An Empire on the Edge: How Britain Came to Fight America
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Finalist for the 2015 Pulitzer Prize in History
Written from a strikingly fresh perspective, this new account of the Boston Tea Party and the origins of the American Revolution shows how a lethal blend of politics, personalities, and economics led to a war that few people welcomed but nobody could prevent.
“A great Empire, like a great Cake, is most easily diminished at the edges,” observed Benjamin Franklin, shortly before the American Revolution. In An Empire on the Edge, British author Nick Bunker delivers a powerful and propulsive narrative of the road to war. At the heart of the book lies the Boston Tea Party, when the British stumbled into an unforeseen crisis that exposed deep flaws in an imperial system sprawling from the Mississippi to Bengal. Shedding new light on the Tea Party’s origins and on the roles of such familiar characters as Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, Thomas Hutchinson, and the British ministers Lord North and Lord Dartmouth, Bunker depicts the last three years of deepening anger on both sides of the Atlantic, culminating in the irreversible descent into revolution.
lost a general election, defeated in a landslide by the younger William Pitt, Lord Chatham’s son. Estranged from George III, Lord North left the government for good. That was in 1784. His health began to fail, and his weight began to dwindle, suggesting—like his early death—that he suffered from a form of cancer. Never strong, his eyesight grew weaker with each passing season until he lost his vision altogether. Since his days at Eton and Oxford, North had never forgotten his Latin, and so, in
Revolutionary America, 1769–1782 (Kingston, Ont., 1987), and Julie Flavell, When London Was Capital of America (New Haven, Conn., 2010), with the latter dealing extensively with Stephen Sayre and the Lees. With regard to Bull: Box C.78, Noble Collection, LMA; and Public Advertiser, Jan. 2, 1772, and Dec. 2, 1773. There is a brief sketch in J. Parsons (publisher), City Biography: Anecdotes and Memoirs (London, 1800), pp. 84–87. Property deals in the West Indies by Stephen Sayre and William Lee:
(Oxford, 1946), vol. 1, p. 546. British public opinion in 1774–5: the leading authority is the American historian James E. Bradley, in two books, Popular Politics and the American Revolution in England (Macon, Ga., 1986) and Religion, Revolution and English Radicalism (Cambridge, 1990). 22. George III to Lord North, Sept. 11, 1774, in CG3, vol. 3, pp. 130–31. Chapter Fifteen: THE ARMING OF AMERICA 1. Hugh Percy, second Duke of Northumberland, Sept. 12, 1774, quoted in his entry in the
trade above �200. But by the end of 1771 it was only a matter of time before the reckoning arrived. For as long as the company made a handsome profit from the tea it sold, it could fund its debts, redeem the Bengal bills, and continue to pay a generous cash return to investors. But when the price of tea collapsed, as it was bound to do, the game would be up, and the company would sink beneath the weight of its indebtedness. Meanwhile, in America, the brief period of calm that Lord North seemed to
find buyers, they chose to send only 600,000 pounds of tea. That was only a tenth of the amount the colonies drank each year, but even so the volume was enormous, coming to more than two thousand chests. More than three-quarters were filled with the cheapest variety, Bohea. But then the plan began to go awry. A cargo so large took weeks to load, and so it was September 27 before all the tea ships had left the Thames. With the wind against them, it was the middle of October before they could