Crucible of War : The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766
In this engrossing narrative of the great military conflagration of the mid-eighteenth century, Fred Anderson transports us into the maelstrom of international rivalries. With the Seven Years' War, Great Britain decisively eliminated French power north of the Caribbean -- and in the process destroyed an American diplomatic system in which Native Americans had long played a central, balancing role -- permanently changing the political and cultural landscape of North America.
Anderson skillfully reveals the clash of inherited perceptions the war created when it gave thousands of American colonists their first experience of real Englishmen and introduced them to the British cultural and class system. We see colonists who assumed that they were partners in the empire encountering British officers who regarded them as subordinates and who treated them accordingly. This laid the groundwork in shared experience for a common view of the world, of the empire, and of the men who had once been their masters. Thus, Anderson shows, the war taught George Washington and other provincials profound emotional lessons, as well as giving them practical instruction in how to be soldiers.
Depicting the subsequent British efforts to reform the empire and American resistance -- the riots of the Stamp Act crisis and the nearly simultaneous pan-Indian insurrection called Pontiac's Rebellion -- as postwar developments rather than as an anticipation of the national independence that no one knew lay ahead (or even desired), Anderson re-creates the perspectives through which contemporaries saw events unfold while they tried to preserve imperial relationships.
Interweaving stories of kings and imperial officers with those of Indians, traders, and the diverse colonial peoples, Anderson brings alive a chapter of our history that was shaped as much by individual choices and actions as by social, economic, and political forces.
- National Book Critics Circle Awards
From 1756 to 1763, the Ohio Valley was the site of a historic contest between the French and the English, both of whom wanted to add this fertile soil to their colonial holdings. In this elegant new account of the Seven Years' War, University of Colorado historian Anderson demonstrates that the conflict was more than just a peripheral squabble that anticipated the American Revolution. Not only did the war decisively alter relations among the French, the English and the Native American allies of the two powers, who for decades had played the English and French off one another to their own advantage, but just as critical, argues Anderson, the war also changed the character of British imperialism, with the mother country trying to reshape the terms of empire and the colonists' place in it. (It was the British victory of 1763, for example, that led the British to post a permanent, peacetime army in America and to support those troops with new taxes.) Indeed, Anderson shows that familiar events of the mid-1760s, like the Stamp Act and Tea Act crises, are better understood as postwar rather than prewar events: they did not "reflect a movement toward revolution so much as an effort to define the imperial relationship." This volume, then, will be of interest not just to Seven Years' War buffs, but also to those interested in the entire Revolutionary era. Anderson's magisterial study--like his earlier book, A People's Army--is essential reading on an often ignored war. 90 illus. and 9 maps.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 22, 2001
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Excerpt from Crucible of War by Fred Anderson
Introduction: The Seven Years' War and the Disruption of the Old British Empire
Few reveries haunt history professors more insistently than the dream of writing a book accessible to general readers that will also satisfy their fellow historians' scholarly expectations. At least that dream has haunted me, and I must admit that I wrote this book because of it. What follows is a narrative intended to synthesize a sizable range of scholarship, which can (I hope) be read without specialized prior knowledge. Because my understanding of the period before the American Revolution differs from what I take to be the conventional one, however, it seems only fair to begin by sketching the broad outlines of the book's context, intent, design, and argument.
The most important event to occur in eighteenth-century North America, the Seven Years' War (or as the colonists called it, the French and Indian War) figures in most Americans' consciousness of the past as a kind of hazy backdrop to the Revolution. As citizens of a nation created by an act of collective secession from the British empire, we Americans have always tended to take as our point of reference the thirteen rebelling colonies, not the empire as a whole -- or the North American continent. This perspective has generally limited our ability to see the continuities between our pre-Revolutionary past and the rest of our history. Coming to grips with the Seven Years' War as an event that decisively shaped American history, as well as the histories of Europe and the Atlantic world in general, may therefore help us begin to understand the colonial period as something more than a quaint mezzotint prelude to our national history. For indeed, if viewed not from the perspective of Boston or Philadelphia, but from Montréal or Vincennes, St. Augustine or Havana, Paris or Madrid -- or, for that matter, Calcutta or Berlin -- the Seven Years' War was far more significant than the War of American Independence.
Unlike every prior eighteenth-century European conflict, the Seven Years' War ended in the decisive defeat of one belligerent and a dramatic rearrangement of the balance of power, in Europe and North America alike. In destroying the North American empire of France, the war created a desire for revenge that would drive French foreign policy, and thereby shape European affairs, for two decades. At the same time, the scope of Britain's victory enlarged its American domains to a size that would have been difficult for any European metropolis to control, even under the best of circumstances, and the war created circumstances of the least favorable sort for Whitehall. Without the Seven Years' War, American independence would surely have been long delayed, and achieved (if at all) without a war of national liberation. Given such an interruption in the chain of causation, it would be difficult to imagine the French Revolution occurring as it did, when it did -- or, for that matter, the Wars of Napoléon, Latin America's first independence movements, the transcontinental juggernaut that Americans call "westward expansion," and the hegemony of English-derived institutions and the English language north of the Rio Grande. Why, then, have Americans seen the Seven Years' War as little more than a footnote?
In part it has been the intensity of our focus on the Revolution as a seminal event, one that even professional historians have assumed determined both the shape of our national institutions and all the significant outcomes of our national development before the Civil War. With so much riding on it, scholarly discussion of eighteenth-century American history has necessarily been dominated by concern over the fundamental character of the Revolution and perforce its origins. In the mid-1970s, when I was in graduate school, much of what early Americanists debated in one way or another related to the motivations of the Revolutionaries: Were they fundamentally driven by material interests or by ideological concerns? It was a Big Question then and remains a powerful one even now that it has achieved a scholastic -- not to say sterile -- maturity. By the late 1980s, when I undertook this project, the question had generated distinctive lines of interpretation that framed the ways historians explained eighteenth-century America almost as decisively as Vauban's magnificent fortifications framed eighteenth-century military campaigns.