The Fight for Empire: The First Struggle
1. Rivals for Empire
Among the youthful enemies of Walpole who styled themselves "Patriots," and whom he scornfully called "The Boys," the most famous was William Pitt the Elder, afterwards Earl of Chatham; and the Age of Chatham followed quickly on the Age of Walpole.
It was a time of war and colonial conquest, as Walpole's had been a time of peace and commercial prosperity. It opened with the War of Jenkins's Ear, which became part of the War of the Austrian Succession, and in which Pitt appeared chiefly as a critic. Its greatest event was the Seven Years' War, in which his genius secured the triumph of his country in India and Canada. It ended with the War of American Independence, which undid half the work that he had done, and brought him, a broken and sorrowful man, to his grave.
All these wars, as far as England was concerned, were largely due to her growing rivalry with France for supremacy in both America and India. There were certainly other causes of quarrel, especially the increasing friendship between France and Spain, whose kings, both belonging to the Bourbon family, made "Family Compacts" which alarmed English statesmen not a little. But throughout the period the main question was always this, Should the leading power in Asia and in America be France or England?
As to this, the first war settled nothing; by the second, the French power in both quarters was practically crushed; in the third, France took her revenge on England by helping the American colonists to gain their independence, but failed to win back for herself what she had lost. Thus the history of these wars is really, from one point of view, the history for nearly half a century of the British Empire.
When George I became king, twelve English colonies fringed the Atlantic coast of what is now the United States. On the east the sea bounded all alike, but on the west there was generally no fixed frontier between the English settlements and the vast stretch of country which was still inhabited only by the Red Indian tribes.
These twelve colonies differed greatly in many ways. Some had been established by adventurers or traders, others by men fleeing from religious persecution or political tyranny at home. Others, like New York, had been conquered from the Dutch. And Georgia, a thirteenth colony, established in 1732, was founded by the kind-hearted General Oglethorpe as a refuge for needy debtors. Maryland was at first a Roman Catholic colony: Pennsylvania was a Quaker settlement. As to population, there were few foreigners of European descent in the north, but many elsewhere; while negroes were comparatively rare in the northern colonies, but actually outnumbered the whites in the far south. Again, in the nature of their commerce, of their social life, even of their Governments, the contrasts between the various colonies were no less striking.
These contrasts made it extremely difficult for the colonies to act together. Yet all had certain common interests. All were threatened occasionally by the savage attacks of the scalp-hunting Red Indians, who once occupied the whole continent, but had been driven back from the east coast by the white man. And all were threatened also by the less horrible but more constant danger of French attacks. For France, too, at this time, had North American colonies, which, indeed, flanked the English colonies on both sides. To the north, beyond the great lakes, and controlling the important St. Lawrence River, was the French province of Canada. To the south, at the mouth of another important river, the Mississippi, was the French province of Louisiana. And the land behind the English settlements and between the two French possessions, a vast area stretching westward through unknown tracts for a thousand miles from the Alleghany Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, was a prize on which English and French alike had set their hearts.
The English, holding the middle coast, claimed a right to push their frontiers westward as far as they felt inclined. The French, holding the mouth of the Mississippi, claimed a right to occupy the land all along its banks and up to the great lakes and the St. Lawrence. But the English had no mind that their thirteen colonies should remain for ever a mere line of coast settlements, surrounded on three sides by French and Spanish territory. And the French were equally unwilling to see Canada limited for ever to the size of the present province of Quebec, and cut off from Louisiana by a solid belt of English territory.
At first sight the English colonists, numbering over a million souls, seemed enormously stronger than the eighty thousand Frenchmen who were all that the two French colonies together could muster. But the French were more friendly with the Indians, more ready to intermarry with them, to learn their languages, to let them keep their ancient customs. And the French home Government had far more power than the Georges and their ministers over the people of the colonies, and therefore could more easily pursue a steady, vigorous policy.
In India the English power dated back to the reign of Elizabeth, for the famous East India Company was founded in 1600. It had jealous English rivals at home, and jealous foreign rivals—Dutch and Portuguese—in India. Yet it prospered, and long before 1714 possessed three important settlements. In the north-east there was Calcutta, in the south-east Madras, and on the west coast Bombay, which once belonged to Portugal, but was part of the dowry of Charles II's Portuguese wife. Each settlement had its own Governor and Council, and was independent of the others, but all were subject to the directors of the Company at home. At present the Company still aimed at trading with the natives rather than at governing them. And it was mainly in imitation of French rivals, and to check their triumphs, that it gradually changed its policy.
For a French East India Company was founded by Louis XIV, and it, too, had by this time three important settlements, each in the neighbourhood of one of the chief English posts, the most famous being Pondicherry, not far from Madras. Also it had the two islands of the Mauritius, in the Indian Ocean, which were invaluable to the fleets of any European State with possessions in India. And, when the vast Mogul Empire, to which most of India once belonged, broke up early in the eighteenth century, the French saw and seized an opportunity of increasing their power. For, guided especially by the brilliant Dupleix, Governor of Pondicherry, they interfered in disputes between native rulers quarrelling over the fragments of the Empire. And thus they gained for France both profit and power.
Such, then, was the condition of East and West when the Age of Chatham began, and England started on her fight for Empire.
2. A Fruitless Struggle
William Pitt, grandson of a Governor of Madras, was born in 1708. At twenty-three he entered the army, at twenty-seven he entered Parliament, at twenty-eight, for attacking Walpole in Parliament, he was turned out of the army. "We must muzzle this terrible cornet of horse," said the minister. But the "muzzling" was quite a failure. Pitt went on attacking Walpole till he fell, and then he attacked the new ministers. For, though friends and foes of Walpole alike now came into office, Pitt remained shut out, and yet he knew himself to be at least as able as any who were admitted. Also he disapproved at this time of England's taking any active share in European affairs, and especially of her being made to pay for the troops of Hanover, which he scornfully called "a despicable Electorate."
This naturally disgusted a Hanoverian king, and George II detested Pitt, and prevented his becoming Secretary-at-War even when the ministers wished it. Nor was it till the Jacobite dangers enabled them to force their wishes on the king that Pitt got even the lower post of Paymaster-General. But, when once in office, he took more pains to please his Royal master, while he delighted the nation by refusing the profits which other Paymasters had taken in addition to their salaries.
During the war of 1739-48, however, his power was still small, and the war itself did little credit to any one. In America the one great success—the capture of the strong French fortress of Louisburg, at the mouth of the St. Lawrence—was due chiefly to the colonists. In India, Madras was lost, and an attempt to take Pondicherry failed. In Europe, indeed, England and her allies won one glorious victory, and suffered one hardly less glorious defeat. At Dettingen, on the Main in Germany, in 1743, for the last time in history, an English king headed his own troops in battle. The English and Hanoverians, caught in a trap by the French, came out triumphant, owing partly to the mistakes of the enemy, but partly to their own steadiness and the cool courage of the king. Two years later, at Fontenoy, English infantry fought with heroic courage against overwhelming odds, and, though at last forced to retreat, inflicted almost as much loss on their foes as they themselves suffered. But, while nothing was gained by the victory of Dettingen, the defeat of Fontenoy encouraged the Young Pretender in his schemes of invasion.
Even at sea, for some time, England did nothing noteworthy, except for Anson's famous voyage round the world in 1740-44. And that voyage proved successful only after great loss and suffering. Starting with eight vessels, Anson lost half his fleet and more than half his men within a year, through storm and sickness, and that before even beginning to harass Spanish America. And, though there he did what damage he could to the enemy he found no treasure ships, as Drake had done. So, two years after starting, he crossed the Pacific, to seek plunder in the Spanish Philippine Islands. There he landed in the Ladrones and refreshed his men.
And now an accident threatened to bring the whole expedition to a disastrous end. For one day, when Anson and most of his crew were ashore, his own ship—the Centurion—was carried out to sea by a storm, and with her seemed to go all hope of ever leaving the island. Anson, indeed, was not to be beaten. He hauled up on shore a ship which he had taken from the Spaniards. Finding her too small to hold all his men, he cut her in half and lengthened her. The work was hard. The ship's carpenters with their tools and the ship's smith with his forge were luckily all ashore, but the smith had no bellows to blow his fire. A clumsy bellows was made, however, out of roughly tanned ox-hides and the barrel of a musket, and at last the vessel was ready to sail. And then, lo and behold! the Centurion suddenly reappeared, and all the toil and invention of three anxious weeks turned out to have been wasted.
But eventually, after refitting his ship with extreme difficulty at Canton, in China, Anson reaped the reward of all his labours. For near the Philippines he now met the Spanish galleon which every year carried the treasure of the islands home to Spain. And, though she was far larger, and better armed, and better manned than the Centurion, he took her with the loss of only three men, while nearly seventy of her crew were killed.
The treasure was worth almost a million and a half dollars, and Anson felt he could now return to England; so, having sold the galleon in China, he started on his long homeward voyage. Just at the end, in the English Channel itself, he narrowly escaped capture by a French fleet. But at last, in June, 1744, he anchored safely at Spithead, and thirty-two wagons carried up his spoils to London.
Yet, marvellous as his adventures were, they hardly influenced the war. And it was not till 1747 that Anson and Hawke, in two great fights, crushed the French navy and made England really once again Mistress of the Seas. Next year the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle stopped the fighting. But, as far as England was concerned, it left things much as they had been before the fighting began. She disgusted the Americans by giving back Louisburg to France. She astonished the Indians, who thought her the defeated power, by recovering Madras. Her quarrel with Spain she left unsettled. And that was all that resulted from nine years of war.
3. War in Disguise
From 1748 to 1756 England and France were in name at peace but in fact constantly at war. The ink on the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle was hardly dry when fresh trouble began in America. France strengthened Louisburg: England replied by building the fortress of Halifax in Nova Scotia. The French in Canada stirred up discontent among their fellow-countrymen in Nova Scotia: England thereupon deported eight thousand of the French Nova Scotians, and scattered them among the English colonists to the south. The French Governor of Canada set up marks to show that the Ohio valley belonged to France, and turned out English settlers: the English Governor of Virginia sent George Washington—afterwards so famous as England's enemy—to warn the French that they must go. The Virginians began to build a fort on the Ohio; the French drove them back; Washington defeated the French; the French defeated and captured Washington; and the English fort was replaced by the French Fort Duquesne.
Then the home Governments stepped in, though professing that, as they were each only helping their own colonists, they were not really at war with one another. Early in 1755 England sent General Braddock with two regiments to help in capturing Fort Duquesne, and France sent troops to Canada. Braddock took Washington as his aide-de-camp, but his expedition failed disastrously. The colonists gave little help: the promised Indian forces never appeared. Only with the utmost difficulty did he get wagons for transport, and his army had actually to make the road by which it marched. And, when at last, with fourteen hundred of his best troops, he had nearly reached the fort, his army was surprised and destroyed by a force hardly half as large, and consisting for the greater part of Indians.
Braddock and his English troops were brave enough, but they were helpless. Burdened with the stiff and heavy equipment of the European soldier of that day, they were fighting in a dense American forest, and against an active, light-armed foe well hidden behind trees and shrubs. Yet they fought exactly as they would have done on an open battlefield in Europe, with an enemy equipped like themselves and drawn up full in view. Naturally their well-ordered volleys rang out in vain against foes whom they could not even see. And the enemy, safe under cover, picked them off, one by one, with unerring skill, till two-thirds of the officers and more than half of the men were dead or wounded. Braddock himself fell after four horses had been killed under him; Washington escaped almost by a miracle; and the remnant of the little army broke up and fled.
Meanwhile the peace of 1748 proved nearly as empty a form in India as in America. The only change there, indeed, was that French and English professed to be friendly while fighting on different sides in the native quarrels, and that, for a time, they agreed, if they met in battle, to shoot each other's allies rather than fire directly at one another. The brilliant Dupleix still led the French, but he had now to face a no less brilliant Englishman.
Robert Clive was born at Market Drayton (in Shropshire) in 1725, his father being both a country squire and a lawyer. At six he was already "out of measure addicted to fighting"; as a schoolboy he was a ringleader in every kind of daring mischief; and many a neighbour breathed more freely when in 1743 he went off to India as a "writer," or clerk, in the East India Company. To his adventurous temper, however, office work was an unbearable slavery, and presently in the war with France he found a way of escape from his detested occupation. Captured by the French when they took Madras, he fled, disguised as a native, and played a leading part in the rest of the war.
Soon after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle a new Nawab, or chief ruler, set himself up in the province of the Carnatic in southern India, by the help of Dupleix. Next year, by the same help, a new Nizam began to rule in the Deccan, north of the Carnatic. And in each case Dupleix secured for France both land and influence. But Clive and his comrade Major Lawrence now showed that Englishmen also could play this game. Like their French rivals, they had few European soldiers; but they too drilled native troops to help them, and in themselves they were more than a match for any general who came against them.
In 1751 the French were besieging the last great stronghold in the Carnatic—Trichinopoly. Suddenly Clive seized the citadel of Arcot, the capital of the province, and so forced part of the French army to abandon the siege and attack him. Then for fifty days, with few Indians and fewer Englishmen, he held the broken-down fort against a host of foes, and when at last they marched away he caught them up and beat them. Next year, though elsewhere in India the French won victories, their army outside Trichinopoly surrendered, and the Nawab they had set up was killed.
Thus Clive had shown the Indians that Frenchmen were not invincible. Moreover, he had won the admiration and the faithful service of his own native troops. The French commanders quarrelled; the French Government called Dupleix home; and the French and English Companies agreed together to fight no more in native disputes.
But meanwhile, though still without declaring war, England and France had really begun to fight at sea. In June, 1755, Admiral Boscawen did what damage a dense fog permitted to a French fleet carrying troops to Canada, and before Christmas at least three hundred French merchant ships lay in English ports as prizes of the English navy.