CHAPTER VII. WAR BETWEEN GREAT BRITAIN AND SPAIN, 1739. - WAR OF THE AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION, 1740. - FRANCE JOINS SPAIN AGAINST GREAT BRITAIN, 1744. - SEA BATTLES OF MATTHEWS, ANSON, AND HAWKE. - PEACE OF AIX-LA-CHAPELLE, 1748.
We have now reached the opening of a series of great wars, destined to last with short intervals of peace for nearly half a century, and having, amid many misleading details, one broad characteristic distinguishing them from previous, and from many subsequent, wars. This strife embraced the four quarters of the world, and that not only as side issues here and there, the main struggle being in Europe; for the great questions to be determined by it, concerning the world's history, were the dominion of the sea and the control of distant countries, the possession of colonies, and, dependent upon these, the increase of wealth. Singularly enough it is not till nearly the end of the long contest that great fleets are found engaging, and the struggle transferred to its proper field, the sea. The action of sea power is evident enough, the issue plainly indicated from the beginning but for a long time there is no naval warfare of any consequence, because the truth is not recognized by the French government. The movement toward colonial extension by France is wholly popular. Though illustrated by a few great names the attitude of the rulers is cold and mistrustful hence came neglect of the navy, a foregone conclusion of defeat on the main question, and destruction for the time of her sea power.
Such being the character of the coming wars, it is important to realize the relative positions of the three great powers in those quarters of the world, outside of Europe, where the strife was to engage. In North America, England now held the thirteen colonies, the original United States, from Maine to Georgia. In these colonies was to be found the highest development of that form of colonization peculiar to England, bodies of free men essentially self- governing and self-dependent, still enthusiastically loyal, and by occupation at once agricultural, commercial, and sea-faring. In the character of their country and its productions, in its long sea-coast and sheltered harbors, and in their own selves, they had all the elements of sea power, which had already received large development. On such a country and such a people the royal navy and army were securely based in the western hemisphere. The English colonists were intensely jealous of the French and Canadians.
France held Canada and Louisiana, a name much more extensive in its application then than now, and claimed the entire valley of the Ohio and Mississippi, by right of prior discovery, and as a necessary link between the St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Mexico. There was as yet no adequate occupation of this intermediate country, nor was the claim admitted by England, whose colonists asserted the right to extend indefinitely westward. The strength of the French position was in Canada; the St. Lawrence gave them access to the heart of the country, and though Newfoundland and Nova Scotia had been lost, in Cape Breton Island they still held the key of the gulf and river. Canada had the characteristics of the French colonial system planted in a climate least suited to it. A government paternal, military, and monkish discouraged the development of individual enterprise and of free association for common ends. The colonists abandoned commerce and agriculture, raising only food enough for immediate consumption, and were given to arms and hunting. Their chief traffic was in furs. There was so little mechanical art among them that they bought of the English colonies part of the vessels for their interior navigation. The chief element of strength was the military, arms-bearing character of the population; each man was a soldier.
Besides the hostility inherited from the mother-countries, there was a necessary antagonism between two social and political systems, so directly opposed, and lying one alongside the other. The remoteness of Canada from the West Indies, and the inhospitable winter climate, made it, from the naval point of view, of much less value to France than the English colonies to England; besides which the resources and population were greatly inferior. In 1750 the population of Canada was eighty thousand, that of the English colonies twelve hundred thousand. With such disparity of strength and resources, the only chance for Canada lay in the support of the sea power of France, either by direct control of the neighboring seas, or by such powerful diversion elsewhere as would relieve the pressure upon her.
On the continent of North America, in addition to Mexico and the countries south of it, Spain held Florida; under which name were embraced extensive regions beyond the peninsula, not accurately defined, and having little importance at any period of these long wars.