Leading Up to the War
At the close of the Seven Years' War (known in the colonies as the French and Indian War) in 1764, American colonists had never been happier to be British. Why then, almost ten years later, would the colonists call for independence and take up arms against England? Answers to this question lie in an understanding of the war and the impact it had on the colonies.
Throughout the beginning of the 18th century, a series of conflicts between European powers (mostly France and England) led to a time of war lasting 64 years. There was King William's War, Queen Anne's War, King George's War, and the Seven Years' War. The latter would have the greatest impact on the coming of the American Revolution. It was truly a world war in which the conflict spilled out from the American colonies to other parts of the world.
As early as the 1740s, French scouts had moved into the American heartland, traveling the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers to spy out the land. They also attempted to build alliances with the Indians and bury leaden plates with inscriptions stating French claim. This did not make the land French, but in 1753, a new French governor arrived in Canada with a vision to build forts throughout the Ohio valley. There, they bumped into settlers from the British colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania who were moving west in search of land. The British Royal Governor in Virginia was not pleased with the actions of the French and sent then Major George Washington (who volunteered for the mission) to confront the French and order them to leave. The French refused, ousted the British from a strategic fort they were building, and built their own fort on the site.
Washington had been organizing volunteers and, in spring of 1754, set out with a small force including a few Indian allies to confront the French once more. Washington ended up in a skirmish with French soldiers. He was forced to retreat and later surrendered to a larger French force. He was allowed to withdraw along with his surviving volunteers. With that disaster in the backwoods, a great world war had begun, but Washington came out of it with his reputation intact, making him famous at the age of 22.
For at least two years, war raged along the American frontier without becoming a cause in Europe. By 1756, the colonial conflict merged into a European conflict involving France, Austria, and Russia against Prussia and Britain. It was not long before the sea power of Britain cut off French reinforcements and supplies to the colonies. By 1759, the English launched a 3-pronged offensive against the French in Canada, with the most decisive battle at Quebec.
There, British forces launched a massive attack, devastating the French ranks. Similar reports reached London that same year from places like India, where the British reduced French outposts one by one and established a base for British control of that country. It looked as though the British were securing a true empire, one on which the sun would never set.
The war dragged on until 1763, but the final years involved only small skirmishes along the American frontier. In 1760, King George II died and his grandson, King George III, took the throne. He decided to take a more active role than his predecessors when it came to directing the war. As Spain belatedly joined the fight against Great Britain in 1761, King George III ensured it met the same fate as the French, losing Manila in the Philippines and Havana in Cuba.
In 1763, a peace treaty was signed in Paris. The Peace of Paris ended French power in North America and gave the Spanish Florida to the British. To compensate Spain, it was given the Louisiana territory. Loss of Louisiana left the French with no strategic control in North America, and they gave up claims in the Caribbean as well.
French settlers were encouraged to remain in Louisiana and work with their new Spanish governors to create a bulwark against English expansion. Instead, French settlers there revolted against Spanish authority. In 1768, a revolt caused the Spanish governor and his small militia to flee. Not wanting to irritate its new ally, the French government refused to reestablish its claim on the territory. Spain would hold title to the territory for four decades, but would never erase its French roots.
The loss of the Louisiana territory left France with no claims in North America. This left the American colonists with an enormous sense of pride. Some have argued that the pride the Americans felt was hiding their deeper resentment towards England. More than anything, there was an American nationalism emerging. In fact, Benjamin Franklin commented he could see a day when the capital of England was on the Hudson River in New York, not London.
From Seven Years' War to Revolution
Americans were particularly proud of the fact they had started and fought in a world war with major implications. During the war, some Americans developed resentment towards the attitude of the professional British soldiers with whom they had contact.
There had always been a mystique about British soldiers, that the Redcoats were well disciplined and well trained. In the backwoods fighting of the war, many Americans were amazed that the British soldiers did not take cover, noting that the soldiers were expected to stand still in a line and be shot. In America, wars would not be fought in a manner the British regulars were used to.
In addition, many Americans became convinced of their own moral superiority when seeing how the Redcoats conducted themselves. Almost 90% of the American soldiers during the Seven Years' War were volunteers. They were mostly from New England and from semi-prosperous, pious religious families. This was a stark contrast to British regulars who were often conscripted from prisons or the poor ranks of British society.
Many of the American volunteers were outraged by the behavior of the British soldiers, disgusted by the drinking, the cursing, and the Sabbath-breaking. American fighters were equally horrified by the brutal punishments delivered on the rank and file by their superior officers. The image of the mighty, disciplined, and professional British army had been tarnished by the experience of the war.
Despite this, Americans had relied on British authority and strategy to guide them throughout the war. This amplified the contradiction of what role the American colonists wanted England to play in their affairs after the war was over. For example, one of the big questions the colonists had was how the new lands won during the Seven Years' War would be defended. Colonists expected to move west to the newly-acquired lands and expected the British to defend them against Indian attacks. The British expected the colonists to take this on themselves.
In addition, the Crown expected the colonies to pay for the enormous debt incurred fighting this war in colonies as well as the cost for defending the spoils of the war. In response, the British government enacted the Proclamation of 1763, which restricted movement of the colonists into Western lands. Land speculators ignored the Proclamation and pushed west, running into the Indians who already occupied the land. In some cases, the Indians signed treaties; in other cases, they were violently pushed off the land.
George Grenville, the New treasury minister of England, was given the task of taxing the colonies to pay for the war, from which the colonists greatly benefited. He favored a large, standing British army in America, which came at a cost. Grenville attempted to tax British citizens at home and when faced with protest, he turned his attention to the colonies. After all, he reasoned, this was their defense he was paying for. He enacted a series of acts that would start in motion a physical and ideological movement focused on gaining rights as Englishmen and, eventually, rights as Americans.
Let's review. The Seven Years' War, also known as the French and Indian War, began in 1756 when the fighting between French and colonists merged into a European conflict involving France, Austria, and Russia against Prussia and Britain. Prior to this, the colonists had been fighting French scouts along the American heartland, most notably, Major George Washington.
The war raged on involving several British victories, and King George III took an active role in directing the war. Peace was declared in 1763 through the Peace of Paris, which ended French power in North America. However, colonists had developed resentment toward the British, including soldier behavior and punishments. This resentment was further exemplified through the Proclamation of 1763, which restricted the movement of colonists into the Western lands.
Additionally, the new treasury minister of England, George Grenville, enacted a series of acts designed to make colonists pay the huge debt encountered in the war. All this, along with a burgeoning American nationalism, would eventually lead to the American Revolution.
Seven Years' War Important Points
|Seven Years' War||also called the French and Indian War|
|World-wide implications||war between British and Prussia against the French, Austrians and Russians|
|French losses||British military took French lands in India|
|American involvement||skirmishes along the frontier, Major George Washington involved|
|King George III of England||directed the war|
|Peace of Paris||France gives up its North American holdings|
|Proclamation of 1763||aided in colonist resentment of the British, controlled colonist expansion|
|George Grenville||British treasury minister who came up with plan to make the colonists pay for the war|
When this lesson is over, you should be able to:
- Describe how the Seven Years' War originated
- Identify the world players in the war
- Explain America's role
- Discuss the outcome of the Peace of Paris
- Tell about George Grenville's plan
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