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   Chapter 12 1754).

Formation of the Union By Albert Bushnell Hart Characters: 3094

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


[Sidenote: International rivalry.]

"The firing of a gun in the woods of North America brought on a conflict which drenched Europe in blood." In this rhetorical statement is suggested the result of a great change in American conditions after 1750. For the first time in the history of the colonies the settlements of England and France were brought so near together as to provoke collisions in time of peace. The attack on the French by the Virginia troops under Washington in 1754 was an evidence that France and England were ready to join in a struggle for the possession of the interior of the continent, even though it led to a general European war.

[Sidenote: Legal arguments.]

The peace of Aix-la-Chapelle of 1748 (Colonies, § 112) had not laid down a definite line between the French and the English possessions west of the mountains, According to the principles of international law observed at the time of colonization, each power was entitled to the territory drained by the rivers falling into that part of the sea-coast which it controlled. The French, therefore, asserted a prima facie title to the valleys of the St. Lawrence and of the Mississippi (§ 2); if there was a natural boundary between the two powers, it was the watershed north and west of the sources of the St. John, Penobscot, Connecticut, Hudson, Susquehanna, Potomac, and James. On neither side had permanent settlements been established far beyond this irregular ridge. This natural boundary had, however, been disregarded in the early English grants. Did no

t the charter of 1609 give to Virginia the territory "up into the land, from sea to sea, west and northwest"? (Colonies, § 29.) Did not the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Carolina grants run westward to the "South Sea"? And although these grants had lapsed, the power of the king to make them was undiminished; the Pennsylvania charter, the latest of all, gave title far west of the mountains.

[Sidenote: Expediency.]

To these paper claims were added arguments of convenience: the Lake Champlain region, the southern tributaries of Lake Ontario, and the headwaters of the Ohio, were more easily reached from the Atlantic coast than by working up the rapids of the St Lawrence and its tributaries, or against two thousand miles of swift current on the Mississippi. To the Anglo-Saxon hunger for more land was added the fear of Indian attacks; the savages were alarmed by the advance of settlements, and no principles of international law could prevent frontiersmen from exploring the region claimed by France, or from occupying favorite spots. There was no opportunity for compromise between the two parties; agreement was impossible, a conflict was a mere matter of time, and the elaborate arguments which each side set forth as a basis for its claim were intended only to give the prestige of a legal title. In the struggle the English colonies had one significant moral advantage: they desired the land that they might occupy it; the French wished only to hold it vacant for some future and remote settlement, or to control the fur-trade.

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