Spanish Naval Strategy and the United States, 1763–1819

By Ivan Valdez-Bubnov, published February 2015


This article examines the naval strategies conceived by the Spanish government to deal with Anglo-American expansion in North America. The political, social and diplomatic aspects of this process have been thoroughly approached by historiography. However, its impact on Spanish naval policy has received little attention. After the Louisiana purchase, the Spanish navy made a plan for a full-scale war against the United States, involving battlefleet action, blockade, amphibious operations and guerre de course. The War of the Third Coalition prevented it from taking place, and the Napoleonic invasion of 1808 practically obliterated the Spanish Navy. After the restoration of the Spanish Monarchy there were renewed tensions with the United States, and in 1816 the project was redrawn, albeit on a more modest scale. This article examines the contents of the war plans in detail, in order to understand the objectives of Spanish grand strategy and the manner in which naval forces were to be employed. Also, it aims at understanding the intellectual origins of the ideas expressed by the authors of these plans. Finally, it aims to underline the consequences that the failure to implement an effective diplomatic, military and naval strategy had for Spain’s position in North America.

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Filed under: Atlantic | Other (Nineteenth C) | Other (Eighteenth C)
Subjects include: Navies | Strategy & Diplomacy

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