Pitt proposed, as the work of the first campaign, to take Louisburg – the only harbour which France possessed on the Atlantic; to take Fort du Quesne, in the valley of the Ohio; and Ticonderoga, in the north. He was able to accomplish more than he hoped. Louisburg was taken; Cape Breton and the island of St. John became English ground. Communication between France and her endangered colony was henceforth impossible. The French ships were captured or destroyed, and the flag of France disappeared from the Canadian coast. Fort du Quesne fell into English hands, and assumed the English name of Pittsburg, under which it has become famous as a centre of peaceful industry. France had no longer a footing in the Mississippi valley. 1758 A.D. At Ticonderoga, incapable generalship caused shameful miscarriage: the English attack failed, and a lamentable slaughter was sustained. But the progress which had been made afforded ground to expect that one campaign more would terminate the dominion of France on the American continent.
The spirit of the British nation rose with the return of that success to which they had long been strangers. Pitt laid his plans with the view of immediate conquest. Parliament expressed strongly its approbation of his policy and his management, and voted liberal sums to confirm the zeal of the colonists. The people gave enthusiastic support to the war. Their supreme concern for the time was to humble France by seizing all her American possessions. The men of New England and New York lent their eager help to a cause which was peculiarly their own. The internal condition of Canada prepared an easy way for a resolute invader. The harvest had been scanty; no supply could now be hoped for from abroad, for the English ships maintained strict blockade; food was scarce; a corrupt and unpopular Government seized, under pretence of public necessity, grain which was needed to keep in life the families of the unhappy colonists. There were no more than fifteen thousand men fit to bear arms in the colony, and these were for the most part undisciplined and reluctant to fight. The Governor vainly endeavoured to stimulate their valour by fiery proclamations. The gloom and apathy of approaching overthrow already filled their hearts.
1759 A.D. It was the design of Pitt to attack simultaneously all the remaining strongholds of France. An army of eleven thousand men, moving northward from New York by the valley of the Hudson, took with ease the forts of Ticonderoga and Crown Point; and the fair region which lies around Lake Champlain and Lake George passed for ever away from the dominion of France. A smaller force attacked Fort Niagara, the sole representative now of French authority on Lake Ontario. This stronghold fell, and France had no longer a footing on the shores of the Great Lakes.
In the east the progress of the British arms was less rapid. Montcalm held Quebec, strongly fortified, but insufficiently provided with food. He had a force of twelve thousand men under his command – heartless and ill-armed, and swarms of allied Indians lurked in the woods, waiting their opportunity.
The long winter of Lower Canada delayed the opening of the campaign, and June had nearly closed before the British ships dropped their anchors off the Isle of Orleans, and Wolfe was able to look at the fortress which he had come to subdue. His survey was not encouraging. The French flag waved defiantly over tremendous and inaccessible heights, crowned with formidable works, which stretched far into the woods and barred every way of approach. Wolfe forced a landing, and established batteries within reach of the city. For some weeks he bombarded both the upper and the lower town, and laid both in ruins. But the defensive power of Quebec was unimpaired. The misery of the inhabitants was extreme. “We are without hope and without food,” wrote one: “God has forsaken us.” Regardless of their sufferings, the French general maintained his resolute defence.
The brief summer was passing, and Wolfe perceived that no real progress had been made. He knew the hopes which his countrymen entertained; and he felt deeply that the exceptional confidence which had been reposed in him called for a return of exceptional service. July 31, 1759 A.D. He resolved to carry his men across the river and force the French intrenchments. But disaster fell, at every point, on the too hazardous attempt. His transports grounded; the French shot pierced and sunk some of his boats; a heavy rain-storm damped the ammunition of the troops; some of his best regiments, fired by the wild enthusiasm of battle, dashed themselves against impregnable defences and were destroyed. The assault was a complete failure, and the baffled assailants withdrew, weakened by heavy loss.
The agony of mind which resulted from this disaster bore with crushing weight upon Wolfe’s enfeebled frame, and for weeks he lay fevered and helpless. During his convalescence he invited his officers to meet for consultation in regard to the most hopeful method of attack. One of the officers suggested, and the others recommended, a scheme full of danger, but with possibilities of decisive success. It was proposed that the army should be placed upon the high ground to the westward of the upper town and receive there the battle which the French would be forced to offer. The assailants were largely outnumbered by the garrison; escape was impossible, and defeat involved ruin. But Wolfe did not fear that the French could inflict defeat on the army which he led. The enterprise had an irresistible attraction to his daring mind. He trusted his soldiers, and he determined to stake the fortune of the campaign upon their power to hold the position to which he would conduct them.
The Heights of Abraham stretch westward for three miles from the defences of the upper town, and form a portion of a lofty table-land which extends to a distance from the city of nine miles. They are from two to three hundred feet above the level of the river. Their river-side is well-nigh perpendicular and wholly inaccessible, save where a narrow footpath leads to the summit. It was by this path – on which two men could not walk abreast – that Wolfe intended to approach the enemy. The French had a few men guarding the upper end of the path; but the guard was a weak one, for they apprehended no attack here. Scarcely ever before had an army advanced to battle by a track so difficult.
Sept. 12, 1759 A.D. The troops were all received on board the ships, which sailed for a few miles up stream. During the night the men re-embarked in a flotilla of boats and dropped down with the receding tide. They were instructed to be silent. No sound of oar was heard, or of voice, excepting that of Wolfe, who in a low tone repeated to his officers the touching, and in his own case prophetic, verses of Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard.” Quickly the landing-place was reached, and the men stepped silently on shore. One by one they climbed the narrow woodland path. As they neared the summit the guard, in panic, fired their muskets down the cliff and fled. The ships had now dropped down the river, and the boats plied incessantly between them and the landing-place. All night long the landing proceeded. The first rays of the morning sun shone upon an army of nearly five thousand veteran British soldiers solidly arrayed upon the Heights of Abraham, eager for battle and confident of victory. Wolfe marched them forward till his front was within a mile of the city, and there he waited the attack of the French.
Montcalm had been wholly deceived as to the purposes of the British, and was unprepared for their unwelcome appearance on the Heights. He had always shunned battle; for the larger portion of his troops were Canadian militia, on whom little reliance could be placed. He held them therefore within his intrenchments, and trusted that the approaching winter would drive away the assailants and save Canada. Even now he might have sheltered himself behind his defences, and delayed the impending catastrophe. But his store of provisions and of ammunition approached exhaustion; and as the English ships rode unopposed in the river, he had no ray of hope from without. Montcalm elected that the great controversy should be decided by battle and at once.
He marched out to the attack with seven thousand five hundred men, of whom less than one-half were regular soldiers, besides a swarm of Indians, almost worthless for fighting such as this. The French advanced firing, and inflicted considerable loss upon their enemy. The British stood immovable, unless when they silently closed the ghastly openings which the bullets of the French created. At length the hostile lines fronted each other at a distance of forty yards, and Wolfe gave the command to fire. From the levelled muskets of the British lines there burst a well-aimed and deadly volley. That fatal discharge gained the battle, gained the city of Quebec – gained dominion of a continent. The Canadian militia broke and fled. Montcalm’s heroic presence held for a moment the soldiers to their duty; but the British, flushed with victory, swept forward on the broken and fainting enemy: Montcalm fell pierced by a mortal wound; the French army in hopeless rout sought shelter within the ramparts of Quebec.
Both generals fell. Wolfe was thrice struck by bullets, and died upon the field, with his latest breath giving God thanks for this crowning success. Montcalm died on the following day, pleased that his eyes were not to witness the surrender of Quebec. The battle lasted only for a few minutes; and having in view the vast issues which depended on it, the loss was inconsiderable. Only fifty-five British were killed and six hundred wounded; the loss of the French was twofold that of their enemies.
A few days after the battle, Quebec was surrendered into the hands of the conquerors. But the French did not at once recognize absolute defeat. 1760 A.D. In the spring of the following year a French army of ten thousand men gained a victory over the British garrison of Quebec on the Heights of Abraham, and laid siege to the city. But this appearance of reviving vigour was delusive. The speedy approach of a few British ships broke up the siege and compelled a hasty retreat. Before the season closed, a British army, which the French had no power to resist, arrived before Montreal and received the immediate surrender of the defenceless city. Great Britain received, besides this, the surrender of all the possessions of France in Canada from the St. Lawrence to the unknown regions of the north and the west. The militia and the Indians were allowed to return unmolested to their homes. The soldiers were carried back to France in British ships. All civil officers were invited to gather up their papers and other paraphernalia of government and take shipping homewards. For French rule in Canada had ceased, and the Anglo-Saxon reigned supreme from Florida to the utmost northern limit of the continent.
A century and a half had elapsed since Champlain laid the foundations of French empire among the forests of the St. Lawrence valley. During those years the nations of Western Europe were possessed by an eager desire to extend their authority over the territories which recent discovery had opened. On the shores of the Northern Atlantic there were a New France, a New Scotland, a New England, a New Netherlands, a New Sweden. Southwards stretched the vast domain for whose future the occupation by Spain had already prepared deadly and enduring blight. France and England contended for possession of the great Indian peninsula. Holland and Portugal, with a vigour which their later years do not exhibit, founded settlements alike in Eastern and in Western seas, gaining thus expanded trade and vast increase of wealth.
France had shared the prevailing impulse, and put forth her strength to establish in Canada a dominion worthy to bear her name. The wise minister Colbert perceived the greatness of the opportunity, and spared neither labour nor outlay to foster the growth of colonies which would secure to France a firm hold of this magnificent territory. Successive Kings lent aid in every form. Well-chosen Governors brought to the colony every advantage which honest and able guidance could afford. Soldiers were furnished for defence; food was supplied in seasons of scarcity. A fertile soil and trading opportunities which were not surpassed in any part of the continent, offered inducements fitted to attract crowds of the enterprising and the needy. But under every encouragement New France remained feeble and unprogressive. When she passed under British rule, her population was scarcely over sixty thousand, and had been for several years actually diminishing. Quebec, her chief city, had barely seven thousand inhabitants; Montreal had only four thousand. The rest of the people cultivated, thriftlessly, patches of land along the shores of the great river and its affluents; or found, like the savages around them, a rude and precarious subsistence by the chase. The revenue of the colony was no more than ?14,000 – a sum insufficient to meet the expenditure. Its exports were only ?115,000.
While France was striving thus vainly to plant in Canada colonies which should bear her name and reinforce her greatness, some Englishmen who were dissatisfied with the conditions of their life at home, began to settle a few hundred miles away on the shores of the same great continent. They had no encouragement from Kings or statesmen; the only boon they gained, and even that with difficulty, was permission to be gone. When famine came upon them, they suffered its pains without relief; their own brave hearts and strong arms were their sufficient defence. But their rise to strength and greatness was rapid. Within a period of ten years twenty thousand Englishmen had found homes in the American settlements. Before the seventeenth century closed, Virginia alone contained a population larger than that of all Canada. When the final struggle opened, the thirteen English colonies contained a population of between two and three million to contrast with the poor sixty thousand Frenchmen who were their neighbours on the north. The greatness of the colonies can be best measured by a comparison with the mother country. England was then a country of less than six million; Scotland of one million; Ireland of two million.
The explanation of this vast difference of result between the efforts of the English and those of the French to colonize the American continent is to be found mainly in the widely different quality of the two nations. England, in the words of Adam Smith, “bred and formed men capable of achieving such great actions and laying the foundation of so great an empire.” France bred no such men; or if she did so, they remained at home unconcerned with the founding of empires abroad. The Englishman who took up the work of colonizing, came of his own free choice to make for himself a home; he brought with him a free and bold spirit; a purpose and capacity to direct his own public affairs. The Frenchman came reluctantly, thrust forth from the home he preferred, and to which he hoped to return. He came, submissive to the tyranny which he had not learned to hate. He was part of the following of a great lord, to whom he owed absolute obedience. He did not care to till the ground: he would hunt or traffic with the Indians in furs till the happy day when he was permitted to go back to France. Great empires are not founded with materials such as these.
But France was unfortunate in her system no less than in her men. Feudalism was still in its unbroken strength. The soil of France was still parcelled out among great lords, who rendered military service to the King; and was still cultivated by peasants, who rendered military service to the great lord. Feudalism was now carried into the Canadian wilderness. Vast tracts of land were bestowed upon persons of influence, who undertook to provide settlers. The seigneur established his own abode in a strong, defensible position, and settled his peasantry around him. They paid a small rent and were bound to follow him to such wars as he thought good to wage, whether against the Indians or the English. He reserved for his own benefit, or sold to any who would purchase, the right to fish and to trade in furs; he ground the corn of his tenantry at rates which he himself fixed. He administered justice and punished all crimes excepting treason and murder. When the feudal system was about to enter on its period of decay in Europe, France began to lay upon that unstable basis the foundation of her colonial empire.
The infant commerce of the colony was strangled by monopolies. Great trading companies purchased at court, or favourites obtained gratuitously, exclusive right to buy furs from the Indians and to import all foreign goods used in the colonies – fixing at their own discretion the prices which they were to pay and to receive. Occasionally in a hard season they bought up the crops and sold them at famine prices. The violation of these monopolies by unlicensed persons was punishable by death. The colonists had no thought of self-government; they were a light-hearted, submissive race, who were contented with what the King was pleased to send them. Their officials plundered them, and with base avarice wasted their scanty stores. The people had no power for their own protection, and their cry of suffering was slow to gain from the distant King that justice which they were not able to enforce.
The priest came with his people to guard their orthodoxy in this new land – to preserve that profound ignorance in which lay the roots of their devotion. Government discouraged the printing-press; scarcely any of the peasantry could so much as read. At a time when Connecticut expended one-fourth of its revenues upon the common school, the Canadian peasant was wholly uninstructed. In Quebec there had been, almost from the days of Champlain, a college for the training of priests. There and at Montreal were Jesuit seminaries, in which children of the well-to-do classes received a little instruction. A feeble attempt had been made to educate the children of the Indians; but for the children of the ordinary working Frenchmen settled in Canada no provision whatever had been made.
The influences which surrounded the infancy of the English colonies were eminently favourable to robust growth. Coming of their own free choice, the colonists brought with them none of the injurious restraints which in the Old World still impeded human progress. The burdensome observances of feudalism were not admitted within the new empire. Every colonist was a landowner. In some States the settlers divided among themselves the lands which they found unoccupied, waiting no consent of King or of noble. In others, they received, for prices which were almost nominal, grants of land from persons – as William Penn, who had received large territorial rights from the sovereign. In all cases, whether by purchase or by appropriation, they became the independent owners of the lands which they tilled. At the beginning, they were too insignificant to be regarded by the Government at home: favoured by this beneficent neglect, they were allowed to conduct in peace their own public affairs. As their importance increased, the Crown asserted its right of control; but their exercise of the privilege of self-government was scarcely ever interfered with. The men who founded the New England States carried with them into the wilderness a deep conviction that universal education was indispensable to the success of their enterprise. While the French Canadian, despising agriculture, roamed the forest in pursuit of game, ignorant himself, and the father of ignorant children, the thoughtful New England farmer was helping with all his might to build up a system of common schools by which every child born on that free soil should be effectively taught. Thus widely dissimilar were the methods according to which France and England sought to colonize the lately-discovered continent. An equally wide dissimilarity of result was inevitable.