The Boisterous Sea of Liberty
Part 4. The Seven Years' War
Here is a panoramic look at early American history as captured in the words of Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and many other historical figures, both famous and obscure. In these pieces, the living voices of the past speak to us from opposing viewpoints--from the vantage point of loyalists as well as patriots, slaves as well as masters. The documents collected here provide a fuller understanding of such historical issues as Columbus's dealings with Native Americans, the Stamp Act Crisis, the Declaration of Independence, the Whiskey Rebellion, the Missouri Crisis, the Mexican War, and Harpers Ferry, to name but a few.
Compiled by Pulitzer Prize winning historian David Brion Davis and Steven Mintz, and accompanied by extensive illustrations of original documents, The Boisterous Sea of Liberty brings the reader back in time, to meet the men and women who lived through the momentous events that shaped our nation.
PART 4. THE SEVEN YEARS' WAR
The culmination of more than half a century of conflict between Britain and France over North America, the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years' War) freed the colonists from the need for British protection against the French. Indirectly, the war gave a new impetus to antislavery thought.
DEBATING THE ISSUES
Most historical events seem inevitable in hindsight. It seems unimaginable, in retrospect, that Nazi Germany could have won World War II or that the Confederacy might have won the Civil War. Yet at the time, the outcome of these conflicts seemed wholly uncertain. One of the greatest challenges confronting teachers is to give students a sense of historical contingency--a recognition that events did not have to work out the way they did.
In retrospect, the British victory in the Seven Years' War was one of the truly pivotal events in American history. Not only did the war give Britain all French lands in Canada and east of the Mississippi River (with the exception of two small islands south of Newfoundland), it also set in motion a train of events that culminated in the American Revolution.
Yet at the time that the Seven Years' War began, no one could be certain of British victory. Despite the fact that the colonists' population was far greater than that of the French settlers in Canada, the British colonial system suffered from severe weaknesses, including a lack of centralized authority and bitter jealousies among the colonists.
- Imagine you are a minister in the British government in 1759. Explain why it is worthwhile for Britain to fight on behalf of the American colonies.
- What factors would have influenced the decision of Indians to fight with either the French or the British?
- "Wartime victories inevitably cause new problems." Does the Seven Years' War support this statement? Explain.
By eliminating the French threat, Britain's victory in the Seven Years' War made the colonists less dependent on British military aid. In addition, by creating a huge debt, the war encouraged British determination that colonists should pay the cost of their own defense.
- What is the significance of the Seven Years' War for the colonists and for Native Americans?
For the colonists, the war planted the seeds of future conflicts over western settlement and repayment of war debts. As a result of the British victory, Indians could no longer play the British and French against one another. The colonists' encroachment on Indian land provoked frontier wars and retaliation in the form of Pontiac's uprising.
How would American history have been different:
- If the Seven Years' War, like the early conflicts between Britain and France, had ended in a draw?
- If, at the end of the war, Britain had elected to take the Caribbean island of Guadaloupe instead of Canada?
Compare and contrast the political landscape in 1759 and 1763.
Draw a large outline map of the American colonies around 1759, the eve of the Seven Years' War. After students read the excerpt from the Maryland Gazette on pages 126-128 of The Boisterous Sea of Liberty, have them illustrate the map with symbols that reflect the distinct economies of each of the colonies.
INTERPRETING PRIMARY SOURCES
John Adams traced the roots of the Revolution to the French and Indian War. Britain's victory forever changed the balance of power in North America. Native Americans could no longer play the French and British against each other. The war robbed Britain of powerful diplomatic leverage against the colonists. With France swept from the continent, the colonists had little need for British protection against a foreign enemy.
What does the article reprinted from the Maryland Gazette tell us about the diversity and economic potential of the American colonies?
The article expresses fear that the French will easily overrun the colonies because they are disunited. Were the British right to regard the colonists as fragmented and disunited?
Robert Moses offers a graphic first-hand account of the violence of war during the mid-eighteenth century. How does warfare then differ from the highly mechanized warfare of the late twentieth century?
Much of the fighting involved cutlasses, hatchets, and bayonets at close quarters; war was not yet depersonalized.
The Seven Years' War ignited the first collective protests against slavery in history. The Quaker John Woolman played a critical role in encouraging antislavery sentiment. Why was he opposed to slavery?
His antislavery beliefs were rooted in religion, especially the biblical precept that "God is no respecter of persons." He also argues that slaveholders do not respect slave marriages and fail to provide slaves with adequate clothing.
What rationalizations did the people Woolman met during his travels in the South use to justify slavery?
The belief that life was wretched in Africa and the so-called Biblical curse of Cain.