Eric Marcarelli

Software Developer, Writer, Painter

Review of The War that Made America

August 08, 2010 by in Books, History, Writing

This is an academic book review I originally wrote for my colonial history class.

The War That Made America: A Short History of the French and Indian War was written by Fred Anderson, a professor of history at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Anderson has also written longer book, The Crucible of War, on the same subject. In The War that Made America, Anderson argues that the French and Indian War created the conditions that would ultimately lead to the American Revolution, and so it may be considered “the war that made America” (Anderson viii). The war essentially ended France’s imperial presence in North America. Now left to contend alone with the British colonists, whose hatred of Indians was fueled by the war, Native American ability to play a determining role in the developments of North America came to an end. The conduct and conclusion of the war encouraged the British colonists in North America to view themselves as equal partners in the British Empire, while in stark contrast it emboldened Britain to use its military power to exert control over the colonies. Anderson’s work will be explored through an examination of the evidence leading to his thesis, an analysis of his sources, and connections to Edmund Morgan’s argument about American Freedom.

The French and their Indian allies were successful in the initial campaigns of the French and Indian war. Eventually, however, as the war spilled over to Europe and the British turned the tide in North America, the war culminated in a treaty know as the Peace of Paris (Anderson 229). Under the conditions of the treaty, “Britain acquired all of France’s North American possessions east of the Mississippi River (save New Orleans)” (Anderson 229). France’s imperial presence in North America was effectively ended. Before the war, the British colonists found themselves in a dangerous world, with colonies ruled by the “tyrant king of France” to the North, ready to expand and threaten their future security and prosperity (Anderson 250). With the French threat neutralized and the Spanish both “weak and distant,” these colonists began to wonder whether they still needed the protection of the British army (Anderson 244). The shift in power brought about by the loss of France’s North American colonies would have a significant impact on both their British and Native American rivals.

The French and Indian War is traditionally seen as a struggle between two great empires, but Anderson sees this as a “vastly oversimplifie[d]” view of the war which “makes it impossible to grasp its true significance” (Anderson xxiv). Anderson presents a more inclusive idea of empire as the “extension of dominion, or control, by one group over others” (Anderson xxiv). An empire, then, need not be the highly centralized and technologically sophisticated image that typically comes to mind. In this light, the Iroquois League emerges as a third imperial power in the struggle. Anderson writes that complex interactions between the natives and colonists before the war “had both enabled colonization to succeed and limited its success,” with outcomes that “ultimately depended on the acts of the Indians themselves” (Anderson 3). In order to succeed, colonial powers had to interact with the Native Americans through trade and military alliances, and relied on them as sources of labor and land (Anderson 3). Prior to and throughout the war, various Native American groups were able to significantly impact the developments in their world.

In fact, the incident which started the great powers down the path to war was a demonstration of this ability. Tanaghrisson, the so-called “Half King” of the Iroquois, accompanied Major George Washington on his mission to demand the French leave the disputed Ohio region. After a skirmish between Washington’s men and a small French force left the French commander wounded, a cease-fire was called. As the commander tried to communicate his mission to Washington, Tanaghrisson stepped up and assassinated him, declaring, “Thou are not yet dead, my father” (Anderson 47). This act and its accompanying statement, which refuted the French role of Father, was Tanaghrisson’s way of declaring war on the French and sealing a bond between his people and the English. It is a clear demonstration that in the world that entered the war, Native American groups were able to have a significant impact on the course of events.

After the influence of France was removed, the ability of Native Americans to exert this influence was dealt a deathblow. Because the Iroquios controlled lands between the British and the French, they were able to gain power by “counterpois[ing] the empires against each other” (Anderson 10). Prior to the French and Indian War, Anderson indicates that this tactic “rendered Anglo-French imperial competition indecisive” (Anderson 10). Throughout this period the Iroquios were able to tweak the delicate balance in their favor as the middlemen for both information and smuggled goods. During the war, the Iroquios had great sway in determining the ultimate outcome. Anderson argues that without Iroquios support, even the British force of twenty thousand regulars and seventeen thousand provincials probably would not have been enough to conquer New France (Anderson 182). The British had to pass through Iroquios territory on two of the three possible invasion routes, and without their alliance the British would have risked having advance warning of the invasion passed to the French (Anderson 182). Lacking the kind of industrial military power the French and British could field, much of their power flowed from their ability to manipulate the interactions between the British and French in their favor. Left to face only one European empire, they were in a far weaker position.

Native American power was weakened farther still by a growing hatred of Indians which was fueled by the French and Indian War. The ultimate source of this hatred came out of a practice known as “mourning wars” (Anderson 5). As Native American tribes were devastated by the arrival of European diseases, they sought to supplement their dwindling populations by taking captives from their enemies. When this tactic was turned against the British, it became in their minds “the preeminent symbol of Indian barbarity” (Anderson 155). Anderson depicts the use of captive taking throughout the war, but one occasion stands out above the others. After the French captured Fort Carillon and granted the British an “honorable capitulation,” France’s Indian allies felt cheated out of the captives they fought to win (Anderson 111). As the British soldiers marched out of the fort, the natives ambushed, carried away their rewards, and largely left the French. By the end of the war, the Native Americans had been so demonized in the eyes of the British that they were willing to use such tactics as intentionally spreading smallpox, believing that “the only good Indian was a dead one” (Anderson 238). With the counterbalance of France gone and the fervor for Indian blood unleashed among the British colonists, the Native American capacity to play a determining role in the development of North America became a thing of the past.

Participation in the imperial conquest of New France led British colonists to view themselves not as mere subjects, but equal partners in the British Empire. The British had relied on the colonists during the war, if for no other reason than they saved the regular troops from wasting their efforts on manual labor (Anderson 211). At the onset, however, the colonists, “intent on what they called their rights, would cooperate at best grudgingly with the demands for money and men” (Anderson 99). Lord Loudoun had succeeded in raising fewer than seven thousand colonial soldiers (Anderson 124). William Pitt’s reassurances of payment from parliament allowed colonists to “imagine that they were not so much subjects the British Empire as partners in a great imperial endeavor” (Anderson 125). Rather than demands from a superior, the requests now felt more like exchanges among equals. This shifted perspective led the colonies to provide over twenty-three thousand soldiers; more than three times the number Loudoun was able to raise (Anderson 124). When the colonists came to see themselves as actors, rather than pawns, in the great war for empire, their enthusiasm swelled, their reservations were eased, and the way they viewed themselves was dramatically altered.

After the glorious conclusion of the war in which they played an active role, the colonists had a thoroughly imperial vision for their future. Anderson points to Mayhew’s vision of “a mighty empire” with “cities rising on every hill” (Anderson 207). Mayhew and his contemporaries saw a prosperous future spread before them, all the better because they would be part of the great British Empire. Mayhew, indeed, is quick to assure his reader that he does not envision an independent empire (Anderson 207). Even when the colonies began to move toward a conflict with Britain, many were still pursuing their vision of the empire, not an independent nation. George Washington, writes Anderson, objected “not to the empire but the way it was currently being run” (Anderson 254). Washington, along with his country, would turn away from the British Empire only after it became clear that its plans for the colonies were radically different from their own vision they had developed during the war.

Although the British colonist’s views of the empire were changing, the British government’s vision remained steadfast, and that government’s actions during the war led it to believe it could use military power to enforce its will in America. Prior to the French and Indian War, the colonies enjoyed what Edmund Burke called “salutary neglect” from parliament and the king (Anderson 243). While the king’s government viewed this freedom as a simple lack of policy, the colonists came to consider it their right. During the war Britain made radical departures from this policy. Major General Edward Braddock was given enough power to be considered by Anderson as “Britain’s viceroy in North America” (Anderson 57). When Loudoun made demands to colonial officials he discovered that though they would initially protest, they would ultimately “respond to coercion” (Anderson 107). Incidents such as the “ethnic cleansing” the British carried out against the Acadians during the war emboldened them to believe such force could effectively be used to solve a range of problems (Anderson 85). The French and Indian War gave the British government an opportunity to begin exerting more control over its North American colonies, and the vast tracts of lands won in that war gave it every incentive to continue afterward.

Another aspect may contribute to these British attitudes. Throughout the war, British regular army commanders constantly bemoaned the poor quality of the colonial soldiers. Anderson writes that “they were almost never thoroughly trained or disciplined, and their performance in battle … had never been of reliably high quality” (Anderson 211). Surely, these unprofessional soldiers could never stand a chance against the king’s army. In their last conquest of the war, the British captured the Spanish-controlled Philippines. The people there, however, refused to yield to the British and led a successful insurgency which compelled Britain to return it to Spain. Blinded by their successes, the British failed to learn from this lesson and continued to believe in the invisibility of their military (Anderson 227). The two competing visions for America’s future ultimately turned out to be irreconcilable, and would lead down the path to war and independence.

In his biographical note, Anderson writes that he avoided footnotes so that the general audience he was aiming at would not be scared away (Anderson 267). Although he does provide the names of dozens if not hundreds of works in his biographical note, it does not lend itself to analysis as well as footnotes would because it does not reveal the sources for specific assertions. Nevertheless, the discussion of these sources and a direction to citations in The Crucible of War seem to indicate that the book is well-researched and that Anderson’s arguments stand on solid ground. Anderson’s biographical note along with his other book would be useful for someone looking to more deeply research the war.

Anderson’s argument about the French and Indian War serves as a good contrast to the thesis advanced by Edmund S. Morgan in American Slavery, American Freedom. Morgan argues that the growth of freedom in America occurred not only alongside the growth of slavery, but in large part as a result of it. The two ideas are not mutually exclusive, and in fact it would seem that neither is truly complete without the other. Anderson continually returns to the character of George Washington, who helped ignite the French and Indian War and would later go on to lead the Continental Army in the American Revolution. But Washington was not only shaped by the war; he was also shaped by the Virginian society based on American Slavery. It was, by the same token, that society which was able to send Washington and his troops on their original mission against the French. To consider one over the other, then, would be to oversimplify the story.

The French and Indian War removed the French from influence in North America and ended the age when Native Americans could significantly effect the development of their homeland. The British colonists were emboldened to consider themselves allies rather than subjects of in the British Empire, while the British government sought to exert greater control over the colonies than ever before. All of these factors culminate in the conditions that would lead to the American Revolution and independence. Although Anderson’s writing is at times dull and largely lacks the sense of drama a book about war should resonate, it effectively delivers and supports his thesis. Perhaps the most important message to take away from Anderson is in his words of caution: that the most successful war of conquest the British ever fought led to the loss of its American colonies, and the creation of a world which would ultimately unravel its mighty empire (Anderson 265).


Anderson, Fred. The War that Made America. New York: Penguin, 2005.

Morgan, Edmund S. American Slavery, American Freedom. New York: Norton, 1975, 2003.

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