The social and economic impact of the Seven Years War
The Seven Years War was the first conflict in human history to be fought around the globe. With a justification, the war that lit up Europe, North America, India, and many other locales from 1756 until 1763 has often been referred to as the real First World War. The Seven Years War enveloped both European and colonial theatres. It was the European counterpart to the French and Indian War from 1754 until 1763. The Seven Years War usually called the war in that period all around the world.
The war began officially between France and England on May 15, 1756, when the latter made a formal declaration of war. The Seven Years War was one of the major conflicts in history since the fall of Rome. It had Bourbon King Louis XV on one side and Frederick II on the other. In North America, hostilities between American and Canadian colonists had erupted two years previously. The war led to the fall of New France.
The War was the culmination of more than half a century of conflict between Britain and France. The Seven Years War was mainly the result of trading rights. The British colonials in America were pinned up against the Atlantic seaboard, with only the Hudson Bay Company in the north challenging the French trading. With thirty-three times the population in less than half the land area, the British found the need to expand. But doing so, they would enter the Ohio Valley, controlled by France.
In 1754 George Washington was ambushed in the Ohio Valley, and this was the catalyst for the Great War in North America to come. From that moment on, both Motherlands dispatched troops, albeit not in equal numbers. For France, the war in Europe was the top priority, so the country sent just a few troops. It also considered it was more important to protect its colonies in the West Indies, since sugar cane was more lucrative than the fur trade in New France. But Great Britain was determined to destroy France’s colonial empire, and it sent more than 20,000 soldiers to America.
In Europe Britain tried to prevent the war from spreading and to isolate France diplomatically. King George II of Britain was Elector of Hanover in northwestern Germany. If France occupied Hanover, Britain would be forced to exchange any colonial conquests to regain it. Further, Britain’s safety from invasion relied on friendly or neutral occupation of the North Sea ports. Britain had a defensive alliance with the Netherlands and Austria for the protection of the Austrian Netherlands, now Belgium. Because Britain had planned to commit its troops to colonial conquest, they refused to help defend the Barrier Forts protecting the area, which weakened their ties to their two former allies.
Britain’s interception of the Canada convoy, and not French expansion in North America was interpreted as aggression by the European powers. Since the alliance with Holland and Austria was doomed, Britain approached Russia for assistance against potential attacks on Hanover from the French or France’s ally from the last war, Prussia. Austria interfered with these efforts by exploiting Czarina Elizabeth’s hatred of the Prussian king Frederick. Frederick was in desperate need of an ally and successfully made an alliance with Britain for the protection of Hanover.
Conflict spilled over into India in 1756 as the Third Carnatic War, the last in a series of 18th-century conflicts between the French and the British for supremacy in the area. The first two Carnatic wars had been fought mainly on the eastern coast of southern India, in a region called the Carnatic.
The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the war and leaded to peace between the countries involved in the first great world conflict. In the words of the treaty that ended it, the Seven Years War brought “troubles to the four parts of the world.” Never before had military conflict unfolded on a global stage and with such consequences. From the Ohio Valley Indians to the islanders of Sumatra, indigenous peoples experienced violence wrought by rival European powers, while the lives of the British and French colonists in North America changed dramatically.
Colonial assemblies in Massachusetts and several other colonies refused to support the war by raising taxes or troops unless royal governors relinquished control over military appointments and operations. Virginia’s House of Burgesses declined to raise the necessary war revenue through taxation at all, preferring a deficit financing method that relied on printing more paper money. Rampant inflation ensued, and British merchants refused to accept depreciated currency. In the throes of the Industrial Revolution, responded by extending credit to their American customers. Accordingly, extended consumer debt became a common phenomenon in the colonies.
Peace on the continent removed the stimulus of a war economy and brought about a recession in the colonies. Debtors in both urban and agricultural sectors experienced the credit squeeze. The balance of trade continued to favor Britain, rendering colonial economies more and more dependent on British commercial ties and financial policy well into the 1770s. Even as colonial standards of living rose, indebted colonists grew increasingly suspicious of British motives and interests.
The Seven Years War saw Britain established as the greatest colonial power, with control over India and North America seemingly secured, while Prussia emerged as the greatest power on the Continent, and the dominant force inside Germany, reducing still further the power of the Holy Roman Empire and Habsburg Austria. Frederick II of Prussia emerges as the most remarkable leader of the war. Prussia was the smallest of the main combatants, and yet Frederick survived year after year of campaigning, and despite coming near to defeat he emerged triumphant. Prussia was able once and for all to maintain control over Silesia and complete her transformation into a major player in European politics. Austria’s defeat was but a harbinger of things to come as the power of the once mighty Hapsburgs slowly began to wane.
The modernization of Russia into a military power to be reckoned with would continue through Napoleon’s frustration at Moscow in 1812 and carry well into the 20th century. The war became Russia’s first large scale military involvement in European affairs.
The treaty strengthened the American colonies significantly by removing their European rivals to the north and south and opening the Mississippi Valley to westward expansion. Britain conquered Canada. At peace, and eager to secure control of its hard-won colony, Great Britain found itself obliged to make concessions to its newly conquered subjects; this was achieved with the Quebec Act of 1774.
The American colonists no longer needed protection from Britain, and the attempt by Parliament to tax the colonists to help pay for the war sparked the American Revolution. Slaving stations in West Africa, sugar islands in the Caribbean, and large parts of India all came under British control. Because Britain, and not France, proved victorious that is why the USA citizens speak English and not French, but in Canada French left as a language. The great consequence of the war in North America was forming of the movement for independence.
France and Spain embarked upon a major naval buildup, made possible by the retention by France of fishing rights off the Canadian coast. Stronger Bourbon navies made possible the American victory in the Revolutionary War.
The debts France incurred in this war and later in the American Revolution helped cause the French Revolution. The humiliation of the army led to reforms and innovations which were later used with great success by Napoleon. France, although totally humiliated by the loss of so much of her overseas empire, would learn from her mistakes and later rise to dominate Europe with her armies through the military reforms that were soon to be instituted
Russia showed itself to be a major power capable of enormous influence. It gained greater influence in Poland, and this would eventually lead to its partition.
This war, followed by a virtually continuous involvement of Sweden over the next century in other wars, produced a military capability which made Sweden, for a period, the greatest military power in the north.
This war, with its extreme destruction and wanton civilian casualties strengthened the hatred between Swedes and Danes, while polarizing the until-then ambivalent Norwegian opinion to one of fear and resistance to Sweden. The invasion routes of Norway also presaged the attacks on Norway in the next century and defined Norwegian defensive policy.
By its lack of participation, The Netherlands showed itself to be in relative decline. Smaller states like The Netherlands and Saxony were becoming increasingly vulnerable. Despite its glorious past, Spain confirmed that it was a weak client state of France with minimal military power.
Britain confirmed itself as the world’s dominant naval and economic power and a force to be reckoned with in the European balance of power. Britain became the dominant European power in India enabling it to eventually conquer all of India and used its resources to further expand the empire. Some historians believe British control of India made the Industrial Revolution possible.
In general, the greatest consequence of the Seven Year War was the beginning of the wave of antislavery thought. This war started the movement for freedom all around the world, especially in British and French colonies.
The second greatest consequence of the Seven Year War was the Industrial Revolution. The people all around the world and especially in Britain got the stimulus, and this was the time when began the iron and engineering revolutions.
Anderson, F. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York, Knopf, 2000.
Bowen, D. War and British Society 1688-1815. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1998.
Nester, W. R. The First Global War: Britain, France and the Fate of North America, 1756–1775. Westport, Praeger, 2000.
Jennings, F. Empire of Fortune: Crowns, Colonies, and Tribes in the Seven Years War in America. New York, Norton, 1988.
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