American naval relations: pirates, slavers and the equatorial Atlantic, 1819 to 1863

Hunter, Mark C. (Mark Clyde)

March 2003

Thesis or dissertation

© 2003 Mark C (Mark Clyde) Hunter. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

This thesis analyses the decisions that affected Anglo-American naval relations from the Gulf of Mexico to the West African coast between 1819 and 1863. It places British and American naval deployment within the context of political and economic goals. The study reveals that Britain and the United States used sea power for commerce protection, but also believed that it could be used to further long-term economic goals. However, the different ways in which Britain and the United States used sea power affected Anglo-American diplomatic and naval relations. In Britain, the government and commercial sectors were unified in their belief that sea power could be used for commerce protection and to push African factors of production into legitimate commerce. In the United States, the government only reached a consensus that sea power could be used, during peacetime, for commerce protection and promotion. When these goals of the nations conflicted, tensions increased as their interests clashed.

America abhorred a strong military, but deployed naval force to fight piracy. But Britain combined slave trade suppression with economic policy and wanted American help along the West African coast. The Americans expanded their West African presence from occasional warships diverted from West Indian piracy patrols, to a full squadron, but focussed only on economic goals. These differences strained relations, but their common belief that they could use sea power for long-term commercial objectives in peacetime, provided the nations with a common mechanism through which the accumulated tensions could be mitigated. Naval forces in the equatorial Atlantic were rearranged and offending officers and ships withdrawn, to preserve Anglo-American relations. Anglo-American naval relations in the equatorial Atlantic reveal that the nations were neither friends, nor enemies, but sought to contain their disputes so they could further their individual policy objectives that would be harmed by a war.

Department of History, The University of Hull
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