Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 is Fred Anderson’s comprehensive study of the French and Indian War and its aftermath. For those unfamiliar with the conflict, the French and Indian War refers to the war in North America that was part of the larger world conflict known as The Seven Years War.
The conflict pitted Great Britain and her Native American allies against France and her Native American allies. It mostly occurred in lands west of the original thirteen English Colonies as well as in Canada.
Though I found this book interesting and worthwhile for many reasons, my initial reason for reading it was that the French and Indian War had a great influence upon the American Revolution, which broke out about twenty years later. I wanted to read a book on this earlier conflict. I did a little research to decide which book to read on the subject. There are several respected histories out there. This one had a reputation of being the most comprehensive. Some reviews described it as being too academic. I did not find that to be true. Instead, I thought that this work was very accessible and understandable. With that, this is a long book. My edition was more than 700 pages in length, not including endnotes.
This book is mostly a political and military history. Those not looking to read a lot of military history might want to avoid this one. Personally, I found this work engrossing. The structure of the book is little unusual. The first two thirds or so is an account of the war itself, with a heavy emphasis on military history. The policies and politics of Great Britain’s government are also covered in some detail.
The final third of the book covers history after the war. It is fairly heavy on analysis and makes a strong point that the French and Indian War led to the American Revolution. I found the combination of these two parts to be a little odd. The mix of a detailed political and military chronicle, with a targeted history attempting to prove a point, seems unconventional. With that, I loved reading about both the history of the war itself and the tie-in to the American Revolution.
The nature of the major fighting that occurred during this conflict is explored in some detail. Most military activity centered around British and French forts located in wilderness areas. Each side assembled small armies that traversed the wilderness in an attempt to reach, besiege and capture the other side’s forts. Native American support was key to each side. The British better managed to cultivate Native American allies, which gave them a major advantage. In the end, however, it was control of the sea that gave Great Britain her final victory as French troops and resupply to North America were eventually cut off.
As mentioned above, Anderson explores many connections between the Seven Years War and the American Revolution. Great Britain ran up an enormous national debt during the Seven Years War. She was still expending large sums on protecting Canada and the other territorial acquisitions that were taken during the war. As a result, Parliament levied taxes on the thirteen colonies to help pay these expenses. These taxes were a major cause of the revolution.
New territories were also taken from France to the west of the thirteen colonies. The colonists were eager to move out and settle those lands. Great Britain, wanting to avoid conflict between the colonists and Native American tribes, attempted to close off these western territories to the colonists. These restrictions caused enormous friction. Anderson’s analysis of this issue contains his take on the philosophy that related to British ideas of Empire and colonialism. I found this line of inquiry intriguing.
Tensions between British troops and the colonists actually began during the French and Indian War, when British generals demanded that the colonists provide quarters to British troops. Also, British troops and Provincial forces served together. Instead of harmoniously working together, this only added to the friction.
The colonists, having fielded large military forces and expended great resources during the conflict, came out of the war feeling that they had sacrificed and done their part. They felt that they had contributed to the world victory that Great Britain achieved. The British on the other hand, generally had the impression that the colonists were unreliable and hesitant to fight.
For these reasons and others, Great Britain and the American colonists were set on a collision course. Anderson writes,
“The Seven Years’ War had reshaped the world in more ways than anyone knew. But the lessons both Britons and Americans derived from the conflict would prove inadequate guides when men on opposite sides of the Atlantic tried to comprehend what those changes meant, and dangerous ones when each tried to understand the actions of the other.”
This book may not be for everyone. As mentioned above, it is heavy with military history. There is an incongruity to its two parts. With that, I loved this work. Both segments were of great interest to me. I found it to be a comprehensive chronicle of the conflict. In addition, Anderson digs deeply into the reasons for the American Revolution. This is a subject that fascinates me. The book’s length provided me with a level of detail that I often look for. Ultimately, for those interested in these subjects, this is an extremely informative and fascinating book.