What were the main principles of British Foreign Policy from 1793-1853 and how far were they consistent?

During the period 1793-1853 Britain had two main aims for her Foreign Policy. Firstly there was the need for National Security to maintain the balance of power and peace in Europe. Secondly there was the desire to expand on the trade front which would in turn lead to expansion of the Empire. It can be said that both of these aims were fully consistent from the years 1793 to 1853 as one can see that Britain’s declaration of wars, forging alliances and signing treaties were all based on trading gains and maintaining of sovereignty.

Britain’s need for security was so important because it needed to exert full power and so in January 1793 Britain declared war on France. The French revolutionary government opened the river Scheldt which served as a quick route to Britain. Therefore Britain was forced to take action against France who was occupying the channel ports. This also meant that the treaty of Amiens in 1802 could not be upheld. As well as declaring war on any enemy who occupied the Channel Ports, another consistent British foreign policy was to look for land allies to beat any enemies on the continent. This meant that Britain could rely on allies to fight on land whilst maintaining control at sea. Between1793 and 1853, Britain also tried to maintain a Balance of Power between the main European Powers. In doing this the risk of war would be reduced and would also allow Britain to maintain the levels of power amongst the other main European nations. Therefore it is evident that a clear aspect of British Foreign Policy was self protection.

Another consistent aspect of British Foreign Policy was trade. Britain knew that the only way for trade to flourish was maintaining European peace and expanding the Empire. In 1786 the Eden Treaty reduced tariff barriers between France and Britain, which encouraged trading all over Europe. Britain also expanded the Empire with gains made in India and West Indies. The Jay Treaty of 1796 with America encouraged free trade at a difficult time when the Revolutionary wars were taking place. However in 1812 America went to war with Britain because of their trading embargo with France. Although it was eventually ratified the war was due to trade and its outcome was a free trade treaty. Therefore one can see that trade formed a large part of British Foreign Policy during this period. Britain also needed trade in Europe to prosper and so set about ensuring that the Continent remained at peace. Britain developed a congress system between all the major powers to prevent problems from arising in Europe between countries. Another feature of Britain’s foreign policy was maintaining the balance of power in Europe among the major powers; Prussia, France, Austria and Russia. This was to prevent a repercussion of France’s rule over Europe under Napoleon. In doing this Britain could trade successfully and peacefully in Europe whilst also trading out of the continent and allowing the empire to expand and prosper.

Britain’s policies throughout the period from 1793 to 1853 were largely based around becoming a world trading empire. Britain’s strategy during the Revolutionary War was to protect routes to India. The need to protect the short and long routes to India hugely affected British foreign policy. It explains why Britain clashed with Napoleon on the Battle of the Nile, in order to protect Births trading Routes through Egypt and Britain’s desire to keep Russia from obtaining Constantinople hence leading to their protection of the Ottoman Turks. The short Route to India was most important because it was also a link to the Mediterranean. After the French wars, Britain’s territorial gains at the Congress of Vienna were primarily for the retention and defence of the Empire and the routes to it. On the Short Route to India, Britain gained Gibraltar, Malta, a protectorate over the Ionian Islands, Ceylon and the guarantee that Egypt would remain Ottoman. Along the Long Route to India, Britain bought the Cape of Good Hope and the Mauritius. The acquisition of these territories shows that British interests from 1793 to 1853 was not on the Continent but providing protection of the routes to her Empire. To protect her immediate Empire (namely India), Britain expanded its borders (to the Himalayas up to modern day Afghanistan and eastward to Burma and the East Indies (Singapore and Malaya)). This period was characterized by the expansion of the Empire and Britain’s Foreign Policy consistently encouraged this.

As Britain’s primary defence force, every attempt was made during the period of 1793 to 1853 to extend Britain’s naval superiority. With a formidable navy, Britain could protect her shores and possibly extend her trade powers. Thus it can be said that the need for a powerful navy also tied in with her trade interests. The desire of naval supremacy bore Britain’s tactic, during the French Wars, of stopping enemy navies linking up. The policy led to the destruction of the Danish fleet in Copenhagen in 1801 and the Battle of Camperdown where the Dutch fleet were annihilated in 1797. Also the rapid action of the mutinies of 1797 demonstrated that Britain depended on her navy for National Security. Thus, a consistent aim of Britain was to maintain her navy and its supremacy.

Therefore it is clear that two British Foreign Policies of national protection and expansion of trade from 1793 to 1853 were consistent. The desire for national security meant that Britain would not let any potential enemy acquire the Channel Ports demonstrated by her declaration of war with France in 1793 and putting the Low Countries under friendly Dutch rule. The other consistent policy to preserve national security was retention of her naval supremacy gained after the Battle of Trafalgar (1805). However British Foreign Policy was not solely guided towards national security but also guided by the desire to expand her trade. Any other British involved foreign incident that did not involve Britain’s homeland security involved her trading interests. This desire for expansion of British trade lead to her endeavour in establishing and maintaining peace in Europe (which also affected national security) and to the expansion of her Empire. Thus it can be said that every British foreign policy was in some way derived from her desire for national security of expansion of her trade. These policies stayed consistent from 1793 to 1853 as throughout this period the incidents that involved Britain on an international level always went back to theses policies.