France and Britain engaged in a succession of wars
in Europe and the Caribbean at several intervals in the 18th century.
Though Britain secured certain advantages from them -- primarily in
the sugar-rich islands of the Caribbean -- the struggles were generally
indecisive, and France remained in a powerful position in North America
at the beginning of the Seven Years War in 1754.
By that time France had established a strong relationship
with a number of Indian tribes in Canada and along the Great Lakes,
taken possession of the Mississippi River and, by establishing a line
of forts and trading posts, marked out a great crescent-shaped empire
stretching from Quebec to New Orleans. Thus, the British were confined
to the narrow belt east of the Appalachian Mountains. The French threatened
not only the British Empire but the American colonists themselves,
for in holding the Mississippi Valley, France could limit their westward
An armed clash took place in 1754 at Fort Duquesne,
the site where Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is now located, between a
band of French regulars and Virginia militiamen under the command
of 22-year-old George Washington, a Virginia planter and surveyor.
In London, the Board of Trade attempted to deal with
the conflict by calling a meeting of representatives from New York,
Pennsylvania, Maryland and the New England colonies. From June 19
to July 10, the Albany Congress, as it came to be known, met with
the Iroquois at Albany, New York, in order to improve relations with
them and secure their loyalty to the British.
The delegates also declared a union of the American
colonies "absolutely necessary for their preservation," and adopted
the Albany Plan of Union. Drafted by Benjamin Franklin, the plan provided
that a president appointed by the king act with a grand council of
delegates chosen by the assemblies, with each colony to be represented
in proportion to its financial contributions to the general treasury.
This organ would have charge of defense, Indian relations, and trade
and settlement of the west, as well as having the power to levy taxes.
But none of the colonies accepted Franklin's plan, for none wished
to surrender either the power of taxation or control over the development
of the western lands to a central authority.
England's superior strategic position and her competent
leadership ultimately brought victory in the Seven Years' War, only
a modest portion of which was fought in the Western Hemisphere.
In the Peace of Paris, signed in 1763, France relinquished
all of Canada, the Great Lakes and the upper Mississippi Valley to
the British. The dream of a French empire in North America was over.
Having triumphed over France, Britain was now compelled
to face a problem that it had hitherto neglected -- the governance
of its empire. It was essential that London organize its now vast
possessions to facilitate defense, reconcile the divergent interests
of different areas and peoples, and distribute more evenly the cost
of imperial administration.
In North America alone, British territories had more
than doubled. To the narrow strip along the Atlantic coast had been
added the vast expanse of Canada and the territory between the Mississippi
River and the Allegheny Mountains, an empire in itself. A population
that had been predominantly Protestant and English now included French-speaking
Catholics from Quebec, and large numbers of partly Christianized Indians.
Defense and administration of the new territories, as well as of the
old, would require huge sums of money and increased personnel. The
old colonial system was obviously inadequate to these tasks.