Why had Britain Emerged as the Dominant Force in the North American theatre of the Seven Years War by 1763? The 7 years war was the closest to “Total War1” that the world came to before the start of World War 1 in 19142. For this investigation, I will be focusing on the American theatre of war, fought between the British and French, with the involvement of the American and Canadian settlers as militiamen, and North American Indian tribes3. Although the war was declared from 1756 to the “Peace of Paris” in 1763, the French attempts to make “New France4” had been evident as early as 1754.
I will be focusing on individuals such as William Pitt the Elder, King George III, Major General James Wolfe, General Daniel Webb and Marquis de Montcalm. Conflict between the British and the French was not new. Indeed, the previous war between these two nations, devout in their methods of imperialism had only ended in 1748 with the Treaty of Aix – la – Chapelle5. British and French diplomats had also met in Paris, 1750 to try and solve these territorial disputes.
This feuding nature and desire for territory led to a delicate balance of power globally, and centred around the Ohio area was a crumbling power triangle between the British, French and the Iroquois Confederacy by 1754. Tensions also spread in 1752 when Marquis Duquesne was made Governor General of “New France,” with direct instructions to take control of the Ohio valley, and remove all British influence. These un-declared French hostilities were illustrated by the series of fort building6, and the sending of troops to western Pennsylvania.
As sections of America were colonies of Britain, they were responsive to British actions. When Great Britain went to war with France, British Colonies automatically faced against neighbouring French colonies and prepared defences against the depredations of the French navy7. Indeed, the first action of the Seven Years War in America8 was the pre-emptive strike on Fort Duquesne9 by George Washington10, after being informed by his superiors that the French were planning an attack.
This pre-emptive strike on the French shows the underlying British mistrust and fear of French attacks in this “Bush Fire War11 “Between 1754 and 1758… the New World became the Graveyard of British Military Reputations” – Lawrence Henry Gibson This quotation from Lawrence Henry Gibson is an illustration of how badly the British fared in the initial parts of the Seven Years War in America. This was due to a variety of factors, namely their involvement of troops in other areas of their empire12, financial management and the lack of the realisation of the war present in north America.
The French were fully committed to the war in America and the defence of “New France”, with the capturing, building and attacking of British forts13. One of the most notable French victories was the taking of Fort William Henry14 in 1757. These events are an example of Marquis du Montcalm’s use of Indian allies, and an illustration of the brutality inflicted by the French and their allies, with the massacre of the troops as they marched from the fort. The failure to keep the forts was partly blamed on General Daniel Webb, who was described as incompetent for duty.
The removal of fort William Henry left many miles of countryside unmanned by the British. The year of 1758 fared far better for the British, with their change in attitude towards the war. The end of 1757 had had little hope, except in the region of Pennsylvania, where the Quakers15 were acting as informal representatives. Led by the merchant, Israel Pemberton, they had vast sums of money to support the negotiations. The most influential change in the war, however, was the reversal in the policy of the war.
William Pitt16 saw that the war was not going to plan under the leadership of Lord Loudoun. “Ten days before Christmas, William Pitt had decided to relieve Loudoun of his duties and indeed to change the policies by which he had done his best to fight the war. 17” This change in the approach to the fighting of the war reflects the power that William Pitt had gained in England, after overcoming his main political rival, the Duke of Cumberland. Pitt’s change in policy was the reason why Britain was able to emerge as the dominant power in North America following the Seven Years War.
Pitt advocated to “Hold the line against France where it was strongest, in Europe, while striking at its weakest point, North America. 18” In order to accomplish this move, he intended to use Britain’s greatest military strength, its navy, and to prevent the French from re-supplying by gaining superiority over the Atlantic. It would also be necessary to the British army to cooperate with the American colonists, if they were to complete Pitt’s ultimate goal “The elimination of France as an Imperial power in North America19.
” In order to accomplish this goal, it would be necessary to attack the French in the West Indies, West Africa and India. It was also essential for Britain not to get drawn into the war in Europe, and so was necessary for the British to subsidise their German20 allies to keep the French pre-occupied in Europe, while Britain conquered France’s empire. “The most important struggle of all was taking place in North America, however, where the westward drive of the British settlers into the Ohio region clashed with the French scheme to link their Canadian territories with the Mississippi21
There are many factors that aided Britain to emerge as the dominant power in North America following the “Peace of Paris, 1763. ” On a scale of importance, the most important was Pitt’s use of the armed forces22 and Britain’s naval power. More troops were gained by Pitt’s move to rely on the reformed militia23 as the defenders of the British mainland, and so to move the regiments stationed in Britain to other of the empire. In order to keep the French involved in as many conflicts as possible, Pitt also ordered the Territorial Army to launch raids on the French mainland.
If the French were to defend their Atlantic ports effectively, they would need to divert troops from Germany. Frederick, the leader of Germany, pointed out in 1756 “If France strips her Channel coasts to form her army [for Germany], the English fleet can profit from it and … spread an alarm the whole length of Brittany and Normandy24. ” This new approach to the war placed the conquest of “New France” as utmost in its list of priorities, and so Pitt needed to “tap Americas resources like never before, especially its manpower25.
” Examples of this could be seen with the increased use of Indian tribes, and more American militia. In order to do this effectively, Pitt resolved to treat his colonies as allies, and not like “subordinate jurisdictions26. ” It can be argued that this attempt by Pitt to inspire patriotism in the American colonies may have led to the nationalistic feelings that sparked the American war of Independence, making this policy almost too effective27. This new approach to the fighting of the war was a complete opposite to the policy that had been pursued by Braddock and Loudoun.
Pitt also changed the ranking system, making provincials majors, colonels, and generals rank the same as their opposite ranks in the British regulars, being junior to regulars of the same grade. Support was gained by Pitt following the appointment of George, Lord Anson in the post of first lord of the Admiralty. This was useful in two ways, as Anson was an important ally of the Duke of Newcastle, and a keen supporter of Pitt’s navalist approach to the war. The appointment of an older general, at 77, General Sir John Ligonier (who was also a Newcastle supporter), saw the war enter a new phase.