The British and the French had been fighting for colonial control in the Americas since the late 1600s. In particular, both wanted access to lucrative trade opportunities and to land for expanding settlement. In addition, religious tension existed between the primarily Catholic French and the largely Protestant English. After three separate flare-ups of this rivalry—King William's War (1689-1697), Queen Anne's War (1702-1713), and King George's War (1744-1748)—neither side had achieved a real victory. The final conflict, known as the French and Indian War (or the Seven Years' War), resolved this rivalry but also led to cathartic changes in England's relations with its colonies.
The Spark By 1754, British-French tensions reached a new crisis around control of the Ohio River Valley. French explorers and fur traders had established forts and other communities through the midsection of America, from the Great Lakes in the North to Louisiana in the South. English settlers, however, wanted to expand into the Ohio valley and had finally gotten the Iroquois Confederacy—which controlled the area—to permit this. Thus began a push and pull struggle that erupted into military action when Virginia's governor demanded that the French abandon their Ohio Valley forts. War had begun and quickly went badly for England.
Battles Rage and Tensions Increase Losing at Fort Necessity, the British and their colonial allies soon discovered that they were badly outmaneuvered. The French had forts in place as well as a smoothly running military operation. The British, on the other hand, seemed ill prepared for North American battles that were dependent on the element of surprise.
In addition to early military losses, disunity and tension increased between Britain and its American colonial allies. In the first three phases of Anglo-French conflict, Americans had been left alone to fight the French and their Indian allies. Now, British Redcoats arrived on American soil determined to run the war their way. Colonists resented the Redcoats, while the British reacted angrily to colonial trading with Canada (then a French colony) and to a general lack of effort on the part of colonials. Not until new British leadership took over in 1757 did the tide of war turn. Increased troop commitment and improved relations with the American colonists ensured British victory by 1760. However, victory brought another round of challenges to British-colonial relations.
Changing Imperial Policy British victory vastly expanded that nation's holdings in America and also removed the French threat to colonial settlement. It also left many in England annoyed by colonial foot dragging during the war and concerned about the war's financial costs. Determined to tighten control over the colonies, which had long enjoyed tremendous independence, Britain imposed a series of stricter policies.
Display enlarged image with captionFirst, settlement in the disputed western lands was restricted to what England considered a manageable pace, and British regulars were put in place to enforce this measure. Second, England began taxing the colonists to pay for the military defense of their growing lands. Tariffs such as the Sugar Act, Currency Act, and Stamp Act outraged the colonists, who felt they were being taxed without representation. In addition, the Quartering Act, which required colonists to house and feed royal troops, inspired great resentment.
Accustomed to greater independence, excited by the prospect of additional land to settle, and bolstered by their unified military success, the colonies responded angrily to British government controls. Before long, these conflicts had reached untenable proportions, and war between Britain and its colonies became inevitable.
Write a short paragraph response for each discussion question
In what ways might America be different today if the French had beaten the British in the French and Indian War?
Using the French and Indian War as an example, explain how war can unify disparate elements in a society.
Who do you think lost the most from the French and Indian War—the colonists, the French, the British, or the Indians?