"Merchants of War", Barings and Bingham - Revolutionary Bankers from the War of Independence to the Louisiana Purchase, available from the Amazon Kindle Bookstore.
Britain's loss of its American colonies was one of the most significant events in political history.It marked the beginning of the end of one empire and heralded the world's first superpower, the United States of America.
The causes of the difficulties between the colonies and the mother country are well documented. As the tensions grew wise counsel in Britain and America endeavoured to find a pragmatic solution that would allow America to find a role as a self-governing "state" within the greatest empire the world would have seen.
All each colony wanted was to be left alone to pursue its own ideals. What each colony did not want was a British government determined to to exert ever increasing control or to be taxed to pay for British soldiers to defend the British Empire against the old enemy, the French. On the other hand Britain was struggling to balance its books after the war with France and perhaps rightly felt that its increasingly wealthy and troublesome colonies should at least make some contribution.
The Boston Massacre and the "coercive" measures that followed led the thirteen colonies to set aside their own differences and address the common enemy - now Great Britain! The first Continental Congress was convened in 1774 in Philadelphia and made a last appeal to King George before resorting to arms, in the hope that this bluff would not be called. Congress resolved to meet again in May of 1775, but in April of that year a brigade of British regulars "without provocation" fired on and killed six New England militiamen. Britain and America were now at war.
The second Continental Congress duly met in May 1775 and appointed George Washington to the post of "Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Armies". However, Congress was a talking shop - had no money, no equipment and no military, executive, political or intelligence infrastructure. And whilst political will had brought the colonies to this position, political will alone was unlikely to de-rail the world's dominant power.
What were to become "these United States of America" took on Britain and won their independence - but how did they actually do it? The names of of America's founding fathers are immortalised, but those merchants, bankers, buccaneers, spies and adventurers on both sides of the Atlantic who turned the aspiration into reality are largely forgotten, or in some cases mysteriously air-brushed from history.
By 1783 the revolutionary war was over, and whilst Britain and the United States forged their own separate political futures, the merchants, bankers and adventurers got back to business to finance the development of the "new world", with many fortunes made and lost in land and currency speculations in the process.
When in 1803 president Thomas Jefferson stumbled on the opportunity to acquire not only New Orleans but the entire Louisiana Tract from Napoleon Bonaparte, he turned to three men with some remarkable connections who could raise the $15 million - in gold - that would settle the deal that set the stage for the super power that the United States was to become. The three men were Sir Francis Baring and his son Alexander, and Senator William Bingham.
Against this historical backdrop "Merchants of War" explains how and by whom the revolutionary war was managed and traces the early years of Baring Brothers Bank in Britain and William Bingham and his influential assovaites in America - indeed President John Adams wrote in 1813 that "he, Washington and the country had really been governed by William Bingham and his family connections"
In 1775 Baring Brothers Bank was just one of many London counting houses, but by 1804 had become bankers to the United States, and by 1818 were described by the first minister of France, Richelieu as "the sixth power in Europe, after England, France, Russia, Austria and Prussia"
"Merchants of War" describes in compelling fashion how this happened - where the money came from - and where it went!