an RevolutionAt the outset of the eighteenth century, the Ohio Valley can identified as the main
catalyst in triggering open hostilities between the French and the Americans. The French
occupied parts of Canada but also wanted a stake in America. Its means to do this was
through the Ohio Valley it maintained. However, the colonists were bound to permeate
this area in their push towards the west. And as they did, competition for the lush lands
flared up and came to a breaking point. This directly lead to the French and Indian War
with the Indians, for the most part, siding with the French against Britain. The events and
sentiments that took place during and immediately after the French and Indian War
(1754-1763) were extremely important in contributing to the outset of the American
Revolution. By looking at the perspectives of the two diverging peoples, it is evident
there is a strong contrast, which lead to increasing tensions.
The intermingling of arrogant British redcoats and the proud colonial militiamen
precariously produced a strong mutual dislike and contempt. The majority of British
officers hated colonial service and took great care to avoid it. After all, America was a
strange wilderness to them. The West Indies specifically were infested with
disease-carrying pests, and fevers were known to kill hundreds of men. Britains found the
colonists uncooperative and very reluctant to serve for their country. Religious minority
groups especially opposed to war “could play hell with appropriations.” (Chidsey) For
example, the Quakers absolutely would not fight to protect their very own homes and
refused to be taxed for a war because they thought, according to their religion, it was
sinful. Most colonists altogether refused to contribute money. It was not until William
Pitt offered to reimburse them a share of the money did they render some wealth, though
not much (Bailey 98). When American recruits finally dribbled in, they were primitive in
military customs. Some even deserted camp, and when they were seized and brought
back to camp, they were whipped. British General Braddock went so far as to forewarn
his soldiers of a penalty of hanging for the next that deserted him.
The colonists, having always thought the British militia to be noble and
indomitable, were shocked at their behavior. The almighty Redcoats were actually
running and hiding in battle times when they should have proved valorous. The British
were probably embarrassed too over a childish rivalry between English generals William
Johnson and Governor William Shirley at Fort Albany. Competition arose because of
Shirley’s greed for Indian allies, and neglecting Johnson simultaneously. They
immaturely wrote secret letters about each other, getting others involved and annoyed. A
factor also contributing to the disappointment of the colonists is how the British
consistently fought a European war instead of a new style war, particularly guerrilla
warfare (based on sneak attack and using camouflage), which limited their success and
sometimes determined failure. Impressment prevailed for part of the war, adding insult to
outrage. Impressment refers to the British sending “press gangs” from their warships to
bring in mariners to serve in the British ships. They received little to no pay, and about
900 of the seamen died leaving their families bereft and embittered (Reeder). With both
the Americans and the English referring to each other as cowardly dogs, conflict became
more personal between people than just between two land areas.
Although still disunited, the colonies were beginning to melt this hindrance,
sometimes without knowing it, to realize they shared more in common with each other
than with those of the mother country. The disunity that had predominated since the
founding of the colonies can be accounted for and understood because of geographical
barriers like rivers and lack of roads, diverse religions, mixed nationalities, various
governments, boundary disputes, social classes, different currencies at altered worths in
each colony, and jealousy. As British Sir Winston Churchhill said, “They were united in
distrusting the home government but in little else.” However, steps were being taken,
sometimes not even purposely, to promote rapport among the colonies. Newspapers, for
instance, not only covered the war effort, but they also promoted a unity of consciousness
for the colonies. Through these reports and therefore awareness, the English were warned
of French troops moving southward from Canada and of the French master plan to
capture the continent in 1753. The Albany Plan of Union was a positive step in achieving
union. The ingenious Benjamin Franklin proposed a layout of creating a central military
fund and appointing a military governor. He was, unfortunately, ahead of his time and the
colonies voted his proposal down because it provided too much central power and
therefore less power to the states. The king also would have vetoed it because it “smelled
of independence.” (Chidsey) Despite this failure, unity was still obtained somewhat
through the simplicity of soldiers gathering from different colonies. Interaction with each
other, in times of battle and also just in eating dinner together and gathering around
campfires to ward off the cold, revealed their singularity and questioned the British
monarch, with whom they often had nothing in common. They found they spoke the
same language, shared the same problems concerning England, and for the most part had
mutual ideals. Having unity, especially in having a common defense and a strong
common cause, is extremely important in a revolution. One could even say that it is
indispensable. Therefore, building a common cause and subsequent unity was in direct
conflict with the English.
To the disgust and aversion of the British, some of the colonists were committing
treason by smuggling goods to the enemy. Officials in Paris had, partly because of the
British Navy, abruptly limited importation on items such as rum and molasses in the
French West Indies. These planters were desperate to feed themselves and also their
slaves, and found salvation through the colonists. Commerce centers, in particular
Newport, Rhode Island, Boston, New York City, and Philadelphia enjoyed surplus wealth
through this traitorous trade. The English, of course, were shocked at their subjects’
disloyalty. The British navy was determined and working ardently to starve the French by
blockading their ports, and at the same time the colony’s shippers were using fraudulent
papers to trade foodstuffs with the adversary. The blockading of the St. Lawrence River,
the only entrance to New France, was especially dangerous and difficult. This treachery
led directly to the end of a period of salutary neglect, where the Navigation and Trade
Laws were loosely enforced. This itself led later on to the loathed writs of assistance,
which were unrestrained search warrants that entirely violated the colonists’ privacy.
What the British perceived as reprehensible treason, the colonists saw as a golden trade
which they had an absolute right to do.
Upon issuance of the Proclamation Act of 1763, a misinterpretation in the
colonies and failure to communicate thoroughly provoked outrage in America. The
British government, fearing that settlers migrating into the new lands would provoke a
series of Indian wars, like that of Pontiac’s Rebellion, believed that the lands should be
opened to colonists on a more gradual basis (Reeder). The King’s Cabinet Council
therefore prohibited settlement in the area east of the Appalachian Mountains. The
English saw little other alternative. Both the Treaty of Easton in 1758 with the Ohio
Valley Indians (which was ratified by the king), and in the avowals of such military
vanguards as Colonel Bouquet, the Indians were assured security in the lands west of the
Appalachians. This was their compensation for deserting their French allies (Gipson 87).
However, the colonists found extreme indignity in this. After all, had they not just shed
blood and endured a war to obtain this land? In 1788, groups such as the Patrick Henry
group in Virginia and the Richard Henderson group in North Carolina decided to move
west, in open defiance of the crown. Within that same year people were moving west by
the thousands. The Proclamation of 1763 was one of the first documents issued to govern
the colonies, and it required those already settled in the specified regions to return east.
Although it was laxly enforced, the colonists refused to tolerate this, and tension over the
Proclamation Act was inevitable.
The British felt the colonies they had protected should shoulder some of the
responsibility of the enormous debt England had incurred, but were faced with
discrepancy from the colonists. The debt of England was the largest ever induced in a
war, totaling 140 million pounds, about half of which had been contracted in defending
the American colonies. The severe debt, though, was of little concern compared to the
thirty-five hundred thousand pounds it would cost to supply and train 10,000 troops for
the protection of the colonies (Jennings 145). When the French were removed from the
North, the British wanted the seacoast colonies to continue raising fresh bodies of militia
so that they could take over routine guard duties, releasing regulars for service in the
Caribbean area (Chidsey 145). The colonies, however, were generally altogether sick of
war. They simply did not want a standing army and did not want to be taxed. The
colonists felt this was justified through the notorious slogan “no taxation without
representation”. There were no colonists in the English Parliament, therefore they felt
they could not be taxed. The Grenville Program, first consisting of revenues with the sole
purpose of generating funds, was abhorred in the colonies. Their determination to have
their way fiancinally, although residents of England most definitely carried the burden of
the debt, was a threat to British government, and harsher programs were enforced, paving
the way to revolution.
The war helped to bring about important changes in the British colonies. In
addition to the fact of their ocean-wide distance from the mother country, the colonies
felt themselves less dependent militarily on the British by the end of the war. They
became most concerned with their own problems and put greater value on their own
institutions. The French and Indian War prepared colonists for later battles; it was then
that good leaders such as Washington, Stark, Putnam, and Pomeroy gained invaluable
experience. In other words, the colonists began to think of themselves as American rather
than British. The English had become exasperated in handling the unsatisfiable colonies.
Everything they did seemed to do was met with discordance. Revolution, though not
known at the time, was imminent.
Bailey, Thomas and Kennedy, David. The American Pageant. 9th ed. Massachusetts:
D.C. Heath and Company, 1991.
Chidsey, Donald. The French and Indian War. New York: Crown Publishers, Inc.,1969.
Gipson, Lawrence. “The American Revolution As An Aftermath Of the Great War For
the Empire.” The Causes Of the American Revolution. Ed. by John Wahkle.
Boston: D.C. Heath and Company, 1950, 82-94.
Jennings, Francis. Empire of Fortune. 1st Ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company,
Reeder, Colonel Red. The French and Indian War. New York: Thomas Nelson Inc.,1972.