Informal and Formal Empires in the Americas

  • Barry Gough
Part of the Britain and the World book series (BAW)


It was in the Americas that a repositioning of power took place during the first few decades of Pax Britannica. The British consolidated their authority in British North America, aided, as we have seen, by the development of Bermuda as a naval base, which supplemented their old anchors of empire at such places as Antigua and Barbados. There existed some nagging possibility that France would make an ill-judged attempt to reassert influence in the Americas. However, it was the ascendant United States that posed the certain rival to the British. Successive presidents and secretaries of state were anxious to assert their dominance in the Americas, even announcing, as President James Monroe did in 1823, the Monroe Doctrine. This was designed as a warning to European powers against asserting territorial claims. British naval power allowed such a declaration. The British, however, were not prepared to concede that a mere paper declaration sufficed, and in their formal as in their informal empires they continued to strengthen their positions, particularly in the Americas. As late as 1850 they still held to the ancient policy that they reserved the rights over any future isthmian canal, and entered into a treaty with the United States on that score.1 It was not until after the Spanish-American War that Britain was able to accede to Washington’s view that the Caribbean had ceased to be a British lake and had become a central point of American strategic thinking.


Falkland Island Formal Empire British Merchant Home Island British Interest 
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© Barry Gough 2014

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  • Barry Gough

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