What was the British military response to the American Rebellion?

Though Great Britain had one of the greatest navies in the world at the beginning of the American Revolution, it did not have a large standing army. The British Parliament had historically opposed such an army during periods of peace. While the high cost of maintaining a large standing army was one factor behind this policy, Parliament also feared how a monarch might use this army to abuse the constitutional rights of the British people.

In addition, available British forces were spread thinly across the globe protecting the empire. Not only was the government required to maintain sufficient forces in the home islands to protect Great Britain from invasion by another European power, the government was required to maintain troops in many parts of its empire including such strategic locations as Gibraltar and the Island of Minorca. Great Britain was also forced to maintain large numbers of forces in the Caribbean to protect its rich sugar islands.

German military Jaeger rifle, c. 1775, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

German military Jaeger rifle, c. 1775, Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.

Because of the small number of British forces in North America at the beginning of the American Revolution, the British Army could not suppress the rebellion without major reinforcements. Recruiting a large number of troops and moving those forces to the American colonies before the new Continental Army became trained and ready to fight was important.

One of the quickest and easiest ways for King George III to increase the size of the British forces was to simply acquire troops from other European rulers. Before the rise of large national standing armies in the l8th century, it was common for rulers to simply lease or rent an army if a ready-made army was needed. Though George III sought troops from a number of European rulers, it was from the princes of small German kingdoms that he found the troops to augment British forces. In addition to being the King of Great Britain, George III was also the Elector of Hanover, a small German state. With his German title and strong German roots, he enjoyed special connections with other German princes allowing him to hire their soldiers. Hiring out soldiers was a good way for impoverished German princes to supplement their incomes. The decision by the British government to pursue the employment of foreign mercenaries against people who had long considered themselves loyal British subjects caused King George III to lose a great deal of support in the American colonies. The decision to hire foreign troops would be one of the causes specifically referenced in the Declaration of Independence as a factor which contributed to the final break.