The contributions of warfare with Revolutionary and Napoleonic France to the consolidation and progress of the British industrial revolution
My essay surveys a range of printed secondary sources going back to publications of the day (and includes research in primary sources) in order to revive a traditional and unresolved debate on economic connexions between the French and Industrial Revolutions. It argues that, on balance, the costs flowing from the reallocation of labour capital and technical knowledge to wage warfare from 1793-1815 have been overstated in relation to the range of benefits analysed below that accrued from: crowding out a potential invasion by Napoleon’s armies; improvements to the skills and discipline of the workforce; the integration of Ireland into a national market; the accelerated diffusion of technologies associated with coal and iron; the circumvention of diminishing returns to agriculture and above all from a victory that left the Royal Navy with undisputed command of the oceans and the realm’s maritime sector, poised and ready to retain most of the gains from trade and servicing the international economy, obtained at the expense of rivals during these long wars with France. My conclusion is that the costs and benefits derived from participation in a global war from 1793 to 1815, that was integral to the era’s geopolitical and mercantilist international economic order could never be measured. But in the context and history of that order it is difficult to represent their outcome as anything other than positive and significant for the consolidation and progress of Britain’s famous transition to become Europe’s First Industrial nation.
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