Monday, January 14, 2013


Borneman's "The French and Indian
War" places it in the context of the
struggles for power in Europe.
January 4, 2013–The past two weeks I have been enjoying the Florida sun and found a book to read when the sun went down that I recommend highly to anyone interested in the origins of the British Empire and the United States of America.

Walter Borneman's 2006 book, published by HarperCollins, shows above all how the British managed to drive the French out of North America – and along with them, eventually, the Spanish and the Native Americans whom they called Indians.

So long as the French were a threat, the American colonies were dependent on the British military to defend them. Ironically, by driving out the French, the British Government under the prime ministership of Pitt the Elder was making possible the independence of their colonies.

Pitt himself would not have minded this outcome of his efforts. He was a fierce devotee of the colonies and vigorously opposed the Stamp Act in 1766 ("The Americans are the sons, not the bastards of England.), argued for removing British troops from Boston and deplored the attitude toward the colonies of Lord North. (Both Pitt and North attended Trinity College, Oxford but they are judged very differently by history.) Although Pitt never set foot in America, he wished not long before his death that he were ten years younger so that he could
spend the remainder of my days in America, which has already given the most brilliant proofs of its independent spirit. (Borneman, p. 305, citing J. C. Long's 1940 book on Pitt.)
Borneman, who lives in Colorado, has previously written about the War of 1812. He shows that George II was wrapped up in keeping his "prized possession," Hanover. The king sent his "most treasured son", the duke of Cumberland, to defend Hanover, but the duke was surrounded by the French at Hastenbeck in Germany, and was forced to surrender Hanover to the French. Cumberland escaped with the help of Colonel Jeffrey Amherst, and on his return to Britain "resigned his military offices in disgrace".

Borneman provides highly readable summaries of the different battles in North American, showing how the outcome of battles hinged on the strategic sense of commanders, and the importance of small numbers of savvy soldiers. He portrays Pontiac as an able military commander but questions how important he was as a leader of the Iroquois or other tribes. At numerous points he suggests that the early allegiance of different tribes to the British was based on lavish gifts, and to the French was based on the comfortable laissez-faire relationship that the French had with their Indian allies.

What the British had going for them is that they brought their women with them and built families. They increased and multiplied. The French came as traders and went home. The imbalance of population meant that the British were favored in the contest between British and French.

In the end, the French and Indian wars - what the Europeans called the Seven Years War - left Europe pretty much the way it started. But it made Britain lord of North America, and along the way established the British Navy as preeminent, and created bases for the British - for example, in India - that became the cornerstones of the British Empire. Pitt, and not George II, understood what was going to be important in the decades ahead.

The problem for the British after the dust settled is that the wars were costly and had to paid for and, many thought, why not make the colonies pay for their own defense?  The Stamp Act imposed duties on imported goods. To which Benjamin Franklin suggested that the new fashion would be "to wear their old clothes over again." Pitt in 1766 succeeded in having it repealed. The Quartering Act billeted British soldiers on the homes of American colonists and the New York legislature voted to nullify it. The British were "aghast".

George III was "contemptuous" of the colonials. Pitt's chancellor of the exchequer, Charles Townsend, seeing Pitt ailing, moved ahead to do the king's bidding and imposed new taxes on imports into the colonies of glass, lead, paints, paper and... tea.

The last straw were the "Intolerable Acts", of which the Quebec Act of 1774 appears to Borneman as the most significant. It granted territory north of the Ohio river to the British colony at Quebec. George Washington had claimed these lands for Virginia in 1753 and in 1763 they were nominally marked as an Indian reserve, while several states had their eye on them for purposes of westward expansion.  The Acts also enacted reprisals for the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor.
All this came to a head on April 18, in 1775, when two lanterns were hung in the steeple of Boston's old North Church and their beams sent messengers riding toward Lexington and Concord.
This is a fascinating book and its 400 pages read like a thriller.

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