Saturday, March 16, 2013

BORNEMAN: How War Shaped North America

Borneman's "The French and
Indian War" shows Pitt's
brilliance and success in
pushing out French forces.
Walter Borneman's The French and Indian War (HarperCollins, 2006) shows how the British drove the French out of North America - and, eventually, the Spanish and the Native Americans whom they called Indians.

This was the first step in the creation of the United States as we know it. Without the British Army to clear out the French, the French language would today be more commonly spoken on the upper Hudson, and possibly all the way down to New York City.

William Pitt the Elder (the "Great Commoner" as he was called with veneration most of his life, but then later with disappointment when he became Earl of Chatham) championed the cause of the colonies and sent over British forces despite a need for them in Europe.

Pitt's campaign was immensely popular in the American colonies. But in a true Hegelian dialectic, the cost of the war created animosities that hardened the attitude of the colonists to their mother country.

King George III before the American Revolution controlled virtually of North America. (In time the British Crown kept all of Canada as a colony until the country's independence was asserted with irregularity and a low profile, during the 1919-1938 period).

Just as one Oxford graduate, Pitt the Elder, created the policies as Prime Minister that chased the French out of the colonies and made possible their independence, Frederick North (2nd earl of Guilford) made this independence inevitable by trying to impose on the colonists the cost of the war.

These two Oxonians have their names attached to many places in the United States, even though neither one ever set foot on the American Continent. Pittsburgh, Penn., for example, and Pittsfield, Mass. In the case of Lord North, there is Guilford, Conn. and North Dakota (just kidding about North Dakota).

Both Pitt and North attended Trinity College, Oxford. Pitt had gout as an undergraduate (as he had at Eton) and did not remember his time at Oxford with nostalgia, any more than his time at Eton. Pitt and North are judged very differently by history, the first as an empire-builder and the second as the source of the loss of a large part of the empire.. Pitt was a passionate strategist for the successful creation of the British Empire during the period that was called the Seven Years War in Europe. Later, Lord North was a passionate ally of George III in trying to put the American colonies in their place and make them pay their fair share of the burdens of war - his determination to distribute the burden played a great part in precipitating the American Revolution,

The eventual outcome of the independence of the colonies might not have bothered Pitt himself. He was a fierce devotee of the colonies and vigorously opposed the Stamp Act in 1766 ("The Americans are the sons, not the bastards of England.). He argued for removing British troops from Boston and deplored the punitive campaign of Lord North.

Not long before his death, Pitt said that the colonies had given the most brilliant proofs of their independent spirit. (Borneman, p. 305, referencing comment in J. C. Long's 1940 book on Pitt.)

Borneman lives in Colorado. He has previously written about the War of 1812. He shows that George II was wrapped up in keeping his "prized possession," Hanover. The king sent his "most treasured son", the duke of Cumberland, to defend Hanover, but the duke was surrounded by the French at Hastenbeck in Germany, and was forced to surrender Hanover to the French. Cumberland escaped with the help of Colonel Jeffrey Amherst, and on his return to Britain "resigned his military offices in disgrace".

The b ook includes highly readable summaries of the different battles in North American, showing how the outcome of these battles hinged on the strategic sense of commanders, and the importance of sometimes small numbers of savvy soldiers. He portrays Pontiac as an able military commander but questions how important he was as a leader of the Iroquois or other tribes. At numerous points he suggests that the early allegiance of different tribes to the British was based on lavish gifts, and to the French was based on the comfortable laissez-faire relationship that the French had with their Indian allies.

What the British had going for them is that they brought their women with them and built families. They increased and multiplied. The French came as traders and went home. The imbalance of population meant that the British were favored in the contest between British and French.

In the end, the French and Indian wars - the Seven Years War - left Europe pretty much the way it started. But it made Britain lord of North America, established the British Navy as preeminent, and created bases for the British - for example, in India - that became the cornerstones of the British Empire. Pitt, and not George II, understood what was going to be important in the decades ahead.

The British public was behind making the colonies pay for their own defense.  The Stamp Act imposed duties on imported goods. To which Benjamin Franklin suggested that the new fashion in the colonies would be "to wear their old clothes over again." Pitt in 1766 succeeded in having it repealed. The Quartering Act billeted British soldiers on the homes of American colonists and the New York legislature voted to nullify it. The British were "aghast".

George III was "contemptuous" of the colonials. Pitt's chancellor of the exchequer, Charles Townsend, seeing Pitt ailing, moved ahead to do the king's bidding and imposed new taxes on imports into the colonies of glass, lead, paints, paper and... tea.

The last straw were the "Intolerable Acts", of which the Quebec Act of 1774 appears to Borneman as the most significant. It granted territory north of the Ohio river to the British colony at Quebec. George Washington had claimed these lands for Virginia in 1753 and in 1763 they were nominally marked as an Indian reserve, while several states had their eye on them for purposes of westward expansion.  The Acts also enacted reprisals for the dumping of tea in Boston Harbor.

Which led to the moment on April 18, 1775, when two lanterns were hung ("one if by land, two if by sea") in the steeple of Boston's Old North Church, sending the signal that the Revolutionary War was on.

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