Stirrings of Revolution: 1730–1774

French and Indian War

Causes of the French and Indian War

The French and Indian War was caused by a territorial dispute between France and Britain over the Ohio River Valley.

The British weren't the only Europeans in North America. Beyond the 13 British colonies lay a vast French territory. New France, as it was called, stretched from Louisiana through the Mississippi Valley, past the Great Lakes, and into Canada. Although the French and British territories adjoined each other for over 2,000 miles, there wasn't a well-defined border, which caused a lot of problems in the early 1750s.

The Ohio River Valley was a particular point of contention. This area, which included parts of Pennsylvania, was known for hunting and fur trapping. It was also an excellent location for farming and for trading with Native Americans. British colonists in Virginia were sure they had the right to the Upper Ohio River Valley as outlined in the colony's 1609 charter. The charter said Virginia spanned the continent westward to the Pacific Ocean. The French also thought they had the right to the area. In 1682 French explorer René-Robert Cavelier, sieur de La Salle, had claimed the Mississippi River Basin for France, naming it Louisiana for King Louis XIV. As the French saw it, ownership of the vast Louisiana territory granted them the rights to the Ohio River Valley as well.

In 1749 the French began forcing British traders out of the Upper Ohio River Valley and into the Appalachian Mountains. The British kept coming back, so in 1752 the French destroyed a British trading center in the area. Side-by-side with their Native American allies, they then killed the English-speaking traders in the Upper Ohio River Valley. British American colonists, particularly those in Virginia, were infuriated. Skirmishes between French armed forces and the Virginia militia—led by a young George Washington—ensued. Despite assistance from militias further afield, the colonists couldn't compete with the sheer numbers of French troops, who were assisted by local Native American tribes. The colonists requested assistance from King George II, who—late in his reign—had lost much of his interest in politics. He did not want to enter another war with France. Yet he finally capitulated and sent British reinforcements to help the colonists in 1754.

French and Indian War in the Colonies

The Albany Congress, and the Plan of Union that came out of it, set the stage for the colonial central government established during the Revolutionary War. Colonists gained military experience in the French and Indian War that would assist them in the conflict of the Revolutionary War.

The French and Indian War (1754–63) was a predecessor and extension of the worldwide Seven Years' War (1756–63) fought between Britain and France. It pitted the British American colonists and British soldiers against French soldiers. Both parties were assisted by Native American allies.

British American colonists tried to formalize an alliance with Native American tribes at the Albany Congress, held from June 19 to July 11, 1754, in Albany, New York. The Albany Congress was a meeting of colony delegates, representatives of the British government, and members of the Iroquois Confederacy. Delegates attended from seven colonies: Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island. The conference's goal was to determine how the British and colonists could best work together against the French. Part of this planning included an appeal to the Iroquois Confederacy, which had yet to choose a side. Despite pledges by the British to right the wrongs done to the Iroquois over the years, Confederacy representatives refused to commit their assistance while at the conference. They later changed their minds and sided with the British.

The Albany Congress was also notable for its Albany Plan of Union. Presented by Benjamin Franklin, the plan outlined the formation of a group of representatives from all the colonies to be led by a "president general." The representatives would be allowed to levy taxes, which would be kept in a central treasury. The delegates liked this plan, but the colonial assemblies didn't. They feared a unified government body would decrease the power of individual legislatures. Representatives of the British Crown also disliked the plan. They were concerned such a group would undermine the authority of the king. Historians often cite the Albany Plan as the precursor to the Articles of Confederation in the Constitution.

The first four years of the French and Indian War were filled with victories for France and its allies. The French troops in the New World were trained military professionals and more than a match for the American colonists recruited for the conflict. The American militia members had little training or experience in warfare. Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, for example, was only 22 when the conflict began. But he matured as the war went on, eventually rising to the position of commander-in-chief of Virginia's regiment. His experiences on the battlefield during the French and Indian War directly affected his role as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
One of America's first political cartoons-created by Benjamin Franklin in 1754-supported political union of the colonies. The snake approximates the coastline's curves and its segments represent colonies.
Credit: Courtesy of the Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-5315

End to the French and Indian War

The 1763 Treaty of Paris stripped France of its political power in North America while giving Britain control of everything east of the Mississippi River.

King George II's 1757 appointment of Secretary of State William Pitt as commander of wartime operations turned the tide of the war in Britain's favor. The final four years of the battle in the Americas were punctuated by French defeats in New York and Canada.

In October 1760 King George II died and his grandson, George III, took the throne. That same year—disheartened by their recent defeats—the French attempted peace negotiations with Britain. British officials weren't willing to compromise on ceded territory and rebuffed the offer of peace. When the British rebuffed France's attempt to negotiate, the French formed an alliance with Spain. The Family Compact of 1761 stated Spain would declare war on Britain if the conflict didn't end by May 1 of the following year. On January 4, 1762, Britain retaliated by declaring war on Spain and seizing valuable Spanish territory.

The end of the French and Indian War came on February 10, 1763, with the signing of the Treaty of Paris. Under the terms of the treaty, the British took Canada from the French, as well as all lands east of the Mississippi River—with the exception of New Orleans. Spain relinquished its claim on Florida to get Cuba back from the British. Spain also acquired Louisiana from the French as compensation for the country's losses during the war. France lost nearly all its territory in North America. The British now exhibited an emerging dominance around the world. They controlled everything between Hudson Bay and the Florida Keys, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean.
The 1763 Treaty of Paris greatly increased Britain's territory in North America. Except for New Orleans, everything east of the Mississippi River became property of the British Crown.
Credit: Library of Congress, Geography and Map Division