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A View of the Belligerents

It is in place here to take a momentary view of the two peoples, as we find them in America, who were about to grapple in a great final struggle for the control of the continent. There are many points of resemblance. Both had occupied portions of the continent for nearly two hundred years, both were intensely religious, representing different forms of Christianity, and each was bigoted and intolerant and jealous of its rival. However we may admire the religious fervor of the Puritan, the Presbyterian, and the Huguenot, we must equally admire the French Catholic, who made his home in the wilderness and gave his life to the conversion of the savage. The religious zeal of both peoples had, however, become greatly modified during the two centuries that had passed, owing chiefly to the coming of many who sought only adventure or gain. In 1750 we look in vain through the English colonies for the Puritan of the Winthrop type, and it is almost equally difficult to find in Canada the spirit of Allouez or Marquette. Again, the French and English were alike in personal courage, in a jealous love of tbe respective countries from which they had sprung; and both had imbibed that spirit of wild freedom inseparable from a life in the wilderness. But the points of difference between the English and the French in America are more striking than their points of agreement.

First, as to motive or object in settling in America. The chief object of the English was to find a home for themselves, far from persecution, where by patient industry they might build up a commonwealth; while secondarily, they would lead the red man to embrace Christianity.

The object of the Frenchman was twofold. First, he would build up a great New France which should be the glory of his native land; second, he would convert the native red man to his religion; and third, he sought the wealth to be derived from the fur trade. These are comprehensive statements. It was the French government, as reflected in its loyal sons, that aimed to build up a New France; it was the French Jesuit, typifying the religious sense of the nation, who labored to convert the Indian; it was the French settler who strove for the wealth of the fur trade.

But while the Englishman would found New England by migrating in thousands, the Frenchman would do the same for his nation, not by migrating, but by making Frenchmen of the Indians. When the Englishman wished to marry, he found a wife among his fellow-immigrants, or imported her from England; the Frenchman desiring a wife found her in the forest -- he married a squaw. The English generally migrated in families, or congregations; the French who came were mostly men, and thus they lacked the indispensable corner stone of the State -- the family. One great blunder made by the Frenchman was his failure to diagnose the Indian character. He evidently believed the Indian more capable of civilization than he was. The Frenchman spent himself to lift up the Indian, but more frequently the Indian dragged him down to barbarism; he married the squaw and raised a family, not of Frenchmen, but of barbarians. The French made many thousands of nominal converts among the natives, but there is little evidence that the Indian was changed in habits or character by his conversion, or that he was led to aspire to a higher civilization.

A second important difference between the two peoples is found in their relation to their respective home governments. The English colonies had been left by their sovereign to develop themselves, and they grew strong and self-reliant. Two of them, Rhode Island and Connecticut, chose their own governors; and, aside from the ever irritable Navigation Acts, they all practically made their own laws. They were very democratic, and almost independent; and, indeed, but for want of one thing, union, they constituted a nation. The French colonies, on the other hand, were wholly dependent on the Crown. From the beginning the king had fostered and fed and coddled them, and they never learned to stand alone. As a whole they were a centralized, hierarchical despotism. As men they experienced an individual freedom, born of life in the wilderness, but political or religious freedom was beyond their dreams or desires.

Again, the English colonies opened wide their doors to all the world. The English Protestants were intolerant of Catholics, it is true, and even of one another; but their religious strife was chiefly intellectual and theological, and they continued to dwell together on the same soil. The French, on the other hand, excluded all except Catholics from their new domains. The French Huguenots, who were ill at ease among the English in Carolina, petitioned their king to permit them to settle in Louisiana, where they might still be Frenchmen and still be his subjects; but the bigoted monarch answered that he did not drive heretics from his kingdom only to be nourished in his colonies, and they remained with the English and became a part of them.1 And the narrow-minded king reaped the reward of his folly; while the English in America numbered, at the opening of the French and Indian War, at least twelve hundred thousand souls, the French population barely reached sixty thousand. The French king might have had, without expense to himself, a quarter of a million industrious people of his own nation dwelling in the Mississippi Valley; but he threw away the opportunity, and that vast fertile region was now peopled only by roving Indian hordes. The French had control of a territory twenty times as great as that held by the English; but the English had a population twenty times as great as the French.

In one respect, and one only, the French had the advantage over the English: they were a unit. The French king had but to command, and all Canada was ready to rush to arms. The English were composed of separate colonies-republics, we may say; each enjoying much liberty without the responsibility of nationality; each joined loosely to the mother country, but wholly separate politically from all its fellows. Each colony had its own interests and lived its own life, and it was difficult to awake them to a sense of common danger. Governor Dinwiddie, in 1754 appealed frantically and in vain to rouse his neighbor colonist to action Indeed, it required two or three years' warfare to awaken the English to a sense of their duty, and the result was that the French during that period were successful on every side.

The far-sighted Franklin saw this great defect -- this want of union; and at a colonial conference held at Albany, in 1754, and known as the Albany Congress, he brought about a plan of union, known as the Albany Plan. This plan provided for a president-general to be appointed by the Crown, and for a council to be elected by the legislatures. But the English government rejected the plan because it was too democratic, while the colonists rejected it because they feared it would increase the power of the king, and the colonies plunged into this war, as into those that preceded it, without concerted action.

An important consideration at the opening of this great struggle for a continent was the attitude of the Indians. Had all the tribes thrown their weight to either side, the other side would doubtless have been defeated. But it happened that they were divided. The majority of the Indians, however, were with the French, and most naturally so. The Frenchmen flattered and won them by treating them as brethren, by adopting their customs, by marrying into their tribes, and by showing a zeal for their souls' salvation. The Frenchman readily fell into the Indian habits. Even the great Canadian governor, Frontenac, is said to have at times donned their costume and entered the uncouth dance, where he would leap as high and yell as loud as any child of the forest.

The Englishman, on the other hand, never received the native red man on the same footing with himself, never cared for his confidence, nor desired him as a neighbor. Often the two races were friendly, but a mutual suspicion was never absent.2 Moreover, the English wanted land, which the Indians were loath to yield, and the French wanted furs, which they were always ready to furnish. In view of these facts is not strange that the majority of the natives sided with the French. Nearly all the Algonquin tribes were French in their sympathies. But the very notable exception we find in the fierce, warlike Six Nations, or Iroquois, of northern New York, who cast their lot with the English. The enmity of the Iroquois toward the French had its origin in a little skirmish they had in 1609 with Champlain, when a few of their chiefs were slain. But there was another cause. The Iroquois and the Algonquins were deadly, hereditary enemies, and so they had been from a time far back, beyond the coming of the white man to North America; and the intimacy between the Algonqnins and the French proved a serious barrier to the latter when they sought to make friends of the Iroquois.

Nevertheless, for a quarter of a century before the opening of the war we are treating, the French were making every effort to win the Six Nations, and they would doubtless have succeeded but for the counter influence of one man, William Johnson, the British superintendent of Indian affairs. Johnson spent many years among the Iroquois, knew their language as he knew his own, married a Mohawk squaw, and was made a sachem of their tribe. As Sloane says, his attitude toward the Indians was French rather than English, and it was he above all men who held the Iroquois firm for the English during the French and Indian War.


1Parkman, "Montcalm and Wolfe," Vol.1, p.22. [return]

2Sloane, "The French War and the Rsvolution," p.34. [return]

Source: "History of the United States of America," by Henry William Elson, The MacMillan Company, New York, 1904. Transcribed by Kathy Leigh.

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