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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·Relations with the Indians and the French · Colonial Relations with the British Government·»

The Effects of Warfare on the Colonies

The various wars with the French and the Indians, trivial in detail as they seem to-day, had a profound influence on colonial life and on the destiny of America. Circumstances beyond the control of popular assemblies, jealous of their individual powers, compelled coöperation among them, grudging and stingy no doubt, but still coöperation. The American people, more eager to be busy in their fields or at their trades, were simply forced to raise and support armies, to learn the arts of warfare, and to practice, if in a small theater, the science of statecraft. These forces, all cumulative, drove the colonists, so tenaciously provincial in their habits, in the direction of nationalism.

The New England Confederation.—It was in their efforts to deal with the problems presented by the Indian and French menace that the Americans took the first steps toward union. Though there were many common ties among the settlers of New England, it required a deadly fear of the Indians to produce in 1643 the New England Confederation, composed of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven. The colonies so united were bound together in “a firm and perpetual league of friendship and amity for offense and defense, mutual service and succor, upon all just occasions.” They made provision for distributing the burdens of wars among the members and provided for a congress of commissioners from each colony to determine upon common policies. For some twenty years the Confederation was active and it continued to hold meetings until after the extinction of the Indian peril on the immediate border.

Virginia, no less than Massachusetts, was aware of the importance of intercolonial coöperation. In the middle of the seventeenth century, the Old Dominion began treaties of commerce and amity with New York and the colonies of New England. In 1684 delegates from Virginia met at Albany with the agents of New York and Massachusetts to discuss problems of mutual defense. A few years later the Old Dominion coöperated loyally with the Carolinas in defending their borders against Indian forays.

The Albany Plan of Union.—An attempt at a general colonial union was made in 1754. On the suggestion of the Lords of Trade in England, a conference was held at Albany to consider Indian relations, to devise measures of defense against the French, and to enter into “articles of union and confederation for the general defense of his Majesty’s subjects and interests in North America as well in time of peace as of war.” New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland were represented. After a long discussion, a plan of union, drafted mainly, it seems, by Benjamin Franklin, was adopted and sent to the colonies and the crown for approval. The colonies, jealous of their individual rights, refused to accept the scheme and the king disapproved it for the reason, Franklin said, that it had “too much weight in the democratic part of the constitution.” Though the Albany union failed, the document is still worthy of study because it forecast many of the perplexing problems that were not solved until thirty-three years afterward, when another convention of which also Franklin was a member drafted the Constitution of the United States.

Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin

The Military Education of the Colonists.—The same wars that showed the provincials the meaning of union likewise instructed them in the art of defending their institutions. Particularly was this true of the last French and Indian conflict, which stretched all the way from Maine to the Carolinas and made heavy calls upon them all for troops. The answer, it is admitted, was far from satisfactory to the British government and the conduct of the militiamen was far from professional; but thousands of Americans got a taste, a strong taste, of actual fighting in the field. Men like George Washington and Daniel Morgan learned lessons that were not forgotten in after years. They saw what American militiamen could do under favorable circumstances and they watched British regulars operating on American soil. “This whole transaction,” shrewdly remarked Franklin of Braddock’s campaign, “gave us Americans the first suspicion that our exalted ideas of the prowess of British regular troops had not been well founded.” It was no mere accident that the Virginia colonel who drew his sword under the elm at Cambridge and took command of the army of the Revolution was the brave officer who had “spurned the whistle of bullets” at the memorable battle in western Pennsylvania.

Financial Burdens and Commercial Disorder.—While the provincials were learning lessons in warfare they were also paying the bills. All the conflicts were costly in treasure as in blood. King Philip’s war left New England weak and almost bankrupt. The French and Indian struggle was especially expensive. The twenty-five thousand men put in the field by the colonies were sustained only by huge outlays of money. Paper currency streamed from the press and debts were accumulated. Commerce was driven from its usual channels and prices were enhanced. When the end came, both England and America were staggering under heavy liabilities, and to make matters worse there was a fall of prices accompanied by a commercial depression which extended over a period of ten years. It was in the midst of this crisis that measures of taxation had to be devised to pay the cost of the war, precipitating the quarrel which led to American independence.

The Expulsion of French Power from North America.—The effects of the defeat administered to France, as time proved, were difficult to estimate. Some British statesmen regarded it as a happy circumstance that the colonists, already restive under their administration, had no foreign power at hand to aid them in case they struck for independence. American leaders, on the other hand, now that the soldiers of King Louis were driven from the continent, thought that they had no other country to fear if they cast off British sovereignty. At all events, France, though defeated, was not out of the sphere of American influence; for, as events proved, it was the fortunate French alliance negotiated by Franklin that assured the triumph of American arms in the War of the Revolution.

«·Relations with the Indians and the French · Colonial Relations with the British Government·»