Crucible Of War : The Seven Years’ War And The Fate Of Empire In British North America, 1754-1766

Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War is an exhaustive (and at times exhausting) account of the British and French battles in North America during the Seven Years’ War, which lasted from 1756 to 1763. This international war is better known here in America as the French and Indian War. Anderson’s purpose in this book is to show that the war played a major part in planting the seed and informing the American Revolution a decade later. Not only did it alter the relationship between the French, the English, and the Native American allies of those two warring parties, but more importantly, it caused a rift between the colonists and their mother country that would quickly widen in the years following England’s expulsion of the French from North America.

Before the Seven Years’ War, the British government had maintained a hands-off approach to the American Colonies, allowing them largely to run themselves. However, with the outbreak of war with France, the British leadership decided to focus on militarily defeating the French in North America. As Anderson ably proves, they succeeded only when, after a rocky start, they began to treat the American colonists as allies rather than subjects. Almost all of the Colonies were able to raise large armies that were crucial in aiding the British military. So too were the various Native Indian tribes who switched their allegiances to fight against the French.

While Britain emerged as an imperial power following the Seven Years’ War, the government was heavily in debt, having also helped to subsidize the armies of Frederick the Great of Prussia to engage the French on the Continent during the long years of war. In need of cash, the king and Parliament thought it only fair that the colonists should help to foot the expense of the war. The Americans thought otherwise. While the taxes were not particularly burdensome, the Colonies rose up in violent protest against their implementation. When it became clear to the British government that they could not enforce the legislation, the measures were quickly repealed. Despite this, their efforts at tougher governance had already caused the rise of new political parties in the Colonies, all intent on maintaining their right to control local affairs.

Also addressed in the book are the Indian Wars that erupted in the Ohio Valley region between the Native Americans and the colonists following the conclusion of the Seven Years’ War. Settlers were rapidly beginning to encroach upon land granted to the tribes in treaties. The British government tried to stop the rampant land speculation, but only succeeded in causing the colonists to become more defiant and unruly. The frontier was just too tempting a morsel for those Americans (including George Washington) who saw the area as a get-rich scheme by stealing fertile Indian land to sell to settlers desperate for acreage. The war proved a bloody one, and while atrocities occurred on both sides, the colonists were clearly the invading force. Sadly, our forefathers had no qualms in ignoring treaties and the rights of the Native Indians.

The Seven Years’ War is often overlooked in the annals of American history and certainly unappreciated for the part it played in the American Revolution. Crucible of War masterfully recreates the time period and demonstrates the War’s importance in helping to steer the Colonies toward unity and independence from Great Britain. It is not an easy read, but certainly a rewarding one for anyone seeking a better understanding of this pivotal moment in our country’s history.

As a side note, this book reveals that the current politically conservative opposition against taxation has long roots going all the way back to the Colonial period. At times when reading Crucible of War, seeing how greedy the colonists could be, I could not help but feel some sympathy for the British government’s perspective back in the 1760s, trying to keep such a rowdy, ungrateful lot in line.

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