1902 Encyclopedia > United States > The Struggle for Expansion: 1750-63

United States
(Part 2)


Part 2. The Struggle for Expansion: 1750-63

25. The English settlements along the Atlantic had covered the narrow strip of coast territory quite thoroughly before it was possible to think of expansion westward Since about 1605 Canada had been undisputedly in the hands of the French. Their traders and missionaries had entered the present western United States; Marquette and Joliet (1673) and La Salle (1682) had explored the upper Mississippi river, and others, following their track, had explored most of the Mississippi valley and had built forts in various parts of it. About 1700 the French opened ground at the mouth of the Mississippi; D’Iberville (1702) founded Mobile and the French Mississippi Company (1718) founded the city of New Orleans. Consistent design, foiled at last only by failure of material, marks the proceedings of the French commanders in America for the next thirty years. New Orleans and Quebec were the extremities of a line of well-place forts which were to secure the whole Mississippi valley, and to confine the English settlements for ever to the strip of land along the coast bounded on the west by the Appalachian or Alleghancy range of mountains, which is parallel to the coast and has but one important break in its barrier, the opening through which the Hudson river flows. The practical genius of the French plans is shown by the fact that so many of these old forts have since become the sites of great and flourishing westerns cities; Natchez, Vincennes, Poeria, Fort Wayne, Toledo, Detroit, Ogdensburgh, and Montreal either are built on or are so near to the old forts as to testify to the skill and foresight against which the English colonies had to contend. To this whole territory, extending from the mouth of the Mississippi to that of the St Lawrence, covering even the western part of the present State of New York, the name of New France was given. The English possessions, extending in hardly any place more than a hundred miles from the ocean, except where the Dutch had long ago planted the outpost of Fort Orange or Albany, on the upper Hudson, were generally restricted to the immediate neighborhood of the coast, to which the early population had naturally clung as its base of supplies.

26. The French difficulties were even greater than those of the English. The French people had never had that love of emigration which had given the English colonies their first great impetus. Even where the French settled they showed more of a disposition to coalesce with the native population than to form a homogeneous people. The French were commonly far stronger with the Indians than were the English; but, at the end of a hundred and fifty years, when the English colonists numbered a million and a quarter, all animated by the same political purposes, the population of all New France was only about 100,000 and it is doubtful whether there were 7500 in the whole Mississippi valley. The whole French system, wisely as it was designed, was subject to constant and fatal interference from a corrupt court. Its own organization was hampered by attempts to introduce the feudal features of home social life. A way was thus opened to exactions from every agent of the court, to which the people submitted with hereditary patience, but which were fatal to all healthy development. Perhaps worst of all was the natural and inevitable formation of the French line of claims. Trending westward from Quebec to meet the northward line of forts New Orleans, it was bent at the junction of the two parts, about Detroit, and its most important part by right athwart the path of advancing English migration. The English wave was thus to strike the weaker French line in flank and at its weakest point, so that the final issue could not in any event have been doubtful. The French and Indian war probably only hastened the result.

27. There had been wars between the French and the English colonies since the accession of William and Mary, mostly accessory to wars between the mother countries. The colonies had taken part in the wars ended by the peace of Ryswick (1697), the peace of Utrecht (1713), and the peace of Aix-la Chapelle (1748). The alliance of the French and Indians made all these struggles wretched experiences for the English. The province of Canada became a prison-pen, where captives were held to ransom or adopted into savage tribes. Outlying settlements were broken up, of forced to expend a large part of their energy in watchful self-defence; and it required all the persistence of the English colonies to continue their steady forward movement. Nevertheless they even undertook offensive operations. They captured Port Royal in 1690 but it was given up to the French in 1697. They captured it again in 1710, and this time it was kept, with most of Acadia, which was now to be known as Nova Scotia. In 1745 the colonies took the strongest French fortress, Louisburgh, on Cape Breton Island, with very little assistance from the home Government. Their land expeditions against Montreal and Quebec were unsuccessful , the reason for failure being usually defective transport.

28. In the treaties which closed these wars, the interests of the colonies met with little consideration. The most notable instance of this was the 12th article of the treaty of Utrecht, by which an English company was secured the exclusive right to carry African slaves into American ports. Originally meant to obtain the Spanish trade in Negroes, the company had influence enough to commit the crown top a steady support of the African slave- trade in its own colonies. Again and again the English legislatures in North American attempted to stop the slave-trade, and were prevented by the royal veto. This will serve to explain a passage in Jefferson’s first draft of the American Declaration of Independence, as follows: - "He [the king] has waged cruel war against human nature itself…. Determined to keep open a market where men should be bought and sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce."

29. All parties seem to have felt that the peace of aix-la-Chapelle was but a truce at the best; and the French court seems to have come at last to some at last to some comprehension of its extensive opportunities and duties in North America. With its tardy sympathy, its agents on the new continent began the erection of barriers against the great wave of English westward migration which was just appearing over the crest of the Alleghanies. It was too late, however, for the English colonies were really able to sustain themselves against the French colonies and court together. Their surveyors (1747) had crossed the crest of the mountains, and had brought back appetizing accounts of the quality of the lands which lay beyond. The Ohio Company (1749), formed partly of Virginians speculators and partly of Englishmen, had obtained a grant of 500,000 acres of land in the western part of Pennsylvania (then supposed to be a part of Virginia), with a monopoly of the Indian trade. As the grant was completely on the western side of the Alleghanies, and was the first English intrusion into the Ohio valley, it behoved the French to meet the step with prompt action. Their agents traversed the Ohio country, making treaties with the Indians and burying lead plates inscribed with the lilies of France and a statement of the French claims. The erection of the Ohio Company’s first fort (1752) brought on the crisis. The main line of French forts was too far away to be any check upon it. The French leaders therefore began to push a branch line eastward into the disputed territory. Their first work (1753) was put up at Presque Isle (now Erie), about 100 miles north of the Ohio Company’s fort. The citadel of the disputed territory had been begun on the spot where Piuttsburgh now stands, where the Allegheny and Monongahela unite to from the Ohio river. Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, had obtained the right to erect he fort by treaty with the Indians. From Presque Isle the French began running a line of forts south, through the present "oil district" of Pennsylvania, towards the headquarters of the English.

30. Washington was then a land-surveyor, barely of age; but he was the agent whom Dinwiddie selected to carry an ultimatum to the French at Presque Isle. After a perilous winter passage through the wilderness, he found that the French had no intention of evacuating their positions, and returned. Virginia at once (January 1754) voted money and men to maintain the western claims of the colonies; and Washington was sent with 400 provincial troops to secure the half-built fort at the head of the Ohio. The French were also pushing for that place. They won in the race, drove away the English workmen, and finished Fort Du Quesne, named after their governor. Washington , compelled to stop and fortify his position, won the first skirmish of the war with the French advanced guard, but was forced to surrender on terms (July 4, 1754). The usual incidents of a general Indian warfare followed for the rest of the year.

31. Both Governments began to ship regular troops to America, though there was no formal declaration of war until 1756. the year 1755 was marked by the surprise and defeat of Braddock, a gallant and opinionated British officer who commanded an expedition against Fort Du Quesne, by the complete conquest of Nova Scotia, and by he defeat of the French, under their principal officer, Dieskau, at Lake George, in New York, by a force of provincial troops under Sir William Johnson. In 1756 the greatest of French Canadian governors, Montcalm, arrived; and the tide of war went steadily against the English. The officers sent out by the home Government were incompetent, and they generally declined to draw on the colonists for advice. Montcalm found them an easy prey; and his lines were steadily maintained at the point where they had been when Washington surrendered at Fort Necessity. Pitt’s entrance to the Newcastle ministry (June 1757) changed all this, for the first time the colonies found a man who showed a sympathy with them and a willingness to use them. their legislatures were summoned into counsel as to the conduct of the war; and their alacrity in response was an augury of a change in its fortune. Incompetent officers were weeded out, with little regard to family or court influence. The whole force of the colonies was gathered up, and in 1758 was launched at the French. All western New York was cleared of the enemy at a blow; Fort Du Quesne was taken and renamed Fort Pitt; Louisburgh, which had been restored to France at aix-a-Chapelle, was again taken; and the only failure of the year was the dreadful butchery of the English in assaulting the walls of Ticonderoga. Louisburgh made an excellent point of attack against Quebec, and Montcalm was forced to draw off nearly all his troops elsewhere for the defence of his principal post. The year 1759 was therefore begun by the capture of Ticonderoga and almost all the French posts within the present United States, and was crowned by Wolfe’s capture of the towering walls of Quebec. In 1760, while George II lay dying, the conquest of Canada was completed, and the dream of a great French empire in North America disappeared for ever.

32. The war continued through the first three years of George III., and the colonies took part in the capture of Havana after Spain had entered the struggle, as an ally of France. The peace of Paris, which put an end to the war, restored Havana to Spain, in exchange for Florida, which now became English. France retired from North America, giving to Spain all her claims west of the Mississippi and that small portion east of the Mississippi which surrounds New Orleans, and to England the remainder of the continent east of the Mississippi. Spain retained for her territory the name of Louisiana, originally given by the French. The rest of the continent was now "the English colonies of North America.

33. It is evident now that the French and Indian war was the prelude to the American revolution. It trained the officers and men for the final struggle. It released the colonies from the pressure of the French in Canada so suddenly that the consciousness of their own strength came at the same instant with the removal of the ancient barrier to it. It united the colonies for the first time; few things are more significant of the development of the colonies than the outburst of plans for colonial union between 1748 and 1755, the most promising, though it finally failed, being that of Franklin (1754) at the Albany conference of Indian commissioners from the various colonies. The practical union of the colonies, however, was so evident that it might have been foreseen that they would now unite instinctively against any common enemy, even the mother country.

34. The war, too, while it obtained its main object in the view of the colonies- an unlimited western expansion, brought the seeds of enmity between them and the crown. The claims of the English on the continent, as has been said, were based on the voyages of the Cabots. Under them the crown had granted in the charters of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia a western extension at first to the Pacific Ocean and finally to the Mississippi. This was what the colonies had fought for; and yet at the end of the war (1763) a royal proclamation was issued forbidding present land sales west of the Alleghanies and practically reserving the conquered territory as a crown domain. In this, if in nothing else, lay the seeds of the coming revolution, as it afterwards almost disrupted the rising Union. The war had welded the thirteen colonies into one people, though they hardly dreamed of it yet; they had an underlying consciousness that this western territory belonged to the new people, not to the crown or to the separate colonies which had charter claims to it; and they would have resisted the claims of the crown as promptly as they afterwards resisted the claims of the individual colonies.

35. Finally, the war broke the feeling of dependence on the mother country. Poorly armed, equipped, and disciplined, the colonial or "provincial" troops had certainly shown fighting qualities of no mean order. Colonists would not have been disposed, under any circumstances, to underrate the military qualities of their own men, but their self-glorification found a larger material because of the frequently poor quality of the officers who were sent through family and court influence to represent Great Britain in the colonies. The bitter words in which Junius refers to British military organization in after years were certainly even more applicable in 1750; and the incompetency of many of the British officers is almost incomprehensible. Its effects were increased by an utter indifference to the advice of colonial leaders which, in a new and unknown country, was certain to place British soldiers again and again in positions where they appeared to great disadvantages alongside of their colonial allies or rivals. The provincial who had stood his ground, firing from behind trees and stumps, while the regulars ran past him in headlong retreat, came home with a sense of his own innate superiority which was sure to bring its results. Braddock’s defeat was the prologue to Bunker Hill. The results were strengthened by the fact that most of the war was fought either in New England, the most democratic of the colonies, or by New England men. Their leaders had always been sought for by annual popular elections and re-election, the promotion of approved men, and the retention of men of poorer quality in lower grades of office. To them the aristocratic influences which gave place and power to such men as Loudoun and "Mrs Nabbycrombie" were simply ridiculous, and marked only an essential differences between themselves and their English brethren which was to the disadvantage of the latter, even though it occasionally evolved as man like Howe or Pitt. Taking all the influences together, it is plain that the French and Indian war not only brought into being a tangible union of the colonies, but broke many of the cords which had held the colonies to the mother country.

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