History is a continuous rope of causes and effects. The birth of the United States is no different. Our Revolutionary War was the result of battles across the globe between the world’s major powers.
How were you a part? From the Philippines to Philadelphia, an ancestor of yours likely affected the formation of the United States.
War of the Austrian Succession
Human conflict began when two men wanted one thing. There is no beginning to this chain of events. For the sake of this story, though, let’s say it began with the War of the Austrian Succession.
Before his death in 1740, Charles VI was King of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, Archduke of Austria and Duke of Parma, as well as being the Holy Roman Emperor. His only son died at seven months of age. His titles, except for that of Holy Roman Emperor, fell to his eldest daughter, Maria Theresa.
The other powers of Europe would not accept a female with such power. Austria was allied with Great Britain and the Dutch Republic against France, Prussia and Spain. From 1740 to 1748, the two sides battled in Europe, North America and India.
In the end, Maria Theresa was accepted as successor to her father. The European map and traditional alliances were shuffled.
Finished But Not Over
The War of the Austrian Succession was expensive for all sides. The combatants needed to recharge and reload. The European powers ambitiously spread across the globe, hungry for more land and resources.
Spain, Great Britain and France were competing for dominance in North America, South America, the Philippines and India. The great navies of Britain and Spain battled on the sea while France kept its weight in Europe. France traditionally traded spoils in Europe for lost colonies abroad.
France had holdings in Canada and Louisiana. It aspired to connect them by taking control of the Ohio Valley. Spain held Florida and other parts of southern North America. Great Britain had its colonies on the Atlantic seaboard. It wished to expand into the west but needed to pass through the French territories to get there.
The French and Indian War
The North American conflict is remembered as the French and Indian War by the colonists because it involved Britain facing down the French and their Native American allies. Because of France’s large borders and relatively small navy, it preferred to keep most of its troops at home and utilize allies abroad. French trappers and explorers had assimilated with Native American society. They readily joined together against the threat of the British.
Great Britain, with its naval might, could bring greater manpower to the New World. France countered with tactics and local knowledge of geography, multiplying its force. The British relied on their colonists and promised them the right to expand westward when victory was achieved.
From 1756 to 1763, France and Great Britain battled over North America. All the European powers fought over trade, territory and treasure across the globe. At the conclusion, Prussia took control of neighboring territory and eventually became modern Germany. England won most of North America and India. Spain controlled New Orleans and parts of North America to the west. France was left with some of its Caribbean and African colonies.
Proclamation of 1763
With France defeated, the colonists were ready to pounce on the west. Yet King George did not think he could protect pioneers from the Native American population. He signed the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting expansion west of the Appalachian Mountains.
Westward expansion was firmly in the minds of every colonist fighting the French in the Ohio Valley. Keeping the colonists from that land was seen as betrayal.
The British Crown spent vast amounts of money and resources to win the war. It had new territory to develop and defend. It needed money.
New Taxes and Pressures
The British saw its colonies as a cow to be milked.
Great Britain passed the Sugar Act in 1764, increasing the duties paid on sugar and other goods. Importation of non-British liquor was prohibited, forming a monopoly for the Crown.
The customs system was reorganized to squeeze every penny from the colonies.
The Currency Act of 1764 stopped colonists from printing their own money.
The Stamp Act of 1765 required all printed goods, from playing cards to pamphlets, to carry an official seal that had to be bought. It directly paid for the British troops occupying the colonies. The Quartering Act was passed at the same time, forcing colonists to house soldiers.
The colonists had enough. They spoke out against taxation without representation. They boycotted British goods. Leaders spread pamphlets and rallied crowds. They intimidated British tax agents until the agents quit.
The First Continental Congress met in Philadelphia in 1774. The wheels of revolution began turning.
How was your family involved?
A Native Nations Perspective on the War of 1812
By Donald Fixico
The War of 1812 was an important conflict with broad and lasting consequences, particularly for the native inhabitants of North America. During the pivotal years before the war, the United States wanted to expand its territories, a desire that fueled the invasion of native homelands throughout the interior of the continent. Tribal nations of the lower Great Lakes, including the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Ojibwa, and others saw their lands at risk. The same was true for the Muscogee Creek, Seminole, Choctaw, Cherokee and Chickasaw in the south.
The Native leaders who emerged in response to this expansion shared a single concern, that of protecting tribal lands. There were Indians who sided with the Americans -- Red Jacket and Farmer’s Brother led a Seneca faction to help the Americans at the Battles of Fort George and Chippewa. But most Indian nations sided with the British against the U.S, believing that a British victory might mean an end to expansion. In all, more than two dozen native nations participated in the war. In addition to the Lower Great Lakes Indians, led by Tecumseh, and Southern Indians, the Mohawks fought under Chief John Norton to hold onto their lands in southern Quebec and eastern Ontario.
The Indian Confederation under Tecumseh
The Shawnee war chief, Tecumseh, and his brother the Prophet, also known as Tenskatawa, played crucial roles in leading the Indians in the war. By 1811, Tecumseh had built a confederation of more than two dozen Indian nations, all of whom hoped to stop the American settler encroachment on their lands. One might ask why would they be concerned? The answer is clear. Tecumseh and his followers had observed eastern coast and upper Great Lakes Indians being removed from their lands by settler expansion, and they had seen a domino effect as one removed nation encroached on another’s land. The residential order of more than one hundred eastern Indian nations had been permanently disrupted. Furthermore, both the French and Indian War, called the Seven Year’s War in Canada (1756 to 1763) and the American Revolution (1775 to 1783) cost many native nations lives and land. The Indians in Tecumseh’s confederation had every reason to be concerned about the future.
It’s important to ask not only about the native leaders methods for dealing with the situation, but also to ask about their decisions, their influences and their vision for future relations with the United States and Britain. Tecumseh is a good case in point, since it was his decision, as a leader, to try to build a strong system of many alliances with other native nations. At the time, each native nation consisted of a few to several communities, each speaking a different language. Tecumseh realized that he had to depend on interpreters to translate his conversations and speeches to each Indian nation that he came into contact with. He also knew that he would have to raise a massive but focused army, drawing from these diverse Indian nations, a daunting task. Imagine trying to get all of Europe, with its different cultures and languages, to fight as a single army. Finally, Tecumseh’s decision to forge an alliance with the British shows him to be a leader wise in the ways of statecraft. The daily challenges of managing an Indian confederation and an alliance with the British would be daunting for any individual.
Tecumseh’s and the other Indians’ decision-making process went well beyond politics. He and his fellow leaders knew that the British and American linear minds moved from claiming the land, to colonization and exploitation of natural resources. They knew their own process was one of native logic and inclusiveness -- involving the flora and fauna and native communal values and relationships. Thus, the Indians were acting on a different system than either the U.S. or the British. Choosing the British as an ally was difficult at best, but the future of native North American hung in the balance.
Tecumseh preached his confederation and alliance point-of-view to various tribes, arguing that, in the big picture, an Indian confederation held the hope of stopping U.S. westward expansion. He gained respect in almost every case, and many followers, although the Choctaws stood firmly for neutrality. Pushmataha, the noted Choctaw leader, opposed Tecumseh’s grand alliance.
Tippecanoe and the Aftermath
In 1811, when Tecumseh was in the South, a group of natives led by Tenskwatawa, attacked U.S. army forces in the Battle of Tippecanoe. The battle was a draw, but the U.S. General William Henry Harrison declared victory and then had his troops sack and burn Prophetstown, Tecumseh’s home base in the Indiana territory. Following the Tippecanoe defeat, Tecumseh realized even more how important it was for a British alliance.
During the war, the Indian nations fought more than forty battles and skirmishes against the U.S. In southern Canada, pro-British and pro-U.S. Iroquois found themselves fighting each other, but in most engagements, the native forces fought alongside the British. They were key to the British success at both Detroit and Queenston; at the Battle of Beaver dams native warriors, with no help from their British counterparts, defeated the Americans, taking 500 prisoners of war. Although the Creek War of 1813-1814 is not normally viewed as a part of the War of 1812, Creek resistance to the U.S. Army in the south led to a series of battles that eventually crushed Indian military power in that region.
The Loss of a Leader
Perhaps the most significant battle took place in 1813 in Canada. Tecumseh and his warriors, deserted by the British forces, faced a pursuing army of Americans led by William Henry Harrison at the Battle of the Thames. As this confrontation became certain, Tecumseh promised his warriors that there would be no retreat. This battle, he felt, must be won in order to stop American westward expansion in all areas. But Tecumseh was mortally wounded, and his death and defeat marked the end of the native campaign to drive back white settlers. On a larger scale, the American victory cleared the way for the U.S. claim to the native interior of North America with more treaty negotiations following, resulting in numerous removals of most of the eastern woodland Indian communities to the west.
After the War of 1812, the U.S. negotiated over two hundred Indian treaties that involved the ceding of Indian lands and 99 of these agreements resulted in the creation of reservations west of the Mississippi River. Other native resistance movements sprang up, including the Black Hawk War of 1832 and the Second Seminole War (1835 to 1842), but neither affected so many different Indian nations as did the War of 1812.
Both the war and the treaty that ended it proved to be devastating to all of the eastern Indian nations. The Ghent agreement halted U.S. expansion into Iroquois land in Canada, and some native communities of the Great Lakes managed to remain in their original home areas, but their small numbers posed no threat to the existence or the expansion of the United States.
Donald Fixico is the Distinguished Foundation Professor of History at Arizona State University, and the author of Treaties with American Indians: An Encyclopedia of Rights, Conflicts and Sovereignty and Rethinking American Indian History.
Legacies of the War
The Legacy of the War of 1812 and the impact it had on Native nations in North America.