French and Indian War

French and Indian War2018-11-28T09:54:38+00:00

The French and Indian War for APUSH

About the Author: Melissa Smith has taught A.P. U.S. History for over 20 years.  She has been involved in the A.P. U.S. History reading for 18 years as a reader, a table leader, the DBQ question leader, and currently as an exam leader.  She also recently served on the Test Development Committee for the SAT U.S. History Subject Test.

The French and Indian War

The French and Indian War (1754-1763) established Britain as the European authority in North America, catalyzed the beginnings of an American identity, and set the stage for the American Revolution of 1776.  With a British victory, Britain not only solidified its land claims in North America but also thoroughly defeated its European enemies, which left Britain as the world’s ruling super power. Unfortunately, the large expense of the war required Britain to raise taxes across the empire and end the salutary neglect of the last century. As Britain began implementing and enforcing new taxes, the colonists in America−fresh off being bonded by fighting a war−realized that only together could they fight against Britain’s attempts at governance and control over the colonies.

The French and Indian War (1754-1763) established Britain as the European authority in North America, catalyzed the beginnings of an American identity, and set the stage for the American Revolution of 1776.

A World War That Started in… Ohio?

The French and Indian War began in the Ohio Valley.

The French and Indian War began in the Ohio Valley.  While France had long claimed the vast territory west of the Appalachian Mountains, only about 90,000 French colonists lived there.  In the comparably smaller parcel of land east of the Appalachians occupied by the British, just fewer than 2 million colonists called that home.  Many Virginians desired expansion and formed the Ohio Company to speculate and acquire western land, in spite of French claims.   In 1754, the governor of colonial Virginia sent a young, 22-year-old George Washington to the Ohio Valley to warn off the French and protect Virginia’s investments.  Washington led a small company of colonial volunteers and Native American allies who fought with the French near Great Meadows, not far from present-day Pittsburg.  Washington’s men killed many French Canadians, including their commander, and then retreated to Fort Necessity a few miles away.  As Washington withdrew, the French established alliances with the Delaware and Shawnee people.  Within a few months, a larger French force surrounded Fort Necessity and compelled Washington to surrender but allowed him and his survivors to return to Virginia.  Historians consider Washington’s skirmishes with the French to be the opening battles of the French and Indian War.

The First Congress. Kinda.

The Albany Congress would lay the groundwork for future colonial meetings such as the Stamp Act Congress and the Continental Congresses.

At almost the same time as Washington’s surrender at Fort Necessity, seven colonies (New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland) met at the Albany Congress.  Some colonists wanted to create a defense against the growing French and Indian threat as well as attempt to secure an alliance with the Mohawk people.  Benjamin Franklin used this meeting to present his Plan of Union, which proposed the creation of a colonial executive power that would oversee trade laws and military preparedness for the British North American colonies.  The colonial assemblies, however, never took this Plan of Union very seriously.  Colonial assemblies were uninterested in combining money, militias, and the authority they already wielded independently of each other, worried that this Plan of Union would dilute their individual authority.  However, the Albany Congress would lay the groundwork for future colonial meetings such as the Stamp Act Congress and the Continental Congresses.  This set an important precedent for collaborative meetings between the colonies and created the nascent idea of an American identity–separate and distinct from the identities of a “Virginian” or a “New Yorker.”  Additionally, the Albany Congress was the first expression of the idea of a single, national government uniting all of the colonies into one political body.

Seven Years War

By 1756, the North American colonial war evolved into a world war, the Seven Years’ War, as the European empires allied themselves against each other.

By 1756, the North American colonial war evolved into a world war, the Seven Years’ War, as the European empires allied themselves against each other.  Britain and Prussia allied against the forces of France, Spain, and Austria.  Britain not only dedicated more soldiers and supplies to the war in North America but also launched major offenses in the West Indies, India, and West Africa.  The increased number of British soldiers and equipment in North America led to Britain successfully defeating the French in Quebec in 1759 and Montreal the following year.

The French and Indian War concluded with the Treaty of Paris signed in 1763.  Britain won control of French Canada and all land east of the Mississippi River, including Spanish Florida.  In compensation for a lost Florida, Spain received all land west of the Mississippi River.

To the Victor, Go the Spoils

The consequences of the French and Indian War are significant to the study of United States history.

The consequences of the French and Indian War are significant to the study of United States history.  For one, France was humiliated by this defeat and wanted revenge; their simmering anger will eventually help American ambassadors to convince France to ally with them in America’s war for independence from Britain.  For the British North American colonies, the conclusion of the war initially created a patriotic zeal and pride in belonging to the British Empire.  Colonists had fought side by side with the British military and successfully defeated their foes.  Furthermore,  British colonists fought alongside their fellow colonists, which created a growing sense of American nationalism  Many colonists began to think of themselves as Americans, instead of members of disparate and dissimilar colonies.

Mother Country v. Child Country

The British government was exasperated at the colonists’ opportunism, particularly their persistence in trading with the French while simultaneously fighting them on the battlefield.

This patriotism perhaps covered up some festering problems between the colonies and the homeland.  Many British colonists were unimpressed with the British soldiers’ abilities at frontier combat and were frustrated by the contempt that the British commanders had for the colonial fighters.  In return, the British government was exasperated at the colonists’ opportunism, particularly their persistence in trading with the French while simultaneously fighting them on the battlefield.  This frustration will lead to the Sugar Act in 1764–an attempt to restrict the molasses trade between the British colonies and the French West Indies–as well as the issuance of writs of assistance to allow for searches of Colonial ships in an attempt to stop illegal trade.

The war also raised serious questions for the British government about how they would manage the North American land gained from the treaty.

The war also raised serious questions for the British government about how they would manage the North American land gained from the treaty.  Thousands of Native Americans occupied this land while thousands of British colonists hungrily wished to expand their trade and their farms westward.  The outbreak of Pontiac’s War in 1763 illustrated this tension between the Native Americans and British troops and colonists.  Pontiac, an Ottawa leader, helped to organize Native people from numerous tribes and attacked several British forts and settlements.  Hostilities ended with peace negotiations between the Native Americans and the British government, but the problem of colonial settlement on Native land was never resolved to anyone’s satisfaction.

A Debt Must Be Paid

Most notably, the French and Indian War dramatically increased the British debt.  Understandably the British government would need to increase taxes to pay back this debt and the colonies would need to begin paying their fair share.  This would lead to colonial taxes such as the Stamp Act (1765) and the Townshend Acts (1767), which colonists met with great resistance, claiming the British government had no right to “taxation without representation,” because the colonists had no elected representation in Parliament where the taxes were being created.

Most notably, the French and Indian War dramatically increased the British debt.

In Conclusion…

The French and Indian War is an example of the tense and brutal competition of European powers, their colonists, and Native Americans over land in North America.   While British soldiers, British colonists, and Native Americans may have fought side by side in this conflict, the French and Indian War would dramatically alter the relationships of these competing interests.  Great Britain needed to pay for this war, British colonists began to increasingly identify as “Americans,” and Native Americans had to create new alliances and fight for their very survival.  This type of a global war was not new in 1756 nor would it be the last of this kind of multi-national conflict.  After every global war, there is a dramatic shift in the international power structure. Britain, as the winner, became the world’s foremost superpower with an empire that spanned the entire globe. Without a significant enemy, Britain turned its focus towards developing its colonies. However, the last century of salutary neglect in the colonies established an autonomous spirit in the newly united American colonists. This collision course would result in the next war that Britain and the colonists would fight.

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