The results of the French and Indian War were out of all proportion to the scale of its military operations. Contrasted with the campaigns which were then shaking all Europe, it sank into insignificance; and the world, its eyes strained to see the magnitude and the issue of those European wars, little surmised that they would dictate the course of history far less than yonder desultory campaigning in America.
Yet here and there a political prophet foresaw some of these momentous indirect consequences of the war. "England will erelong repent," said Vergennes, then the French ambassador at Constantinople, "of having removed the only check that could keep her colonies in awe. They no longer stand in need of her protection. She will call on them to contribute toward supporting the burdens they have helped to bring upon her, and they will answer by striking off all dependence." This is, in outline, the history of the next twenty years.
The war in Europe and America had been a heavy drain upon the treasury of England. Her national debt had doubled, amounting at the conclusion of peace to 140,000,000 Pounds sterling. The Government naturally desired to lay upon its American subjects a portion of this burden, which had been incurred partly on their behalf. The result was that new system of taxation which the king and his ministers sought to impose upon the colonies, and which was the immediate cause of the Revolution. The hated taxes cannot, of course, be traced to the French and Indian War alone as their source. England had for years shown a growing purpose to get revenue out of her American dependencies; but the debt incurred by the war gave an animus and a momentum to this policy which carried it forward in the face of opposition that might otherwise have warned even George III. to pause ere it was too late.
While the war thus indirectly led England to encroach upon the rights of the colonies, it also did much to prepare the latter to resist such encroachment. It had this effect mainly in two ways: by promoting union among the colonies, and by giving to many of their citizens a good training in the duties of camp, march, and battle-field.
The value to the colonists of their military experience in this war can hardly be overestimated. If the outbreak of the Revolution had found the Americans a generation of civilians, if the colonial cause had lacked the privates who had seen hard service at Lake George and Louisburg, or the officers, such as Washington, Gates, Montgomery, Stark, and Putnam, who had learned to fight successfully against British regulars by fighting with them, it is a question whether the uprising would not have been stamped out, for a time at least, almost at its inception. Especially at the beginning of such a war, when the first necessity is to get a peaceful nation under arms as quickly as possible, a few soldier-citizens are invaluable. They form the nucleus of the rising army, and set the standard for military organization and discipline. In fact, the French and Indian War would have repaid the colonies all it cost even if its only result had been to give the youthful Washington that schooling in arms which helped fit him to command the Continental armies. Without the Washington of Fort Necessity and of Braddock's defeat, we could in all likelihood never have had the Washington of Trenton and Yorktown. Besides Washington, to say nothing of Gates, Gage, and Mercer, also there, Dan Morgan, of Virginia, began to learn war in the Braddock campaign.
[Illustration: Tree lined Pond covered with leaves.] Bloody Pond, near Lake George, which is said to still contain the bones of many of those who fell in the fight at Fort William Henry.
Again, the war prepared the colonists for the Revolution by revealing to them their own rare fighting quality, and by showing that the dreaded British regulars were not invincible. No foe would, at Saratoga or Monmouth, see the backs of the men who had covered the redcoats' retreat from the field of Braddock's death, scaled the abatis of Louisburg, or brained Dieskau's regulars on the parapet of Fort William Henry.
But there was one thing even more necessary to the Revolutionists than skill at arms, and that was union. Their only hope of successful resistance against the might of England lay in concerted action, and perhaps the most important result of the long war through which they had been passing was the sense of union and of a common cause with which it had inspired the thirteen colonies. This feeling was of course still none too intense. But during the long war the colonies had drawn nearer to one another than ever before. Soldiers from New Hampshire and North Carolina, from Virginia and Massachusetts, bivouacked together, and fought shoulder to shoulder. Colonial officers forgot local jealousies in a common resentment of the contempt and neglect shown them all alike by the haughty subalterns of the king. Mutual good-will was fostered by the money and troops which the southern and less exposed colonies sent to their sister commonwealths on the frontier. In these and numberless minor ways a community of sentiment was engendered which, imperfect as it was, yet prepared the way for that hearty co-operation which was to carry the infant States through the fiery trial just before them.
It is important to remember, as well, not only that the war built up this conviction of a common interest, but that nothing except the war could have done it. The great forces of nineteenth-century civilization--the locomotive, the telegraph, the modern daily newspaper--which now bind sixty millions of people, spread over half a continent, into one nation, were then unknown. The means of communication and transportation between the colonies were very primitive. Roads were rough, full of steeps and cuts, and in many places, especially near cities, almost impassable with mire. It took seven days to go by stage from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh, four days from Boston to New York. The mail service was correspondingly inadequate and slow. At times in winter a letter would be five weeks in going from Philadelphia to Virginia. The newspapers were few, contained little news, and the circulation of each was necessarily confined to a very limited area. It has been estimated that the reading-matter in all the forty-three papers which existed at the close of the Revolution would not fill ten pages of the New York Herald now. In connection with this state of things consider the fact that the idea of colonial solidarity had not then, as now, merely to be sustained. It had to be created outright. Local pride and jealousy were still strong. Each colony had thought of itself as a complete and isolated political body, in a way which it is difficult for us, after a hundred years of national unity, to conceive. Plainly a lifetime of peace would not have begotten the same degree of consolidation among the colonies which the war, with its common danger and common purpose, called into being in a half-dozen years.
The war did yet another important service by removing a dangerous neighbor of the colonies. So long as France, ambitious and warlike, kept foot-hold in the New World, the colonies had to look to the mother-country for protection. But this danger gone, England ceased to be necessary to the safety of the embryo political communities, and her sovereignty was therefore the more readily renounced. English statesmen foresaw this danger before the Peace of Paris, and but for the magnanimity of Pitt our western territory might after all have been left in the hands of France.
And the cession of Canada, besides removing an enemy, helped to transform that enemy into an active friend. Had France retained her possessions in America, she would still have had an interest in maintaining the colonial system, and it is doubtful if even her hatred of England would have induced her to aid the rebellious colonies. But, her dream of a great Western empire forever dispelled, she had much to gain and nothing to lose by drawing sword for the American cause. The British defeated the French at Quebec only to meet them again at Yorktown.
One more result remains to be noted, without which what has preceded would lose half its significance. By the Peace of Paris England succeeded to all of France's possessions in America east of the Mississippi; but the most valuable part of this great territory she won only to hold in trust a few years for her colonial children. The redcoats under Amherst and Wolfe, who thought they were fighting for King George, were in reality winning an empire for the Young Republic. It is not easy to feel the full significance of this. The colonies might, indeed, have won independence even if France had retained her grasp on the valley of the Mississippi; but so long as the new-born nation was shut up to a narrow strip along the Atlantic coast, it would have been a lion caged. The "conquest of Canada," says Green, "by ... flinging open to their energies in the days to come the boundless plains of the West, laid the foundation of the United States."