THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION
AT THE END OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY EUROPE HEARD STRANGE REPORTS OF SOMETHING WHICH HAD HAPPENED IN THE WILDERNESS; OF THE NORTH AMERICAN CONTINENT. THE DESCENDANTS OF THE MEN WHO HAD PUNISHED KING CHARLES FOR HIS INSISTENCE UPON HIS ``DIVINE RIGHTS'' ADDED A NEW CHAPTER TO THE OLD STORY OF THE STRUGGLE FOR SELF-GOVERNMENT
FOR the sake of convenience, we ought to go back a few centuries and repeat the early history of the great struggle for colonial possessions.
As soon as a number of European nations had been created upon the new basis of national or dynastic interests, that is to say, during and immediately after the Thirty Years War, their rulers, backed up by the capital of their merchants and the ships of their trading companies, continued the fight for more territory in Asia, Africa and America.
The Spaniards and the Portuguese had been exploring the Indian Sea and the Pacific Ocean for more than a century ere Holland and England appeared upon the stage. This proved an advantage to the latter. The first rough work had already been done. What is more, the earliest navigators had so often made themselves unpopular with the Asiatic and American and African natives that both the English and the Dutch were welcomed as friends and deliverers. We cannot claim any superior virtues for either of these two races. But they were merchants before everything else. They never allowed religious considerations to interfere with their practical common sense. During their first relations with weaker races, all European nations have behaved with shocking brutality. The English and the Dutch, however, knew better where to draw the dine. Provided they got their spices and their gold and silver and their taxes, they were willing to let the native live as it best pleased him.
It was not very difficult for them therefore to establish themselves in the richest parts of the world. But as soon as this had been accomplished, they began to fight each other for still further possessions. Strangely enough, the colonial wars were never settled in the colonies themselves. They were decided three thousand miles away by the navies of the contending countries. It is one of the most interesting principles of ancient and modern warfare (one of the few reliable laws of history) that ``the nation which commands the sea is also the nation which commands the land.'' So far this law has never failed to work, but the modern airplane may have changed it. In the eighteenth century, however, there were no flying machines and it was the British navy which gained for England her vast American and Indian and African colonies.
The series of naval wars between England and Holland in the seventeenth century does not interest us here. It ended as all such encounters between hopelessly ill-matched powers will end. But the warfare between England and France (her other rival) is of greater importance to us, for while the superior British fleet in the end defeated the French navy, a great deal of the preliminary fighting was done on our own American continent. In this vast country, both France and England claimed everything which had been discovered and a lot more which the eye of no white man had ever seen. In 1497 Cabot had landed in the northern part of America and twenty-seven years later, Giovanni Verrazano had visited these coasts. Cabot had flown the English flag. Verrazano had sailed under the French flag. Hence both England and France proclaimed themselves the owners of the entire continent.
During the seventeenth century, some ten small English colonies had been founded between Maine and the Carolinas. They were usually a haven of refuge for some particular sect of English dissenters, such as the Puritans, who in the year 1620 went to New England, or the Quakers, who settled in Pennsylvania in 1681. They were small frontier communities, nestling close to the shores of the ocean, where people had gathered to make a new home and begin life among happier surroundings, far away from royal supervision and interference.
The French colonies, on the other hand, always remained a possession of the crown. No Huguenots or Protestants were allowed in these colonies for fear that they might contaminate the Indians with their dangerous Protestant doctrines and would perhaps interfere with the missionary work of the Jesuit fathers. The English colonies, therefore, had been founded upon a much healthier basis than their French neighbours and rivals. They were an expression of the commercial energy of the English middle classes, while the French settlements were inhabited by people who had crossed the ocean as servants of the king and who expected to return to Paris at the first possible chance.
Politically, however, the position of the English colonies was far from satisfactory. The French had discovered the mouth of the Saint Lawrence in the sixteenth century. From the region of the Great Lakes they had worked their way southward, had descended the Mississippi and had built several fortifications along the Gulf of Mexico. After a century of exploration, a line of sixty French forts cut off the English settlements along the Atlantic seaboard from the interior.
The English land grants, made to the different colonial companies had given them ``all land from sea to sea.'' This sounded well on paper, but in practice, British territory ended where the line of French fortifications began. To break through this barrier was possible but it took both men and money and caused a series of horrible border wars in which both sides murdered their white neighbours, with the help of the Indian tribes.