THE egg of American union and independence was laid in the Seven Years War. That long conflict threw the colonies together, and from it emerged the first national characters, with Washington and Franklin towering among them.
The British government itself first proposed that the colonies should unite, and representatives of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania and Maryland met at Albany in 1754. That was an even twenty years before the meeting of the first Continental Congress at Philadelphia. And it was precisely that many years too early to accomplish anything. Although Franklin persuaded the conference to adopt a plan of union, not one colony was willing to ratify that covenant. All alike drew back in dread of that league, that superstate.
The colonies were not yet ripe for union among themselves, but their union with Great Britain was seriously weakened in the course of the war. Franklin said that General Braddock's disaster "gave us Americans the first suspicion that our exalted ideas of the prowess of British troops had not been well founded." The English themselves so feared the effect of the defeat on the colonists that they ordered the colonial papers not to print the news of it.
The war slowly spread from the Alleghany forests throughout most of the settled part of North America, into the West Indies, into Europe, to India, to the Philippines and pretty well over the entire map. While England was sending Braddock to drive the French out of the Ohio valley, she ordered the removal of the French population from Nova Scotia. Those farmers and fishermen of Acadia had the misfortune to be in the very gateway to the power of France in America, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence, and they were driven from their homes.
As an empire trampled that anthill and scattered its little people all the way from Massachusetts to Louisiana, it is small wonder if an Evangeline actually was parted from her Gabriel in such a flinging about of men, women and children. Many of the exiles joined their own race in Louisiana, where those "Cajans" of the bayous remain to-day the simple peasantry they were at Grand Pré and roundabout a century and three quarters ago. Despite their change of skies and flags, many among them who were drafted into the World War had to be drilled by French-speaking officers.
England never had developed an American policy in the century and a half since the settlement of the colonies. It remained for William Pitt, when he came to power in the midst of the Seven Years War, to vision the great destiny of English civilization on this continent. Instead of treating the New World as only a pawn to be traded for lesser gains in the Old World, Pitt shaped his course to win all America for Britain.
That was in 1757, and in the next year England started Gen. Forbes with a second and greater expedition than Braddock's to turn France out of Fort Duquesne. While commanding the right wing, Washington was leading the advance of an army of twelve hundred British regulars and five thousand colonials when he heard a thunderous explosion. The French were blowing up their works and abandoning the Ohio valley. It remained only to change the name of the deserted fortification to Fort Pitt, and from that Pittsburgh derives its name.
The French lost control of the Lakes the next year, when their fort at Niagara was taken by William Johnson, afterward Sir William. That darling of the frontier romance had come over as a boy in the great immigration from Ireland and eaten dog and danced with the Indians the while he grew rich in their trade and powerful in their confidence. As Johnson was seizing the back door of New France, at Niagara, Wolfe sailed through the front door, and up the St. Lawrence to Quebec. Although other expeditions were composed mostly of colonial troops, there were not more than five hundred of them among the eight thousand soldiers who delivered this final and fatal stroke on the Plains of Abraham. Perhaps their absence went unregretted by Wolfe, the commanding general, who scorned the New Englanders at Louisburg as the "dirtiest, most contemptibly cowardly dogs," who "fell down dead in their own dirt and deserted by battalions." But this critic was habitually and savagely critical of almost every one, often even of himself.
The dramatic death of this gallant soldier did more to immortalize him than his thirty-three years of life. He was called mad by some prudent souls, but George II retorted, "I wish he would bite some of my other generals."
After Wolfe had looked up at Quebec for three months, he wrote home that he was facing certain ruin. His own plans had failed when he adopted the plan of another, but he took the precaution of notifying Pitt that he only acquiesced in its adoption as a last resort. Even it succeeded only because the French, who held the outpost, were asleep when the British vanguard crept upon them at the top of a ravine and opened the way for the entire army to climb unopposed to the Plains of Abraham.
Still Wolfe himself was not to take Quebec but to fall without the gate. As in a dream, the fallen chieftain heard his soldiers exulting, "They run!" "They run!" Those fleeing whitecoats of France, as they left the Plains to the redcoats of England, carried with them, in their flight to safety behind the gray wall of the town, their mortally wounded commander. Victor and vanquished, Wolfe and Montcalm, were united in death.
In the treaty that followed, England took all of America to the middle of the Mississippi River, with the exception of the island of New Orleans. She took that also from France, but only to give it to Spain in exchange for Florida and some other concessions from the Spaniards. Spain received title besides to the country beyond the Mississippi.
Not a foothold was left to France on the continent whose great chain of lakes and two greatest rivers had been hers by right of exploration; whose trails had been followed from the sea to the Rockies by her priest and her courier du bois, before the English had ventured one hundred miles inland. The settler had won against the trader, the home maker against the roving adventurer, the plow against the sword.
James Morgan, The Birth of the American People, 1930