What impact did the Seven Years War have on the American Revolution?

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    This is gonna be one long answer. A big part of it was that the Seven years war drained a good part of England's treasury, which led the English to increase taxes to pay for new wars, which was the straw that broke the camel's back. The American colonies declared independence and the rest is history.
    – Luke_0
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 19:20
  • Truth - one of the reasons I extracted this from the original question was that it isn't something I could briefly summarize. But I think it is important.
    – MCW
    Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 19:23
  • @AmericanLuke This is an interesting notion, but something is amiss here: which new wars exactly? As far as I know Britain was not involved in any major war between Seven Years and American Indep. So you might be arguing a bit circularly here, unless I am missing something. Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:02
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    @AmericanLuke Surely, you mean Hessian. Prussian mercenaries is a sort of oxymoron, I think. And imho you still have to actually show that the taxes were intended to pay for wars - which I rather doubt at this stage. If you recall the facts presented in the classic account in The March of Folly the main purpose of the taxes was to assert the right of Westminster to tax the colonies at will in principle. That is - there was no real pressing need, but Parliament wanted to show who was the boss. Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:38
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    @FelixGoldberg: My understanding is that England went into debt during the Seven Years War, and raised taxes to pay off the war-debt. Remember that England subsidized Frederick substantially from 1756-1763, and maintained a decent-sized Hanoverian Army during the conflict, as well as defeating the French in India, West Indies and North America. Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 22:40

3 Answers 3


The North American version of the Seven Years' War was the French and Indian War. And yes, it did set the stage for the American Revolution for at least three reasons:

  1. It provided a casus belli. The French and Indian War cost a lot of money, which the British tried to recoup by taxing the "Americans" of the Thirteen Colonies. The result was a battle cry of "no taxation without representation."
  2. It provided "grist for the mill." The Americans got a taste of fighting (and victory), and decided to test their wings against the mother country. The war also helped train a number of highly capable American officers, including William Prescott (Bunker Hill), Daniel Morgan (Saratoga and Cowpens), and above all, George Washington. A number of foreign officers schooled in the Seven Years' War, such as Baron Friedrich von Steuben, Baron Johan (Jean) deKalb, and John Peter Muhlenburg also officered the American armies.
  3. It set the stage for a favorable "reversal of alliances." The French and Indian War had pitted them against the British and the Americans. The American Revolution pitted the British, (and some Indians), against the Americans, French, and some French allies such as Spain and the Netherlands.



There is an unobvious connection pointed out by Tarle: Before the Seven Years War the major threat for the colonists was the French in Canada who could conceivably mount an invasion and conquer the colonies (who hardly relished the prospect). The only sure protection against that was Britain. Once Britain had vanquished France and removed the ever-present threat of external invasion, it itself became the colonists' biggest problem.

Think of it as a Maslow-pyramid thing.

Where I differ from Tarle's analysis is that I don't think it was pre-determined from that point that the colonies should become independent. A touch of Burkean magnanimity and Britain might have kept America. But let's stop there, I am sliding into counterfactuals.

  • Perhaps it was unobvious when Tarle first presented it, but it is quite obvious now. I have certainly recognized this, and seen it written about, for decades Commented Dec 2, 2013 at 23:11
  • Well, perhaps I should have said - it was not obvious to me when I had first read id. Which was quite a while ago :) Commented Dec 3, 2013 at 7:31
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    There is a certain political idea that comes from Tarle's observation: don't make your allies independent of your magnanimity. I wonder whether Machiavelli has a line or two about that... A milder form of that idea was present in British foreign politics for centuries: when getting involved in others' brawls Britain almost always tended to take sides of the weakest of the belligerents.
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 15, 2016 at 21:28
  • @Michael That's a trick the Romans had been adept at centuries before the Brits. Commented Jan 17, 2016 at 21:41

In Kevin Phillips' The Cousin's Wars he puts a slightly different spin on the influence of the Seven Years' War on the Revolution. After some false starts, the British Army and the Colonials achieved a relation of working together to win the war...the Army would ask the colonies for money, or supplies or troops directly to the legislatures and they would figure out the hows and whys and get it done. They assumed this responsible acting on their part would be rewarded by its continuation going forward.

Hence when Parliament, who was not involved in any of this, rejected this notion and started cutting out the Colonial Legislatures as middlemen with the finance bills, the powerful Colonials who made up these groups hit the ceiling. As a means of making money, these bills and taxes were trivial - as everyone has noted at the time and since. But they were very effective at signalling that the English legislature was going to deny powerful Colonials any say in how their part of the world would be run, which was very short sighted on their part. The two sides continued to talk past each other for the next few decades until the point of revolution was reached.

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