The cause of the imperial wars was economic and imperial. The European powers contended with one another for market domination and a steady supply of food and raw materials. Between 1748 and 1754, the beginning of the French and Indian War, there remained considerable tensions on the American frontier and the last of the wars for empire began because of events that no one in London or Paris could control.
The French Empire Crumbles from Within: A change in French policy offered a small band of Miami Indians the opportunity to gain an advantage over rival Indians. In the process, they started a chain of events that led to the French and Indian War. A British blockade cut short trade goods. The once cheap trade goods became expensive and France had a hard time keeping her Indian allies in tow and her control over the Indians in the Ohio River Valley waned. Tribes, once allied with France, sought out new advantages and so, too, did Great Britain, who had been locked out of the area. Indian tribes, with agendas of their own, played the British and French against one another and Britain and France vied with one another for power. The colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania also entered the fray for control of lands along the Ohio River. The French and Indian War began in this political chaos.
The Virginians Ignite a War: Both France and the English colony of Virginia claimed land in the Ohio River Valley. Both constructed forts to hold their claims. Especially important was the newly constructed fort at the fork of the Ohio River at present-day Pittsburgh. Virginians attacked and defeated a small French force at Pittsburgh. Fort Necessity was then overwhelmed by the French and the war in America was on.
From Local to Imperial War: From the beginning the advantage was with the French. Its population was larger than Britains and more importantly its army was ten times the size. The French state was more centralized and better prepared to speak with one voice to the Indians. The British and colonists were another matter. Benjamin Franklins Albany Plan for Union illustrated how ineffectual Parliament was in directing the colonies and how unaccustomed the colonies were to working in a united cause. The plan was designed to coordinate colonial defense plans (among other things) but was defeated by each colony concerned. Neither Parliaments plans nor the colonists localism could bring the British together to fight a common enemy. Consequently, the French dominated the war from 1754 to 1757. Following the French defeat of the British at Fort William Henry in August 1757, the French began to lose control: they alienated many of their Indian allies and the British were about to commit more troops to the field.
Problems with British-Colonial Cooperation: The British blamed the colonists and the colonists blamed the British for their inability to defeat the French. Britains defeats in the early part of the war were the result of three related problems: neither British nor colonists were willing to sacrifice for the war effort, disastrous infighting among the colonists, and extraordinary arrogance among the British. Both British and colonists had different expectations about how each should contribute to the war effort and it was only after these problems were worked out did the war turn in Britains favor.
The British Gain the Advantage: Another significant reason for Britains change of luck in 1757 was the new head of the cabinet, William Pitt, who took office with a commitment to winning the war with France. Britains war aim shifted from simply regaining territory it had already claimed to seizing all of New France and thereby eliminating French competition in North America. Pitts willingness to outspend the French in military soldiers and supplies brought Britain the advantage and the victory. The Treaty of Paris 1763 saw France cede all of her North America claims east of the Mississippi River to the British and all of her claims west of the river, including New Orleans to Spain. Britain also acquired Florida from the Spanish.
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