To what extent did the French and Indian War lead to the American War of Independence?
In spite of the name, there were actually three parties involved in the war – the French, British and Indians. Prior to the outbreak of war, French territories were extensive, although with a smaller population than British territories. Most Indian tribes favoured the French, and their local knowledge was a great asset to their allies. Although after the war they subsequently transferred allegiance to the British, hoping to check the expansion of the colonies, this was clearly unsuccessful. Historians often argue that the weakening of the French foothold in the colonies paved the way for independence, by removing one of the major players.
It is significant that only two years after the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1763), which ceded French territories to the British, relations between the British and the colonies began to deteriorate. The loss of French power in America may well have encouraged the colonists to pursue independence, emboldened by the knowledge that it had been possible to remove the French, even if this owed much to British military efforts. If one colonial power could be removed, then another could surely follow.
As we see in the current struggle for independence in Catalunya, the issue of self-determination can be a powerful motivation in the quest for autonomy. One reason commonly cited for the refusal of the Spanish government to permit a referendum is their fear that other regions will follow suit and demand independence. The American colonists resented the fact that, in spite of paying taxes to the British crown, they were deprived of any representation in Parliament. Perhaps even greater opposition was provoked by the British stationing a standing army in America, at American expense. The colonies could well have feared that these troops could easily be used against them – and as a further insult, they were expected to pay for these soldiers!
It should also be remembered that many of the early American colonists had left Europe to escape religious persecution. Therefore it is reasonable to suppose that only a few generations later, the memory of that struggle was still present in their descendants. The British attempts to assert control may well have been an unwelcome reminder of the perceived oppression of the Old World, rendering the New World more keen to in turn assert their own right to self-governance. A pattern of resentment was created by the issues mentioned above, along with many other political differences.
Although it took some 12 years for open conflict to break out between America and its colonial masters, it should be remembered that such conflicts are rarely sudden and spontaneous, but instead are often provoked by a build-up of resentment and accumulated anger. The delay between the end of the French and Indian war, and the initiation of the War of Independence, is therefore symbolic of a slow growth that lead inexorably to a bid for freedom. It is not a sign that there was no relation between the two events.
In conclusion, the French and Indian war played a significant role in leading to the War of Independence. We cannot assume that without the first conflict, there would never have been a bid for independence. It would most likely have taken longer to unfold, and perhaps may have initially proved unsuccessful, but the will of the colonists to choose their own government would surely have prevailed eventually. Perhaps the US would have covered a smaller territory, but there is an inevitability about the question of independence, in one form or another, especially given the vast distance between the Americas and the UK.