Americans like to think of their nation's history as predestined, driven by some sort of inner logic.
From the landing of the Pilgrims through the Revolution and Civil War , and onward through more recent battles for civil and human rights, we like to tell a story of slow but steady progress toward liberty and justice for all. Whether or not that story accurately reflects the reality of American history—some historians would say yes, others would say no—it's a compelling narrative that makes it easy to assume that America was fated to follow a certain path.
Hate to break it to you, but America's history was never pre-ordained. If events had unfolded along a different path, at any one of dozens of decisive moments in our past, things could've turned out differently.
One of the most dramatic of those decisive moments occurred in the s, a time when the future of the North American continent was not at all clear. Three powerful empires—France, Great Britain, and the Iroquois League—all claimed the right to control the interior of the continent, and all had good reasons to believe they could defend those claims.
Basically, the future of America was up for grabs. In , the competing claims of the French, British, and Iroquois crashed together in a major military conflict Americans have labeled the French and Indian War.
But not everyone uses this label.
Some call this conflict part of the Seven Years' War, a broader European power struggle involving Great Britain, France, Austria, and Prussia in fighting that spanned much of the globe. There are good reasons for doing this: the conflict in America was certainly influenced by events in Europe, and vice versa. But viewing the French and Indian War as merely one small part of Europe's larger Seven Years' War undervalues the significance of events as they unfolded on this continent—in particular, the critical role that Native Americans played in determining the course of the North American war.
A Different American History
Most contemporaries recognized the central importance of the Native Americans in the French and Indian War, and those that didn't—like British General Edward Braddock, mortally wounded when Native Americans ambushed his army at the Battle of the Monongahela—paid a huge a price.
But if the war's participants had a clearer understanding than some historians of the significance of Native Americans in the conflict, they could've used the benefit of hindsight when it came to understanding the broader significance of the war itself to America's future.
The war ended in with the total defeat of France, seemingly a profound triumph for the British and their Native Americans and American colonial allies. But the three groups of victors—British, Native American, and American—emerged from the conflict with very different, and ultimately incompatible surprise, surprise , understandings of what they'd won. These competing visions for the future of the continent laid the basis for future controversy.
Far from putting an end to conflict in North America, the triumphant conclusion of the French and Indian War produced, almost immediately, severe tensions that led, eventually, to the American Revolution.
The First Global Conflict
Perhaps the only participant in the French and Indian War that truly read the situation at war's end correctly was France. In their humiliating defeat, the French saw a crushing blow to their imperial ambitions and national pride.
French and Indian War - 3 Minute History
Over the next decade, they'd look for an opportunity to exact their revenge. And when Americans declared independence in , they saw their chance. In other words, only the French really recognized that wasn't the end of the American story, but only the beginning. All rights reserved.
The British concluded the war with the belief that they'd secured a glorious future. In vanquishing the French, they'd conclusively established their claim to the North American continent, ensuring that their empire would unfold peacefully and profitably into the foreseeable future.
Britain's Native American allies, just as optimistically, believed that they'd secured their political and territorial independence through their service in the war.
By the war's end, they'd won from the British recognition of their rights to control the interior of North America.
American colonists, meanwhile, concluded that by defeating the French and hostile French-aligned Native Americans, they'd secured their Western frontier and won the whole shebang. Logging out….
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