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Apr 7, 2007 5:30 pm


A Rothbardian Take on the French and Indian War:



For those interested in early American history or military history, I strongly recommend Fred Anderson's THE WAR THAT MADE AMERICA: A SHORT HISTORY OF THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR (New York: Viking Penguin, 2005). Not merely is it a captivating read, but its overall interpretation of the French and Indian War is amazingly similar to Murray Rothbard's in volume 2 of his CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY: "SALUTARY NEGLECT"; THE AMERICAN COLONIES IN THE FIRST HALF OF THE 18TH CENTURY (New Rochelle, NY: Arlington House, 1975), despite the fact that Anderson probably never heard of Rothbard.

Anderson previously wrote a much longer book on the same subject, CRUCIBLE OF WAR: THE SEVEN YEAR'S WAR AND THE FATE OF EMPIRE IN BRITISH NORTH AMERICA, 1754-1766 (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2000). One of the few comprehensive studies of that conflict since the classic, multi-volume works of Francis Parkman and Lawrence Henry Gipson, it became the basis for a PBS series on "The War that Made America," which in turn was converted into the newer, shorter book. Yet of the two books, THE WAR THAT MADE AMERICA is of much greater interest to libertarians, not only because it is more succinct, but also because it goes deeper into the war's background, becomes less caught up in military minutia, and does a better job of keeping the Indians in proper focus throughout the later stages of the war.

Rather than treating the conflict as primarily between the British and French empires, THE WAR THAT MADE AMERICA places the Indians center stage right from the outset. And it does so without viewing them all collectively as victims. Indeed, they become sophisticated and diverse players in Anderson's account. Like Rothbard, he singles out the Iroquois for their brutal imperialism against other Indian groups, and he even goes further in implicating the Iroquois' Covenant Chain alliance with the British for the war's outbreak. Also like Rothbard, Anderson is sympathetic to Pennsylvania's pacifism in earlier conflicts, explaining how it contributed to the colony becoming one of the most prosperous in British North America--until the policy was undermined by, among other factors, the conniving of Benjamin Franklin. Anderson's account coincides with Rothbard in making clear that the British were all along a major aggressive threat to the French in North America rather than vice versa, as alleged in so many Anglo-centric accounts. Anderson likewise emphasizes attempted land engrossment by men such as Franklin and George Washington. Finally, like Rothbard, Anderson demonstrates how costly to the British were the ultra war policies of William Pitt the Elder after his rise to power.

Anderson's discussion of the war's conduct, although obviously far more detailed than Rothbard's, has intriguing parallels with Rothbard's treatment of the later Revolutionary War in a subsequent volume of CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY. Rothbard followed the then "new" military history in stressing the critical but often neglected role of the American militia during the Revolution. Anderson does the same for the military role of the Indians, who in previous accounts tend to be treated as superfluous auxiliaries of little genuine value. Anderson illustrates how the Indians gathered intelligence, affected logistics, and provided other vital services that could spell the difference between battlefield victory or defeat. He furthermore chronicles a strategic debate among the French that was echoed in the debate about military strategy that American revolutionaries would later carry on. Whereas New France's Governor-General Vaudreuil favored LA GUERRE SAUVAGE, an irregular strategy that relied heavily on Indian allies and Canadian militia, the marquis de Montcalm preferred imposing the strictures of conventional European warfare with nearly exclusive reliance on regulars. Anderson suggests that Montcalm's winning of this strategic debate was a major cause of France's ultimate military defeat in the war.

To top if off, Anderson's WAR THAT MADE AMERICA is exceedingly well written, and an excellent introduction for anyone unfamiliar with the period.

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Pierre Desrochers - 4/16/2007

I haven't read the book, but saw the TV series. For what it's worth, the perspective - especially related to military matters - presented is fairly close to what Quebecois high-schoolers are (or perhaps were?) taught (the Anglos seized numerous ships before the conflict was officially begun; the French-Canadian and native militias, when properly used, never lost a battle, etc...)

If nothing else, Montcalm comes out better in the PBS special than in most Quebec accounts, where he is often presented as the archetype of the "maudit francais" (loosely translated as "Goddamn Frenchman") who had no respect for "Canadiens" (ie, French subjects born on this side of the pond).


Sudha Shenoy - 4/10/2007

Anglo-French squabbling contd between the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle & the outbreak of the Seven Years' War. There were disputes over the so-called 'Neutral Islands' in the West Indies -- at least, the British alleged that the French were firmly establishing themselves there. The fighting between the French & English East India Companies contd in South India, with each Company supporting different local rulers, esp in the Carnatic & in the large state of Hyderabad. Dupleix & Clive contd their rivalry. 'Nominally as the agents of Indian powers, the British & French fought one another through a period of peace in Europe & into the Seven Years War' (P J Marshall in idem, ed, Oxf Hist of the Brit Empire, vol 2, The Eighteenth Century (1998) p. 501.)

This involvement contd from 1749 onwards. At first, Dupleix was very successful. In 1749 a French-backed claimant became Nawab of the Carnatic; he assigned its revenues to the French. In 1750, the Nizam of Hyderabad appointed Dupleix as his deputy for certain of his territories. The English Company complained that French-supported Indian rulers were cutting the British off from their trading hinterland. Fighting between French forces & those of the English East India Company, with their respective Indian allies, contd intermittently from 1751 through to 1754. The French Company went bankrupt, & Dupleix was recalled.

The English Company forces were led in the Carnatic by Stringer Lawrence, a forgotten name now, but with much resonance in Indian history even 50 years ago. Clive's attack on Arcot (1751) is still part of Indian history.

Whitehall eventually woke up to what was happening: 'A squadron of warships & some regular troops were sent out in 1754 to support the [English] Company' (Marshall, The Making & Unmaking.., p. 85.)

So the conflicts on the Anglo-French frontier in North America were another instance of continuing imperial rivalries.

See also Jeremy Black, Europe and the World 1650-1830 (2002) pp. 112-113, 120-121; Bruce Lenman in Oxf Hist Brit Empire, vol2, pp. 159-60. -- Black, incidentally, has some fascinating comparisons of the differing methods of colonial governance in the Spanish, Portuguese, French, & British empires.


William Marina - 4/9/2007

At the time, I wrote 8 reviews of Conceived in Liberty, 2 on each of the 4 vols., and suggested some bibliography for the last vol. Yes, Leonard did contribute greatly to vol. one. I appreciated Murray writing in the final vol., "To Bill Marina, the pre-eminent reviewer of Conceived in Liberty." I also urged Murray to finish up the 5th vol., offering suggestions, etc., but to no avail.
Too bad he never completed it.


Jeffrey Rogers Hummel - 4/9/2007

Thanks for the references, Sudha. Once one includes India (and the West Indies) in the overview, I can imagine that the Seven Years' War looks more like an imperial rivalry with blame equally shared. But also bear in mind that unlike the previous three global wars between Britain and France during the eighteenth century (which the British colonists in North America charmingly and appropriately named King William's War, Queen Anne's War, and King George's War), the French and Indian War began in North America a year before it spread worldwide.


Mark Brady - 4/9/2007

The title page of the first volume attributes responsibility to "Murray N. Rothbard, with the assistance of Leonard P. Liggio" but I don't believe the other volumes credit Liggio.


Lester Hunt - 4/9/2007

Yipes! You mean he was an unaknowledged co-author? That seems like a pretty strong claim.


Sudha Shenoy - 4/7/2007

1. For an interesting contrast/supplement, see P J Marshall, 'The Making & Unmaking of Empires, Britain, India, & America c.1750-1783' (OUP 2005) ch 3, on the Seven Years War in North America. Marshall uses (inter alia) Anderson's 'Crucible of War', of course.

Marshall sees Newcastle as trying very hard to _contain_ conflict with the French, rather than escalate it. Marshall also sees frontier conflicts between _two_ empires, each fearing the other's expansion. (But then he's British.)

2. For William Pitt the Elder, see the two-part treatment by Marie Peters, 'The myth of William Pitt, Earl of Chatham,the great imperialist, Part I: Pitt & imperial expansion 1738-1763', Jnl of Imperial & Commonwealth Hist vol 31 (1993); '...Part II: Chatham & imperial reorganisation 1763-78', JICH (1994); & her 'The Elder Pitt' (Longman 1998.)


David T. Beito - 4/7/2007

Interesting. Franklin is quite a mixed bag. On the one hand, he played an important role the Declaration of Independence but, on the other, he gave us the postal service and encouraged militarism.

On a side note, I've heard it said, however, that Leonard Liggio had as much to do with writing Conceived in Liberty as Rothbard.

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