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The Seven Years War, 1756-1763

Wolfe's Quebec campaign marked the supreme crisis of the greatest war the British Empire ever waged: the war, indeed, that made the Empire. To get a good, clear view of anything so vast, so complex, and so glorious, we must first look at the whole course of British history to see how it was that France and England ever became such deadly rivals. It is quite wrong to suppose that the French and British were always enemies, though they have often been called 'historic' and 'hereditary' foes, as if they never could make friends at all. As a matter of fact, they have had many more centuries of peace than of war; and ever since the battle of Waterloo, in 1815, they have been growing friendlier year by year. But this happy state of affairs is chiefly because, as we now say, their 'vital interests no longer clash'; that is, they do not both desire the same thing so keenly that they have to fight for it.

Their vital interests do not clash now. But they did clash twice in the course of their history. The first time was when both governments wished to rule the same parts of the land of France. The second time was when they both wished to rule the same parts of the oversea world. Each time there was a long series of wars, which went on inevitably until one side had completely driven its rival from the field.

The first long series of wars took place chiefly in the fourteenth century and is known to history as the Hundred Years' War. England held, and was determined to hold, certain parts of France. France was determined never to rest till she had won them for herself. Whatever other things the two nations were supposed to be fighting about, this was always the one cause of strife that never changed and never could change till one side or other had definitely triumphed. France won. There were glorious English victories at Cressy and Agincourt. Edward III and Henry V were two of the greatest soldiers of any age. But, though the English often won the battles, the French won the war. The French had many more men, they fought near their own homes, and, most important of all, the war was waged chiefly on land. The English had fewer men, they fought far away from their homes, and their ships could not help them much in the middle of the land, except by bringing over soldiers and food to the nearest coast. The end of it all was that the English armies were worn out; and the French armies, always able to raise more and more fresh men, drove them, step by step, out of the land completely.

The second long series of wars took place chiefly in the eighteenth century. These wars have never been given one general name; but they should be called the Second Hundred Years' War, because that is what they really were. They were very different from the wars that made up the first Hundred Years' War, because this time the fight was for oversea dominions, not for land in Europe. Of course navies had a good deal to do with the first Hundred Years' War and armies with the second. But the navies were even more important in the second than the armies in the first. The Second Hundred Years' War, the one in which Wolfe did such a mighty deed, began with the fall of the Stuart kings of England in 1688 and went on till the battle of Waterloo in 1815. But the beginning and end that meant most to the Empire were the naval battles of La Hogue in 1692 and Trafalgar in 1805. Since Trafalgar the Empire has been able to keep what it had won before, and to go on growing as well, because all its different parts are joined together by the sea, and because the British Navy has been, from that day to this, stronger than any other navy in the world.

How the French and British armies and navies fought on opposite sides, either alone or with allies, all over the world, from time to time, for these hundred and twenty-seven years; how all the eight wars with different names formed one long Second Hundred Years' War; and how the British Navy was the principal force that won the whole of this war, made the Empire, and gave Canada safety then, as it gives her safety now--all this is much too long a story to tell here. But the gist of it may be told in a very few words, at least in so far as it concerns the winning of Canada and the deeds of Wolfe.

The name 'Greater Britain' is often used to describe all the parts of the British Empire which lie outside of the old mother country. This 'Greater Britain' is now so vast and well established that we are apt to forget those other empires beyond the seas which, each in its own day, surpassed the British Empire of the same period. There was a Greater Portugal, a Greater Spain, a Greater Holland, and a Greater France. France and Holland still have large oversea possessions; and a whole new-world continent still speaks the languages of Spain and Portugal. But none of them has kept a growing empire oversea as their British rival has. What made the difference? The two things that made all the difference in the world were freedom and sea-power. We cannot stop to discuss freedom, because that is more the affair of statesmen; but, at the same time, we must not forget that the side on which Wolfe fought was the side of freedom. The point for us to notice here is that all the freedom and all the statesmen and all the soldiers put together could never have made a Greater Britain, especially against all those other rivals, unless Wolfe's side had also been the side of sea-power.

Now, sea-power means more than fighting power at sea; it means trading power as well. But a nation cannot trade across the sea against its rivals if its own ships are captured and theirs are not. And long before the Second Hundred Years' War with France the other sea-trading empires had been gradually giving way, because in time of war their ships were always in greater danger than those of the British were. After the English Navy had defeated the Spanish Armada in 1588 the Spaniards began, slowly but surely, to lose their chance of making a permanent Greater Spain. After the great Dutch War, when Blake defeated Van Tromp in 1653, there was no further chance of a permanent Greater Holland. And, even before the Dutch War and the Armada, the Portuguese, who had once ruled the Indian Ocean and who had conquered Brazil, were themselves conquered by Spain and shut out from all chance of establishing a Greater Portugal.

So the one supreme point to be decided by the Second Hundred Years' War lay between only two rivals, France and Britain. Was there to be a Greater France or a Greater Britain across the seas? The answer depended on the rival navies. Of course, it involved many other elements of national and Imperial power on both sides. But no other elements of power could have possibly prevailed against a hostile and triumphant navy.

Everything that went to make a Greater France or a Greater Britain had to cross the sea--men, women, and children, horses and cattle, all the various appliances a civilized people must take with them when they settle in a new country. Every time there was war there were battles at sea, and these battles were nearly always won by the British. Every British victory at sea made it harder for French trade, because every ship between France and Greater France ran more risk o being taken, while every ship between Britain and Greater Britain stood a better chance of getting safely through. This affected everything on both competing sides in America. British business went on. French business almost stopped dead. Even the trade with the Indians living a thousand miles inland was changed in favor of the British and against the French, as all the guns and knives and beads and everything else that the white man offered to the Indian in exchange for his furs had to come across the sea, which was just like an enemy's country to every French ship, but just like her own to every British one. Thus the victors at sea grew continually stronger in America, while the losers grew correspondingly weaker. When peace came, the French only had time enough to build new ships and start their trade again before the next war set them back once more; while the British had nearly all their old ships, all those they had taken from the French, and many new ones.

But where did Wolfe come in? He came in at the most important time and place of all, and he did the most important single deed of all. This brings us to the consideration of how the whole of the Second Hundred Years' War was won, not by the British Navy alone, much less by the Army alone, but by the united service of both, fighting like the two arms of one body, the Navy being the right arm and the Army the left. The heart of this whole Second Hundred Years' War was the Seven Years' War; the British part of the Seven Years' War was then called the 'Maritime War'; and the heart of the 'Maritime War' was the winning of Canada, in which the decisive blow was dealt by Wolfe.

We shall see presently how Navy and Army worked together as a united service in 'joint expeditions' by sea and land, how Wolfe took part in two other joint expeditions before he commanded the land force of the one at Quebec, and how the mighty empire-making statesman, William Pitt, won the day for Britain and for Greater Britain, with Lord Anson at the head of the Navy to help him, and Saunders in command at the front. It was thus that the age-long vexed question of a Greater France or a Greater Britain in America was finally decided by the sword. The conquering sword was that of the British Empire as a whole. But the hand that wielded it was Pitt; the hilt was Anson, the blade was Saunders, and the point was Wolfe.


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Chronicles of Canada, The Winning of Canada, A Chronicle of Wolfe, 1915

 

Chronicles of Canada


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