Gateway to the Classics: The Struggle for Sea Power by M. B. Synge
The Struggle for Sea Power by  M. B. Synge

How Pitt Saved England

"If England to itself do rest but true."


W HEN war was formally declared between France and England in 1756, it seemed as if the dreams of a French empire in America might indeed be realised. Louis XV. of France had sent the Marquis de Montcalm to press the boundary claims of Canada, and soon a long chain of forts threatened to cut off the English coast colonies from any possibility of extending their lands in any direction. The colonies themselves were hopelessly divided, and, so far, England had not awakened to a sense of her great responsibilities with regard to her empire beyond the seas.

Besides this, there were constant alarms of a French invasion on her own shores. An English fleet had just retreated before the French; Minorca, the key to the Mediterranean, had fallen into the hands of France; while Dupleix was apparently founding a French empire in India.

A despair without parallel in history took hold of English statesmen.

"We are no longer a nation," cried one English minister.

He did not know that England was on the eve of her greatest triumphs in America as well as in India. It was this dark hour that called forth the genius of William Pitt, afterwards Earl of Chatham, one of the greatest statesmen England ever had. He was the son of a wealthy governor of Madras. He had sat in Parliament for twenty-two years before his chance came.

"In England's darkest hour, William Pitt saved her."

"I want to call England out of that enervate state in which twenty thousand men from France can shake her," he said as he took office. He soon "breathed his own lofty spirit into the country he served. He loved England with an intense and personal love. He believed in her power, her glory, her public virtue, till England learnt to believe in herself. Her triumphs were his triumphs, her defeats his defeats. Her dangers lifted him high above all thought of self or party spirit."

"Be one people: forget everything but the public. I set you the example," he cried with a glow of patriotism that spread like infection through the country.

"His noble figure, his flashing eye, his majestic voice, the fire and grandeur of his eloquence, gave him a sway over the House of Commons far greater than any other Minister possessed."

"I know that I can save the country, and I know no other man can," he had said confidently.

This was the man who now turned his eyes westwards and won for his country Canada, which is hers to-day. He saw that if the English colonies in America were to be saved from the French, the mother country must save them. He appealed to the very heart of England, and by his earnestness and eloquence he changed his despairing country into a state of enthusiasm and ardour. He now made plans for the American campaign of 1758. A blow should be struck at the French in America, at three separate points. The French forts of Duquesne and Ticonderoga were to be captured, while the great French naval station Louisburg, on Cape Breton Island, beyond Nova Scotia, was to be taken. It commanded the mouth of the river St Lawrence, and no English ships could reach the capital, Quebec.

The genius of Pitt showed itself in his choice of the man selected for this difficult piece of work.

James Wolfe, the future hero of Quebec, had fought at the battle of Dettingen when only sixteen, and distinguished himself at Culloden Moor. He was now given supreme command of the expedition to the famous fortress of Louisburg, the key to Canada, which he was to conquer triumphantly.

All England now thrilled with the coming struggle in America. The merchant at his desk, the captain on the deck of his ship, the colonel at the head of his regiment,—all felt the magic influence of William Pitt. All eyes were strained towards the backwoods of the wild West, where the drama was to be played out.

Fort Duquesne was taken from the French, and to-day, on the same site, stands the city named after Pitt,—Pittsburg, one of the largest towns in Pennsylvania.

So Pitt had roused England to a sense of her danger and her responsibility, and helped her to rise to a greatness far surpassing the dreams of either Elizabeth or Cromwell.

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