The French and Indian War without the French: Fred Anderson's Crucible of War

By Dull, Jonathan R. | Canadian Journal of History, December 2000 | Go to article overview

The French and Indian War without the French: Fred Anderson's Crucible of War


Dull, Jonathan R., Canadian Journal of History


Fred Anderson set himself a difficult standard to match with his superb first book, A People's Army.' Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Years' War.(1) This carefully-researched and well-written study of the impact of the war of 1755-62 on Massachusetts society and its attitudes toward Great Britain has been followed by similar books on Connecticut by Harold Selesky(2) and on Virginia by James Titus.(3) Not surprisingly, Anderson's general history of the Seven Years' War has been eagerly awaited. The last comparable study, L.H. Gipson's The Great War for the Empire has not worn well,(4) particularly because of Gipson's patronizing attitude toward Indians and blacks and because of his pro-British bias. Anderson's Crucible of War is well-intentioned, fair-minded, and free from jargon, intellectual arrogance, and attacks on other historians. On balance, however, it is somewhat disappointing, excellent in the areas Anderson knows best, but deficient on a number of topics he has not researched adequately.

Some 200 of Anderson's approximately 700 pages of text are devoted to American social and political history. (These are intermingled with other topics, but I separate them for purposes of analysis.) His chief concerns are those he studied in his first book, but expanded geographically and chronologically. His argument that the war created stresses between Britain and her American colonies is basically sound, although too much can be read into those stresses (as has been argued by an article which Anderson does not cite by John M. Murrin.)(5) This topic, however, is one that has been studied frequently, by Anderson himself as well as by Alan Rogers, Jack P. Greene, John Shy, and others.(6) Moreover, his selection of 1766 as an end point for his book seems rather artificial. Nevertheless, Anderson is to be congratulated for the skill with which he has presented his argument and the depth of his research. Most of his 86 pages of endnotes deal with American history and he has mastered a wide range of published sources.

Roughly 100 pages of text deal with the effects on native peoples of the hostilities of 1754-60, the Cherokee War of 1760-61, and the general uprising of 1763-64 commonly called Pontiac's rebellion. These pages are an intelligent and sensitive synthesis of monographs by a number of historians, including such brilliant scholars as Richard White and Michael N. McConnell.(7) Again, his research is wide ranging and his writing clear and perceptive, even if most of what he says is not particularly original. His work, moreover, can be cursory; he devotes only one paragraph, for example, to the Paxton Boys affair.

He is much less sure-footed, however, when he discusses the British inner cabinet and its workings, particularly military strategy and post-war colonial policy. Incidentally, his account is somewhat confused about the relationship of the privy council, the cabinet, and the inner or secret cabinet, the last of which was the real locus of power. Although he has done considerable reading in the field, there are some important authors he does not cite, such as J.C.D. Clark and Karl W. Schweizer, who have not only written important monographs but have also edited the papers of such figures as Earl Waldegrave and the Duke of Devonshire.(8) Anderson tends, however, to lean heavily on secondary sources; for example, he cites only once Sir John Fortescue's edition of King George III's correspondence.(9) Consequently, as a work of British history Crucible of War is rather conventional.

Reflecting Anderson's announced intention of reaching a popular audience, one of the largest portions of his book, about 200 pages, is a military history of the war against the French and their Indian allies in North America. Anderson's writing is lively and occasionally creative, such as his account of Washington's attack on the Jumonville party, which began the war. His history is compromised, however, by an excessive reliance on published English-language primary and secondary sources. …

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