The early years of the newly united kingdom were marked by Jacobite risings which ended in defeat for the Stuart cause at Culloden in 1746. In 1763, victory in the Seven Years' War led to the dominance of the British Empire, which was to become the foremost global power for over a century and slowly grew to become the largest empire in history.
In the 18th century England, and after 1707 Great Britain, rose to become the world's dominant colonial power, with France as its main rival on the imperial stage. The pre-1707 English overseas possessions became the nucleus of the First British Empire.
The independence of the Thirteen Colonies in North America in 1783 after the American War of Independence caused Britain to lose some of its oldest and most populous colonies. British attention soon turned towards Asia, Africa, and the Pacific. After the defeat of France in the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1815), Britain emerged as the principal naval and imperial power of the 19th century. Unchallenged at sea, British dominance was later described as Pax Britannica ("British Peace"), a period of relative peace in Europe and the world (1815–1914) during which the British Empire became the global hegemon and adopted the role of global policeman. In the early 19th century, the Industrial Revolution began to transform Britain; so that by the time of the Great Exhibition in 1851, the country was described as the "workshop of the world". The British Empire expanded to include most of India, large parts of Africa and many other territories throughout the world. Alongside the formal control that Britain exerted over its own colonies, its dominance of much of world trade meant that it effectively controlled the economies of many regions, such as Asia and Latin America.
The British and French struggles in India became but one theatre of the global Seven Years' War (1756–1763) involving France, Britain and the other major European powers. The signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763) had important consequences for the future of the British Empire. In North America, France's future as a colonial power effectively ended with the recognition of British claims to Rupert's Land, and the ceding of New France to Britain (leaving a sizeable French-speaking population under British control) and Louisiana to Spain. Spain ceded Florida to Britain. Along with its victory over France in India, the Seven Years' War therefore left Britain as the world's most powerful maritime power.
In 1603, James VI, King of Scots, ascended (as James I) to the English throne and in 1604 negotiated the Treaty of London, ending hostilities with Spain. Now at peace with its main rival, English attention shifted from preying on other nations' colonial infrastructures to the business of establishing its own overseas colonies. The British Empire began to take shape during the early 17th century, with the English settlement of North America and the smaller islands of the Caribbean, and the establishment of joint-stock companies, most notably the East India Company, to administer colonies and overseas trade. This period, until the loss of the Thirteen Colonies after the American War of Independence towards the end of the 18th century, has subsequently been referred to by some historians as the "First British Empire".
During the 1760s and early 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's attempts to govern and tax American colonists without their consent. This was summarised at the time by the slogan "No taxation without representation", a perceived violation of the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen. The American Revolution began with rejection of Parliamentary authority and moves towards self-government. In response, Britain sent troops to reimpose direct rule, leading to the outbreak of war in 1775. The following year, in 1776, the United States declared independence. The entry of France into the war in 1778 tipped the military balance in the Americans' favour and after a decisive defeat at Yorktown in 1781, Britain began negotiating peace terms. American independence was acknowledged at the Peace of Paris in 1783.
During the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries, Portugal and Spain pioneered European exploration of the globe, and in the process established large overseas empires. Envious of the great wealth these empires generated, England, France, and the Netherlands began to establish colonies and trade networks of their own in the Americas and Asia. A series of wars in the 17th and 18th centuries with the Netherlands and France left England and then, following union between England and Scotland in 1707, Great Britain, the dominant colonial power in North America. It then became the dominant power in the Indian subcontinent after the East India Company's conquest of Mughal Bengal at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
In 1695, the Parliament of Scotland granted a charter to the Company of Scotland, which established a settlement in 1698 on the Isthmus of Panama. Besieged by neighbouring Spanish colonists of New Granada, and afflicted by malaria, the colony was abandoned two years later. The Darien scheme was a financial disaster for Scotland—a quarter of Scottish capital was lost in the enterprise—and ended Scottish hopes of establishing its own overseas empire. The episode also had major political consequences, persuading the governments of both England and Scotland of the merits of a union of countries, rather than just crowns. This occurred in 1707 with the Treaty of Union, establishing the Kingdom of Great Britain.
On April 22, 1793, during the French Revolution, Washington issued his famous Neutrality Proclamation and was resolved to pursue, "a conduct friendly and impartial toward the belligerent Powers" while he warned Americans not to intervene in the international conflict. Although Washington recognized France's revolutionary government, he would eventually ask French minister to America Citizen Genet be recalled over the Citizen Genet Affair. Genet was a diplomatic troublemaker who was openly hostile toward Washington's neutrality policy. He procured four American ships as privateers to strike at Spanish forces (British allies) in Florida while organizing militias to strike at other British possessions. But his efforts failed to draw America into the foreign campaigns during Washington's presidency. On July 31, 1793 Jefferson submitted his resignation from Washington's cabinet. Washington signed the Naval Act of 1794 and commissioned the first six federal frigates to combat Barbary pirates.
Washington played a key role in the adoption and ratification of the Constitution and was then elected president by the Electoral College in the first two elections. He implemented a strong, well-financed national government while remaining impartial in a fierce rivalry between cabinet members Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. During the French Revolution, he proclaimed a policy of neutrality while sanctioning the Jay Treaty. He set enduring precedents for the office of president, including the title "President of the United States", and his Farewell Address is widely regarded as a pre-eminent statement on republicanism.
In April 1792, the French Revolutionary Wars began between Great Britain and France, and Washington declared America's neutrality. The revolutionary government of France sent diplomat Citizen Genêt to America, and he was welcomed with great enthusiasm. He created a network of new Democratic-Republican Societies promoting France's interests, but Washington denounced them and demanded that the French recall Genêt. The National Assembly of France granted Washington honorary French citizenship on August 26, 1792, during the early stages of the French Revolution. Hamilton formulated the Jay Treaty to normalize trade relations with Great Britain while removing them from western forts, and also to resolve financial debts remaining from the Revolution. Chief Justice John Jay acted as Washington's negotiator and signed the treaty on November 19, 1794; critical Jeffersonians, however, supported France. Washington deliberated, then supported the treaty because it avoided war with Britain, but was disappointed that its provisions favored Britain. He mobilized public opinion and secured ratification in the Senate but faced frequent public criticism.
The causes of the French Revolution are complex and are still debated among historians. Following the Seven Years' War and the American Revolutionary War, the French government was deeply in debt. It attempted to restore its financial status through unpopular taxation schemes, which were heavily regressive. Leading up to the Revolution, years of bad harvests worsened by deregulation of the grain industry and environmental problems also inflamed popular resentment of the privileges enjoyed by the aristocracy and the Catholic clergy of the established church. Some historians hold something similar to what Thomas Jefferson proclaimed: that France had "been awakened by our [American] Revolution." Demands for change were formulated in terms of Enlightenment ideals and contributed to the convocation of the Estates General in May 1789. During the first year of the Revolution, members of the Third Estate (commoners) took control, the Bastille was attacked in July, the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen was passed in August, and the Women's March on Versailles forced the royal court back to Paris in October. A central event of the first stage, in August 1789, was the abolition of feudalism and the old rules and privileges left over from the Ancien Régime.
The economy in the Ancien Régime during the years preceding the Revolution suffered from instability. The sequence of events leading to the Revolution included the national government's fiscal troubles caused by an unjust, inefficient and deeply hated tax system – the ferme générale – and by expenditure on numerous large wars. The attempt to challenge British naval and commercial power in the Seven Years' War was a costly disaster, with the loss of France's colonial possessions in continental North America and the destruction of the French Navy. French forces were rebuilt, and feeling bitter about having lost many of France's overseas colonies to the British Empire during the Seven Years' War, Louis XVI was eager to give the American rebels financial and military support. After the British surrender at the Battle of Saratoga, the French sent 10,000 troops and millions of dollars to the rebels. Despite succeeding in gaining independence for the Thirteen Colonies, France was severely indebted by the American Revolutionary War. France's inefficient and antiquated financial system could not finance this debt. Faced with a financial crisis, the king called an Estates General, recommended by the Assembly of Notables in 1787 for the first time in over a century.
In 1774 Louis XVI ascended to the throne in the middle of a financial crisis in which the state was faced with a budget deficit and was nearing bankruptcy. This was due in part to France's costly involvements in the Seven Years' War and later the American Revolutionary War. In May 1776, finance minister Turgot was dismissed, after failing to enact reforms. The next year, Jacques Necker, a foreigner, was appointed Comptroller-General of Finance. He could not be made an official minister because he was a Protestant.
The Revolution deeply polarised American politics, and this polarisation led to the creation of the First Party System. In 1793, as war broke out in Europe, the Republican Party led by Thomas Jefferson favoured France and pointed to the 1778 treaty that was still in effect. George Washington and his unanimous cabinet, including Jefferson, decided that the treaty did not bind the United States to enter the war. Washington proclaimed neutrality instead. Under President John Adams, a Federalist, an undeclared naval war took place with France from 1798 until 1799, often called the "Quasi War". Jefferson became president in 1801, but was hostile to Napoleon as a dictator and emperor. However, the two entered negotiations over the Louisiana Territory and agreed to the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, an acquisition that substantially increased the size of the United States.
In February 1754, Dinwiddie promoted Washington to lieutenant colonel and second-in-command of the 300-strong Virginia Regiment, with orders to confront French forces at the Forks of the Ohio. Washington set out for the Forks with half of the regiment in April but soon learned that a French force of 1,000 had begun construction of Fort Duquesne there. In May, Washington had set up a defensive position at Great Meadows when he learned that the French had made camp 7 mi away. Washington decided to take the offensive in pursuit of the French contingent. The French detachment proved to be only about 50 men, so Washington advanced on May 28 with a small force of Virginians and Indian allies to ambush them. What took place, known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen or the Jumonville affair, was disputed, but French forces were killed outright with muskets and hatchets. French commander Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, who carried a diplomatic message for the British to evacuate, was killed. French forces found Jumonville and some of his men dead and scalped and assumed that Washington was responsible. Washington placed blame on his translator for not communicating the French intentions. Dinwiddie congratulated Washington for his victory over the French. This incident ignited the French and Indian War, which later became part of the larger Seven Years' War.
The most important French fort planned was intended to occupy a position at "the Forks" where the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River (present day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania). Peaceful British attempts to halt this fort construction were unsuccessful, and the French proceeded to build the fort they named Fort Duquesne. British colonial militia from Virginia were then sent to drive them out. Led by George Washington, they ambushed a small French force at Jumonville Glen on 28 May 1754 killing ten, including commander Jumonville. The French retaliated by attacking Washington's army at Fort Necessity on 3 July 1754 and forced Washington to surrender. These were the first engagements of what would become the worldwide Seven Years' War.
Conflict between Great Britain and France broke out in 1754–1756 when the British attacked disputed French positions in North America. Hostilities were heightened when a British unit led by a 22-year-old Lt. Colonel George Washington ambushed a small French force at the Battle of Jumonville Glen on 28 May 1754. The conflict exploded across the colonial boundaries and extended to the seizure of hundreds of French merchant ships at sea. Meanwhile, Prussia, a rising power, struggled with Austria for dominance within and outside the Holy Roman Empire in central Europe. In 1756, the four greatest powers (Great Britain, France, Prussia and Austria) "switched partners".
George Washington (February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799) was an American political leader, military general, statesman, and Founding Father who served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Previously, he led Patriot forces to victory in the nation's War for Independence. He presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the U.S. Constitution and a federal government. Washington has been called the "Father of His Country" for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation.
The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775 with the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Siege of Boston. The colonists were divided over breaking away from British rule and split into two factions: Patriots who rejected British rule, and Loyalists who desired to remain subject to the British King. General Thomas Gage was commander of British forces in America at the beginning of the war. Upon hearing the shocking news of the onset of war, Washington was "sobered and dismayed", and he hastily departed Mount Vernon on May 4, 1775 to join the Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
The Seven Years' War was perhaps the first true world war, having taken place almost 160 years before World War I, and influenced many major events later around the globe. The war restructured not only the European political order, but also affected events all around the world, paving the way for the beginning of later British world supremacy in the 19th century, the rise of Prussia in Germany (eventually replacing Austria as the leading German State), the beginning of tensions in British North America, as well as a clear sign of France's eventual turmoil. It was characterized in Europe by sieges and the arson of towns as well as open battles with heavy losses.
With wars against Prussia and Austria having started earlier in 1792, France also declared war on the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Dutch Republic in November 1792. In the course of 1793, the Holy Roman Empire, the kings of Portugal and Naples and the Grand-Duke of Tuscany declared war against France.
The population of Great Britain and Ireland in 1780 was approximately 12.6 million, while the Thirteen Colonies held a population of some 2.8 million, including some 500,000 slaves. Theoretically, Britain had the advantage, however, many factors inhibited the procurement of a large army.