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Eic Trade To Dominion Essay

History Notes > Empires and World History (c. 1400-1900) Notes

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Was it primarily the East India Company's military concerns - especially the high cost of its armies - that explains the move from trade to dominion in India by the end of the 18th Century?
Two questions need to be addressed to explain the changing nature of the British presence in India in the eighteenth century. The first of these concerns the motives of the British for territorial expansion: a military imperative for expansion was certainly present, but economic and moral imperatives also had a part to play. The monolithic scale of the Indian venture means that generalisations are difficult - the relative importance of each of these factors varied according to region and time - however the aggregation of separate experiences may allow us to decide if one was decisive. The second question concerns the means by which the Company was able to achieve the end of domination: the traditional explanation, espoused above all by nationalistic European historians of the nineteenth century, that the British had imposed themselves out of necessity on a political wasteland left by the disintegration of the Mughal Empire has now been debunked. This, however, raises the issue of how we explain the assumption of power in the territory of organised successor states, such as Bengal, Awadh, and the Carnatic and of powerful warrior polities such as those of the Maratha confederacy or Mysore. The view of some historians, and notably a good number from the subcontinent, is that the British should be seen as alien aggressors who imposed abrupt changes through brute force. This can be contrasted with a more recent interpretation, put forward by Marshall, Bayly and others, that the British acquired political influence through commercial means, and particularly through the agency of private enterprise. The methods through which the Company ruled its territorial empire will be a telling indication of how that empire was won. The case for a military imperative for empire is twofold: the British needed to safeguard their stake in India, and their military costs were rising. Territorial expansion was a rewarding venture: acquisition by Robert Clive of the diwani of Bengal in 1765 provided the Company with revenue of PS3 million through taxation. Control of populated areas also allowed the Company to raise levies of Indian sepoy troops, which were to number 70,000 soon after this date. Clearly, then, conquest could have provided the means to finance an expensive army if this was its primary aim. There was, furthermore, a need for such a military presence. In the early eighteenth century, this arose out of conflict in south-eastern India with the French. In 1744 the British were seizing French shipping, while in 1746 French forces took Madras. French involvement in the politics of Arcot and Hyderabad sparked further suspicion from the British. A letter from India to the Directors of the Company, in which an official complained that the French 'aim at nothing less than to exclude us from the trade of this coast, and by degrees from that of India', demonstrates that the use of military force against the French may have seemed necessary to protect British trading interests in Asia. It was with this justification that royal warships and troops were first sent from England. In the later eighteenth century, the threat was an internal one: the warrior states of the Marathas and of Mysore were making incursions into territory held by the British and by British 'allies', such as the Nawab of Awadh. The fact that Tipu Sultan of Mysore was able to fight the English to a stalemate in the 1780s demonstrates the reality of this threat. Marshall adds that the military defence of the East India Company's interests came to be seen as necessary not only to defend the conquered territory per se, but also to protect the system of credit used in Britain, which had become dependent on the

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