An Empire Divided

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In the book, An Empire Divided: The American Revolution and the British Caribbean, the author Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy takes up a relatively unexplored topic from the early history of the United States and the Caribbean. He was not hesitant in letting the reader know the uniqueness of his book several times. Andrew O’Shaughnessy studied at Bradford School as well as the Oriel College; for his higher education, he went to the prestigious University of Oxford. He has a long and distinguished career in teaching and has been in the faculty of Eton College, Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

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He has been a professor in the American History in the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and been a chair of History Department. In this book, Andrew O’Shaughnessy gives very convincing arguments in favor of his stance with solid literary and historical evidences. This is why it makes the book a convincing set of literature on the American Revolution especially how the British Caribbean affected it and vice versa. Content The book is written to explore the socio-political realities surrounding the mainland US, how they affected the American Revolution and in turn how the surrounding regions like the Caribbean were affected by the revolution.

The author is focused on the common things that the mainland USA and the Caribbean shared as well as the differences which existed between the two regions. The overwhelming commonalities didn’t trigger the Caribbean States to take an active part in the rebellion. In the book, the author gives many reasons for the inactivity of the British Caribbean; for example, their relative seclusion from the mainland America, the naval dominance of the British around the islands, their dependence on trade as well as their political dependence on the British fearing the inner possibility of slave revolts.

Thesis The thesis of the book is about the role of the British Caribbean and how it was affected by the revolution in turn. The central theme of the book is the fact that the British Caribbean had the same and possibly more incentives to rebel against the British just like their continental counterparts in the mainland US; however, they still didn’t go for it. All the conditions in the thirteen colonies that rebelled existed in the Caribbean as well but they seemed to be passive in their bid against the British rule. The factors which contributed to this behavior were the key focus of the writer in the book.

The author has been so convincing that it is hard to disagree on most of his points and therefore, I support the author on most of the points. There has been a bigger slave population in the Caribbean and the fear of a revolt had always been a reality. The geographical nature of the Caribbean also made them more dependent on the British. This is the reason why even having the same and possible reasons to revolt, they did not take up the arms against the British. Main body The book has been quite convincing throughout from the start to its end. The key focus of the book, as discussed before, is how the American Revolution was affected by the behavior of the British Caribbean.

The author states that the inclusion of the Caribbean in the Revolution would have helped the continental cause and it would have considerably affected the British interests in the region. However, as the time would prove, they were less enthusiastic about the revolution as compared to their counterparts in mainland America. The surprising thing that the author points out is that the British colonies in the Caribbean had the same socio-political dynamics as they were in the thirteen colonies that rose up against the British but the still they refused to join the rebel cause.

It was surprising for me as I didn’t know a lot about that before but the author puts it so skillfully that it was easy to get his point and get a clear picture on this vast subject. O’Shaughnessy gave many reasons that could have led to this behavior on part of the Caribbean States. He provided multiple literary pieces of evidence on the subject, especially how the previous researches had taken up the subjects. There have been many explanations given by contemporary historians on why the British Caribbean didn’t join the rebels, and the author cites them appropriately. It is always a sign of a comprehensive research if the opinions of the multiple authors are also presented appropriately.

However, it was also noted by O’Shaughnessy that most of the researches on the topic had been incomplete and mere speculations. In this book, the author aims to fill that gap and tries to understand the causes with more clarity and research. This is another good thing about the book; I think it only makes it more credible in its own right on this particular issue. Several points that the author makes which he thinks explain the causes of the inactivity from the part of the British Caribbean was due to the fact that they depended on the British trade.

Additionally, the naval dominance of the British navy was so considerable that it would have been difficult for them to successfully rebel. Secondly, the internal social dynamics of the Caribbean were vastly different from that of America. There was a larger slave population in the Caribbean than it was in North America; this was one of the reasons why they could not afford the risk of facing an external threat. The one thing that I think the book lacked is that it lacked the appreciation of deep military and political dynamics. For example, although the author does mention that the British Navy was one of the biggest deterrents for the Caribbean colonies to join the rebels, I think it was insufficient. I think it was one of the biggest causes of the passive behavior of the Caribbean States.


The book has been written very flawlessly and the research, references to the contemporary literature, as well as the arguments all converged to make it very convincing. The author skillfully puts forth his arguments stating that the British Caribbean had all the reasons to rebel against the British colonial rule but didn’t do it because of the few overlying political and social dynamics. The fears of revolt from its slave population as well as their reliance on sea trade made it difficult for them to challenge the British authority. The British dominance of the seas was also a significant deterrent in this regard. The island nature of the region and the demographic and social realities was what made them more obliging to the British. There were a very few points that I disagree on but those still don’t make the book less credible.

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An Empire Divided. (2019, Apr 26). Retrieved February 9, 2023 , from

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