The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle, which gave a brief repose to Europe, left unsettled the contending claims of France and England upon American territory. 1748 A.D. France had possessions in Canada and also in Louisiana, at the extreme south, many hundreds of miles away. She claimed the entire line of the Mississippi river, with its tributaries; and she had given effect to her pretensions by erecting forts at intervals to connect her settlements in the north with those in the south. Her claim included the Valley of the Ohio. This was a vast and fertile region, whose value had just been discovered by the English. It was yet unpeopled; but its vegetation gave evidence of wealth unknown to the colonists in the eastern settlements. The French, to establish their claim, sent three hundred soldiers into the valley, and nailed upon the trees leaden plates which bore the royal arms of France. They strove by gifts and persuasion to gain over the natives, and expelled the English traders who had made their adventurous way into those recesses. The English, on their part, were not idle. A great trading company was formed, which, in return for certain grants of land, became bound to colonize the valley, to establish trading relations with the Indians, and to maintain a competent military force. This was in the year 1749. In that age there was but one solution of such difficulties. Governments had not learned to reason; they could only fight. Early in 1751 both parties were actively preparing for war. That war went ill with France. When the sword was sheathed in 1759, she had lost not only Ohio, but the whole of Canada.
1754 A.D. When the fighting began it was conducted on the English side wholly by the colonists. Virginia raised a little army. Washington, then a lad of twenty-one, was offered the command, so great was the confidence already felt in his capacity. It was war in miniature as yet. The object of Washington in the campaign was to reach a certain fort on the Ohio, and hold it as a barrier against French encroachment. He had his artillery to carry with him, and to render that possible he had to make a road through the wilderness. He struggled heroically with the difficulties of his position, but he could not advance at any better speed than two miles a-day; and he was not destined to reach the fort on the Ohio. After toiling on as he best might for six weeks, he learned that the French were seeking him with a force far outnumbering his. He halted, and hastily constructed a rude intrenchment, which he called Fort Necessity, because his men had nearly starved while they worked at it. He had three hundred Virginians with him, and some Indians. The Indians deserted so soon as occasion arose for their services. The French attack was not long withheld. Early one summer morning a sentinel came in bleeding from a French bullet. All that day the fight lasted. At night the French summoned Washington to surrender.
But now the English Government awoke to the necessity of vigorous measures to rescue the endangered Valley of the Ohio. A campaign was planned which was to expel the French from Ohio, and wrest from them some portions of their Canadian territory. The execution of this great design was intrusted to General Braddock, with a force which it was deemed would overbear all resistance. Braddock was a veteran who had seen the wars of forty years. Among the fields on which he had gained his knowledge of war was Culloden, where he had borne a part in trampling out the rebellion of the Scotch. He was a brave and experienced soldier, and a likely man, it was thought, to do the work assigned to him. But that proved a sad miscalculation. Braddock had learned the rules of war; but he had no capacity to comprehend its principles. In the pathless forests of America he could do nothing better than strive to give literal effect to those maxims which he had found applicable in the well-trodden battle-grounds of Europe.
The failure of Washington in his first campaign had not deprived him of public confidence. Braddock heard such accounts of his efficiency that he invited him to join his staff. Washington, eager to efface the memory of his defeat, gladly accepted the offer.
1755 A.D. The troops disembarked at Alexandria. The colonists, little used to the presence of regular soldiers, were greatly emboldened by their splendid aspect and faultless discipline, and felt that the hour of final triumph was at hand. After some delay, the army, with such reinforcements as the province afforded, began its march. Braddock’s object was to reach Fort Du Quesne, the great centre of French influence on the Ohio. It was this same fort of which Washington endeavoured so manfully to possess himself in his disastrous campaign of last year.
Fort Du Quesne had been built by the English, and taken from them by the French. It stood at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela; which rivers, by their union at this point, form the Ohio. It was a rude piece of fortification, but the circumstances admitted of no better. The fort was built of the trunks of trees; wooden huts for the soldiers surrounded it. A little space had been cleared in the forest, and a few patches of wheat and Indian corn grew luxuriantly in that rich soil. The unbroken forest stretched all around. Three years later the little fort was retaken by the English, and named Fort Pitt. Then in time it grew to be a town, and was called Pittsburg. And men found in its neighbourhood boundless wealth of iron and of coal. To-day a great and fast-growing city stands where, a century ago, the rugged fort with its cluster of rugged huts were the sole occupants. And the rivers, then so lonely, are ploughed by many keels; and the air is dark with the smoke of innumerable furnaces. The judgment of the sagacious Englishmen who deemed this a locality which they would do well to get hold of, has been amply borne out by the experience of posterity.
Braddock had no doubt that the fort would yield to him directly he showed himself before it. Benjamin Franklin looked at the project with his shrewd, cynical eye. He told Braddock that he would assuredly take the fort if he could only reach it; but that the long slender line which his army must form in its march “would be cut like thread into several pieces” by the hostile Indians. Braddock “smiled at his ignorance.” Benjamin offered no further opinion. It was his duty to collect horses and carriages for the use of the expedition, and he did what was required of him in silence.
The expedition crept slowly forward, never achieving more than three or four miles in a day; stopping, as Washington said, “to level every mole-hill, to erect a bridge over every brook.” It left Alexandria on the 20th April. On the 9th July Braddock, with half his army, was near the fort. There was yet no evidence that resistance was intended. No enemy had been seen; the troops marched on as to assured victory. So confident was their chief, that he refused to employ scouts, and did not deign to inquire what enemy might be lurking near.
The march was along a road twelve feet wide, in a ravine, with high ground in front and on both sides. Suddenly the Indian war-whoop burst from the woods. A murderous fire smote down the troops. The provincials, not unused to this description of warfare, sheltered themselves behind trees and fought with steady courage. Braddock, clinging to his old rules, strove to maintain his order of battle on the open ground. A carnage, most grim and lamentable, was the result. His undefended soldiers were shot down by an unseen foe. For three hours the struggle lasted; then the men broke and fled in utter rout and panic. Braddock, vainly fighting, fell mortally wounded, and was carried off the field by some of his soldiers. The poor pedantic man never got over his astonishment at a defeat so inconsistent with the established rules of war. “Who would have thought it?” he murmured, as they bore him from the field. He scarcely spoke again, and died in two or three days. Nearly eight hundred men, killed and wounded, were lost in this disastrous encounter – about one-half of the entire force engaged.
All the while England and France were nominally at peace. But now war was declared. The other European powers fell into their accustomed places in the strife, and the flames of war spread far and wide. On land and on sea the European people strove to shed blood and destroy property, and thus produce human misery to the largest possible extent. At the outset every fight brought defeat and shame to England. English armies under incapable leaders were sent out to America and ignominiously routed by the French. On the continent of Europe the uniform course of disaster was scarcely broken by a single victory. Even at sea, England seemed to have fallen from her high estate, and her fleets turned back from the presence of an enemy.
The rage of the people knew no bounds. The admiral who had not fought the enemy when he should have done so, was hanged. The Prime Minister began to tremble for his neck. One or two disasters more, and the public indignation might demand a greater victim than an unfortunate admiral. The Ministry resigned, and William Pitt, afterwards Earl of Chatham, came into power.
And then, all at once, the scene changed, and there began a career of triumph more brilliant than even England had ever known. The French fleets were destroyed; French possessions all over the world were seized; French armies were defeated. Every post brought news of victory. For once the English people, greedy as they are of military glory, were satisfied.
1759 A.D. One of the most splendid successes of Pitt’s administration was gained in America. The colonists had begun to lose respect for the English army and the English Government, but Pitt quickly regained their confidence. They raised an army of 50,000 men to help his schemes for the extinction of French power. A strong English force was sent out, and a formidable invasion of Canada was organized.
Most prominent among the strong points held by the French was the city of Quebec. Thither in the month of June came a powerful English fleet, with an army under the command of General Wolfe. Captain James Cook, the famous navigator, who discovered so many of the sunny islands of the Pacific, was master of one of the ships. Quebec stands upon a peninsula formed by the junction of the St. Charles and the St. Lawrence rivers. The lower town was upon the beach; the upper was on the cliffs, which at that point rise precipitously to a height of two hundred feet. Wolfe tried the effect of a bombardment. He laid the lower town in ruins very easily, but the upper town was too remote from his batteries to sustain much injury. It seemed as if the enterprise would prove too much for the English, and the sensitive Wolfe was thrown by disappointment and anxiety into a violent fever. But he was not the man to be baffled. The shore for miles above the town was carefully searched. An opening was found whence a path wound up the cliffs. Here Wolfe would land his men, and lead them to the Heights of Abraham. Once there, they would defeat the French and take Quebec, or die where they stood.
On a starlight night in September the soldiers were embarked in boats which dropped down the river to the chosen landing-place. As the boat which carried Wolfe floated silently down, he recited to his officers Gray’s “Elegy in a Country Churchyard,” then newly received from England; and he exclaimed at its close, “I would rather be the author of that poem than take Quebec to-morrow.” He was a man of feeble bodily frame, but he wielded the power which genius in its higher forms confers. Amid the excitements of impending battle he could walk, with the old delight, in the quiet paths of literature.
The soldiers landed and clambered, as they best might, up the rugged pathway. All through the night armed men stepped silently from the boats and silently scaled those formidable cliffs. The sailors contrived to drag up a few guns. When morning came, the whole army stood upon the Heights of Abraham ready for the battle.
1759 A.D. Montcalm, the French commander, was so utterly taken by surprise that he refused at first to believe the presence of the English army. He lost no time in marching forth to meet his unexpected assailants. The conflict which followed was fierce but not prolonged. The French were soon defeated and put to flight; Quebec surrendered. But Montcalm did not make that surrender, nor did Wolfe receive it. Both generals fell in the battle. Wolfe died happy that the victory was gained. Montcalm was thankful that death spared him the humiliation of giving up Quebec. They died as enemies; but the men of a new generation, thinking less of the accidents which made them foes than of the noble courage and devotedness which united them, placed their names together upon the monument which marks out to posterity the scene of this decisive battle.
France did not quietly accept her defeat. Next year she made an attempt to regain Quebec. It was all in vain. In due time the success of the English resulted in a treaty of peace, under which France ceded to England all her claims upon Canada. Spain at the same time relinquished Florida. England had now undisputed possession of the western continent, from the region of perpetual winter to the Gulf of Mexico.
A century and a half had now passed since the first colony had been planted on American soil. The colonists were fast ripening into fitness for independence. They had increased with marvellous rapidity. Europe never ceased to send forth her superfluous and needy thousands. America opened wide her hospitable arms and gave assurance of liberty and comfort to all who came. The thirteen colonies now contained a population of about three million.
They were eminently a trading people, and their foreign commerce was already large and lucrative. New England built ships with the timber of her boundless forests, and sold them to foreign countries. She caught fish and sent them to the West Indies. She killed whales and sent the oil to England. New York and Pennsylvania produced wheat, which Spain and Portugal were willing to buy. Virginia clung to the tobacco-plant, which Europe was not then, any more than she is now, wise enough to dispense with. The swampy regions of Carolina and Georgia produced rice sufficient to supply the European demand. As yet cotton does not take any rank in the list of exports. But the time is near. Even now Richard Arkwright is brooding over improvements in the art of spinning cotton. When these are perfected the growing of cotton will rise quickly to a supremacy over all the industrial pursuits.
England had not learned to recognize the equality of her colonists with her own people. The colonies were understood to exist not for their own good so much as for the good of the mother country. Even the chimney-sweepers, as Lord Chatham asserted, might be heard in the streets of London talking boastfully of their subjects in America. Colonies were settlements “established in distant parts of the world for the benefit of trade.” As such they were most consistently treated. The Americans could not import direct any article of foreign production. Everything must be landed in England and re-shipped thence, that the English merchant might have profit. One exemption only was allowed from the operation of this law – the products of Africa, the unhappy negroes, were conveyed direct to America, and every possible encouragement was given to that traffic. Notwithstanding the illiberal restrictions of the home government, the imports of America before the Revolution had risen almost to the value of three million sterling.
New England had, very early, established her magnificent system of Common Schools. For two or three generations these had been in full operation. The people of New England were now probably the most carefully instructed people in the world. There could not be found a person born in New England unable to read and write. It had always been the practice of the Northern people to settle in townships or villages where education was easily carried to them. In the South it had not been so. There the Common Schools had taken no root. It was impossible among a population so scattered. The educational arrangements of the South have never been adequate to the necessities of the people.
In the early years of America, the foundations were laid of those differences in character and interest which have since produced results of such magnitude. The men who peopled the Eastern States had to contend with a somewhat severe climate and a comparatively sterile soil. These disadvantages imposed upon them habits of industry and frugality. Skilled labour alone could be of use in their circumstances. They were thus mercifully rescued from the curse of slavery – by the absence of temptation, it may be, rather than by superiority of virtue. Their simple purity of manners remained long uncorrupted. The firm texture of mind which upheld them in their early difficulties remained unenfeebled. Their love of liberty was not perverted into a passion for supremacy. Among them labour was not degraded by becoming the function of a despised race. In New England labour has always been honourable. A just-minded, self-relying, self-helping people, vigorous in acting, patient in enduring – it was evident from the outset that they, at least, would not disgrace their ancestry.
The men of the South were very differently circumstanced. Their climate was delicious; their soil was marvellously fertile; their products were welcome in the markets of the world; unskilled labour was applicable in the rearing of all their great staples. Slavery being exceedingly profitable, struck deep roots very early. It was easy to grow rich. The colonists found themselves not the employers merely, but the owners of their labourers. They became aristocratic in feeling and in manners, resembling the picturesque chiefs of old Europe rather than mere prosaic growers of tobacco and rice. They had the virtues of chivalry, and also its vices. They were generous, open-handed, hospitable; but they were haughty and passionate, improvident, devoted to pleasure and amusement more than to work of any description. Living apart, each on his own plantation, the education of children was frequently imperfect, and the planter himself was bereft of that wholesome discipline to mind and to temper which residence among equals confers. The two great divisions of States – those in which slavery was profitable, and those in which it was unprofitable – were unequally yoked together. Their divergence of character and interest continued to increase, till it issued in one of the greatest of recorded wars.
Up to the year 1764, the Americans cherished a deep reverence and affection for the mother country. They were proud of her great place among the nations. They gloried in the splendour of her military achievements; they copied her manners and her fashions. She was in all things their model. They always spoke of England as “home.” To be an Old England man was to be a person of rank and importance among them. They yielded a loving obedience to her laws. They were governed, as Benjamin Franklin stated it, at the expense of a little pen and ink. When money was asked from their Assemblies, it was given without grudge. “They were led by a thread,” – such was their love for the land which gave them birth.
Ten or twelve years came and went. A marvellous change has passed upon the temper of the American people. They have bound themselves by great oaths to use no article of English manufacture – to engage in no transaction which can put a shilling into any English pocket. They have formed “the inconvenient habit of carting,” – that is, of tarring and feathering and dragging through the streets such persons as avow friendship for the English Government. They burn the Acts of the English Parliament by the hands of the common hangman. They slay the King’s soldiers. They refuse every amicable proposal. They cast from them for ever the King’s authority. They hand down a dislike to the English name, of which some traces lingered among them for generations.
By what unhallowed magic has this change been wrought so swiftly? By what process, in so few years, have three million people been taught to abhor the country they so loved?
The ignorance and folly of the English Government wrought this evil. But there is little cause for regret. Under the fuller knowledge of our modern time, colonies are allowed to discontinue their connection with the mother country when it is their wish to do so. Better had America gone in peace. But better she went, even in wrath and bloodshed, than continued in paralyzing dependence upon England.