Shirley undertakes operations in 1756, then turns over command to Lord Loudoun and suffers public disgrace. A thwarted campaign and a French victory suggest the importance of intercultural relations in deciding the war’s outcome. Colonial politics and the war effort; resistance to the commander in chief. War erupts in Europe. Britain fails to achieve political stability and sustains two notable military defeats. As 1757 begins, Lord Loudoun proves more adept at fighting the colonists than the French. The Anglo-Americans lose an important fort in New York and see hope glimmer, faintly, in Pennsylvania. As colonial opposition to Lord Loudoun edges toward deadlock and Britain faces a European shambles, William Pitt takes over direction of the war.
THE SIX FRENCH warships that sailed up the St. Lawrence in May 1756 carried several hundred troops and the man who would lead Canada’s defending forces for the next three years, Louis-Joseph, marquis de Montcalm-Gozon de Saint-Véran. At the age of forty-four, Montcalm was not one of France’s leading generals, but an experienced professional officer—a small, bright-eyed, quick-witted man whose courage and presence of mind in battle had earned him the rank of maréchal de camp, or brigadier general, during the previous war. The reflective cast of his mind has made Montcalm an attractive figure to many American historians, who have tended to portray him as the brilliant opposite number of the prickly, pompous British commander in chief, Lord Loudoun. His disdain for Canadians, his reluctance to use Indian allies to advantage, and his pessimism about achieving victory over the vast numbers of his enemy have made him a far more problematic figure for Canadian scholars. 1
In fact Montcalm did fritter away advantages, particularly in the use of Indians, that had long preserved New France from conquest; and he did it quite consciously—indeed, almost conscientiously, for he saw his actions as matters of principle, undertaken in defense of civilization itself. Yet Montcalm’s alienation of his allies, and eventually of the Canadians themselves, was a gradual process that did not immediately result in Anglo-American victories; indeed, for more than two years the redcoats and their provincial auxiliaries suffered a virtually uninterrupted series of defeats at his hands. The downward spiral of Anglo-American military fortunes in 1756 and 1757 cannot be understood apart from the increasingly bitter disputes between the colonial assemblies and Lord Loudoun, which finally led to the bottoming-out of Britain’s war effort in America. To understand how and why the Anglo-Americans failed to take advantage of their vastly superior numbers and resources, and to see the reasons behind Montcalm’s abandonment of strategies of proven merit, is to begin to grasp the decisive influence of cultural factors in shaping the last and greatest of America’s colonial wars.
The marquis de Montcalm (1712–59). A soldier’s soldier in the European mode, Montcalm was horrified by the style of warfare he encountered in America and did everything in his power to make his operations conform to civilized standards as he understood them. He may have lived long enough to regret it. Courtesy of the McCord Museum of Canadian History, Montreal / Musée McCord d’histoire canadienne, Montréal.
AS THE SHIPS bearing Montcalm and his men fought their way westward against the Atlantic’s March gales, the men William Shirley had left behind at Oswego battled the deadlier enemies of scurvy and starvation. The 50th and 51st Regiments had been on short rations ever since their long river-and-lake supply line from Albany had frozen shut. With his men so weak that they could barely mount guard, Lieutenant Colonel James Mercer in the late winter found himself with no choice but to evacuate the fort. He had already set March 25 as the day he would order his men to march for Schenectady when, on March 24, fourteen bateau-loads of supplies arrived and staved off disaster.
Still there was no immediate relief. For the next month and more, provisions trickled in at a rate just sufficient to sustain the garrison, for with the coming of spring, travel between the advance supply base at Schenectady and Oswego became mortally dangerous. On March 27 French and Indian raiders appeared, as if from nowhere, outside the palisade of Fort Bull at the west end of the Great Carrying Place—the portage road across the divide between the east-flowing Mohawk River and west-running Wood Creek. The raiders annihilated Fort Bull’s small garrison, razed its buildings and palisade, destroyed supplies and boats, and vanished back into the woods. Thereafter from the headwaters of the Mohawk to the walls of Oswego there was no security for the bateaumen who carried the post its lifeblood. Weak and sick, dying at an appalling rate, the men of Mercer’s garrison held on, but only barely. Their sufferings and the loss of Fort Bull seemed grim omens for the year that had barely begun.2
Smoke may still have drifted from the wreck of the fort when, thousands of miles away, Henry Fox began to draft the letter ordering Major General Shirley to turn over command to his successor and “repair to England with all possible Expedition.” Weeks would pass before Shirley would realize how bad circumstances were, either at Oswego or at Whitehall; at the moment he was back in Boston, catching up on his duties as governor and drumming up political support for the campaigns he had planned for the coming summer. He hoped to convince the Bay Colony’s legislators to join the other New England provinces and New York in raising thousands of provincials for an assault on Crown Point, and he had reason to anticipate success. Massachusetts had always been zealous to prosecute wars against the French and Indians; although its population was still less than a quarter million, for example, nearly eight thousand of its men (one in five of those in the prime military ages) had enlisted in provincial and regular units during the previous year. 3
As Shirley well knew, the problem was less enthusiasm than money, for the General Court had levied heavy taxes to support the previous campaigns, and the legislators wanted assurances that sufficient subsidies or reimbursements would be forthcoming from England to allow them to meet the empire’s demands without bankrupting their province. Shirley did his best to reassure them, promising to press their claims with the authorities at home and in the meantime lending the province thirty thousand pounds from his war chest to help meet current expenses. Conscious that many of them were discontented with the way William Johnson had managed the previous year’s expedition, he also promised to appoint a popular, thoroughly experienced Massachusetts officer, John Winslow, as major general in command of the combined provincial forces on the Crown Point expedition. Pleased with his attention to their concerns, the legislators agreed to raise 3,000 men for the coming year, as Massachusetts’s contribution to the total of 7,500 provincials to be recruited from the northern colonies.4
Plan of Fort Bull . . . on the frontiers of New England and New France, taken by assault by the French at mid-day, 27 March 1756. Joseph-Gaspard Chaussegros de Léry, lieutenant of the troupes de la marine and commander of the Franco-Indian raiding party, recorded the outlines of Fort Bull before he ordered it blown up and put to the torch. As this engraving, made from his sketch, suggests, the post was not so much a fort as a way station: a collection of storehouses and barracks, enclosed in a single palisade. Courtesy of the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan.
The enthusiasm of Massachusetts together with that of Connecticut ensured that a large provincial expedition would proceed against Crown Point in 1756. The remainder of Shirley’s plans for the year called for the regulars under his command in New York—now including four infantry battalions and a substantial train of artillery—to attack the French forts of the upper St. Lawrence basin. Since New France’s western posts were all supplied from Montréal, the seizure of the Fort La Galette (Oswegatchie) on the upper St. Lawrence and Fort Frontenac (Cataraqui) at the foot of Lake Ontario would render the rest of the western forts untenable—and that included everything from Niagara and Detroit on the Great Lakes to Duquesne in the Ohio Country. Shirley had also been encouraging the colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia to send a provincial army over Braddock’s road to attack Fort Duquesne, but this was not a prerequisite for victory. Even if these provinces did not, or could not, cooperate—and given the chaos on their frontiers, he could not realistically hope for much from them—the elimination of Fort Frontenac alone would destroy France’s ability to control the west.5
These expeditions by no means added up to a war of conquest, but if successful they would cripple New France militarily, and they would do so in a way that was both more economical and more strategically elegant than Braddock’s plan. Most of all, however, Shirley’s proposals for 1756 utilized the complementary strengths of the provinces and the regular army without asking for unrealistic exertions from any of them.
William Shirley was nothing if not a consummate judge of what could and could not be expected of colonial societies at war. He knew that he could rely only on the militant New England provinces (in practice, Massachusetts and Connecticut) for heavy commitments of men and money. He also understood the limits within which he had to operate in dealing with them. Thus, his allocation of provincial and regular forces to separate expeditions, which to any professional military officer or British government minister would have seemed bizarre, in fact reflected an astute appraisal of those limits.
Shirley wanted to keep provincials apart from regulars because fourteen years of experience as Massachusetts’s governor told him that two British military policies would wreck any campaign in which the two kinds of forces had to operate together. First was the Royal Proclamation of November 12, 1754, which stipulated that all provincial officers (that is, all officers commissioned by the governors of colonies) would be deemed junior to all regular officers (those holding commissions issued by the king or his commander in chief). This order reduced the most experienced colonial military leaders, colonels and generals not excepted, to a level below that of the newest pimpled ensign in the regular army. No self-respecting colonial officer would willingly serve under such conditions; Shirley knew that only too well. He also understood that the second British policy might prove even more devastating to colonial participation in the war effort.6
In December 1754, the solicitor general had ruled that “all Officers and Soldiers . . . raised in any of the British Provinces in America, by Authority of the respective Governors or Governments thereof, shall, . . . when they happen to join, or act in Conjunction with, his Majesty’s British forces, be liable to [the same] martial Law and Discipline, . . . as the British Forces are; and shall be subject to the same Trial, Penalties, and Punishments.” The extension of regular discipline to provincial armies would discourage if not put a stop to enlistment, for no matter how patriotic or eager for the pay potential recruits might be, they knew very well that regular courts-martial routinely sentenced soldiers to severe whippings, and not infrequently to death, for infractions of discipline. 7
Realizing all this, Shirley planned operations for 1756 that would require no contact between the all-provincial campaign against Crown Point and the all-regular expedition against Fort Frontenac. Although he understood that provincial troops were amateurish, hard to discipline, and deficient in the technical expertise needed to conduct siege warfare, Shirley clearly believed that the risks of employing them against the nearest target, Crown Point, were worth running. In order to lay to rest all doubts in the colonial assemblies, he gave explicit assurances that any provincials raised for the expedition would serve only under their own officers, that they would be subject to provincial and not regular discipline, and that they would be employed only in an area east of Schenectady and north of Albany.8
The New England assemblies responded warmly to Shirley’s plans and promises, and thousands of New England men would eventually volunteer for the Crown Point expedition. In the meantime, Shirley was trying to solve the problem of supplying Oswego in an equally inventive, equally irregular way. An American-born officer in the 51st Regiment, Captain John Bradstreet, had shown exceptional talent during the previous war, when Shirley had taken the unusual step of making him lieutenant colonel of a Massachusetts provincial regiment, and he had gone on to serve with distinction at the Louisbourg siege. In 1755 Shirley had once again sought to exploit his genius by placing him in charge of the bateaumen who supplied Fort Oswego. In January, Shirley promoted Bradstreet to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the regular army—an unauthorized, utterly illegal promotion for which Shirley would later pay—and ordered him to organize a corps of two thousand bateaumen and boatbuilders to handle all transportation between Schenectady and Lake Ontario.
Bradstreet, an unorthodox regular officer with rare talent for dealing with provincials, quickly enlisted hundreds of rivermen, then armed and trained them to fight in the woods. In May, despite Indian attacks along the route, Bradstreet’s men pushed large quantities of supplies through to Oswego. By June the garrison was sufficiently recovered from its winter ordeal to begin improving the post’s fortifications. The persistent lack of skilled workers and money sharply limited attempts to strengthen Oswego’s defenses, and soldiers and carpenters remained subject to harassing Indian raids from the surrounding woods, but Bradstreet’s bateaumen had saved the fort.9
By early summer, notwithstanding the concerns of Lieutenant Colonel Mercer and his fellow officers about the security of their position, things seemed at last to be looking up. While it was clear that the depleted regiments (the effective strength of which had dwindled by May to half what it had been eight months earlier) would not be strong enough to attack Fort Frontenac without reinforcements, the supply crisis was over, and three newly raised companies of rangers were patrolling the supply route to keep off Indian raiders. With new recruits arriving to fill the ranks of the 50th and 51st, and with the addition of a battalion of New Jersey provincials, the garrison seemed at least strong enough to hold the fort and thus able to sustain Britain’s strategic foothold on the Great Lakes. The most pressing task was to strengthen the fortifications, which remained in poor condition but were at last coming under repair.10
On June 25, Major General James Abercromby, Lord Loudoun’s second-in-command, arrived in Albany and relieved Shirley of all further responsibility for His Majesty’s forces in North America. Shirley, who had heard through informal channels more than two months earlier that he would be superseded, accepted it calmly and proceeded to New York to await the new commander in chief. For his part, Abercromby was determined to do as little as possible. A corpulent man and an indifferent officer, he wanted to undertake nothing for which he might later be blamed; thus he contented himself with taking stock of the situation. What he saw gave him pause.11
At this point, the campaigns were well under way. A provincial force made up of nearly seven thousand men from New England and New York was assembling at Forts Edward and William Henry, preparing to move against Fort Carillon (at Ticonderoga) and Fort St. Frédéric (at Crown Point). Like virtually all other regular officers, Abercromby did not approve of using badly trained and imperfectly disciplined provincials as combat troops, but theirs seemed likely to be the only campaign that would actually proceed before the campaigning season ended—unless, of course, Loudoun should decide to send the new troops he was bringing from England to strengthen Oswego’s depleted regiments and attack Fort Frontenac. Not knowing his lordship’s preferences, Abercromby could not decide what to do with the regulars he now commanded in the Albany region. In all there were about three thousand of them, including four understrength regiments, several independent infantry companies, assorted artillerists, and a few engineers. Lacking any better idea, he deployed them as guards along the supply line between Albany and Fort Edward and waited for Loudoun to arrive and solve his problems for him. But Loudoun was slow in coming.12
At length, dogged by doubts about letting a pack of half-disciplined provincials undertake what seemed likely to be the sole expedition of the year while His Majesty’s troops stood guard over the pork barrels and bateaux of Albany, Abercromby asked Major General Winslow for advice. What would happen if Abercromby ordered regulars up to Lake George, to join the campaign against Crown Point? Because Winslow had served in a regular regiment during King George’s War and still ranked as a captain in the British army, his personal alternatives were limited to two: he could obey Abercromby’s commands or he could expose himself to arrest and court-martial for insubordination. He therefore assured Abercromby that he personally would gladly follow any orders he received but warned him that most provincial field officers would resign their commissions rather than take orders from regular officers far junior to them in rank. Even more ominously, Winslow predicted that the common soldiers of the expedition would desert en masse before submitting themselves to the lash and noose of regular discipline.13
Abercromby found this a most worrisome response and so convened his senior officers as a council of war to advise him on what to do—they urged him not to press the issue—while Winslow promised to take up the question with his own officers at Lake George. There the matter hung, with the provincials entering upon a “grand debate” in a three-day council of war and Abercromby squirming in indecision, when H.M.S. Nightingale dropped anchor off Sandy Hook on July 22. Early the next morning Lieutenant General John Campbell, earl of Loudoun—fiftyish, “short, strong made & . . . fit for Action”—stepped off a pilot boat onto the quay at New York City. Abercromby’s problems were solved, those of Winslow and his officers about to begin; but the first to feel the force of Lord Loudoun’s will would be William Shirley.14
Loudoun brought with him all the accoutrements of his rank and office. Six thousand more troops had been authorized to support him, including two regiments (the 35th Foot and the 42nd Foot, the Black Watch) sent from Britain. A new, unique regiment of four battalions, the 62nd Foot (or Royal Americans, soon to be redesignated the 60th), was to be raised in the colonies, largely among the Germans of Pennsylvania. Loudoun’s commissions and instructions granted him the most extensive civil and military powers in the history of British imperial governance— powers as nearly viceregal as it was constitutionally possible to make them—and he carried a commission as governor of Virginia as well. His entourage numbered no fewer than twenty-four, including his mistress and her maid, seventeen personal servants, and one “secretary extraordinary”—Thomas Pownall.15
Loudoun and Pownall had conferred throughout the two-month crossing about how best to handle American affairs, and Loudoun arrived convinced that the first order of business would have to be settling with his predecessor. That he did straightaway, calling Shirley in on July 24 for consultations on the state of the campaigns. Their first meeting was restrained and correct, but relations between the two men deteriorated sharply thereafter. Almost from the moment of his arrival, Loudoun heard accusations of impropriety from the concourse of Shirley’s enemies who had been on hand to welcome him to New York. As Loudoun’s first days in America passed, he heard, among other allegations, that Oswego was in a dangerously exposed state; that Shirley had violated every conceivable point of army procedure in recruitment, promotions, and the allocation of supply contracts; that he had drained the military chest by unauthorized and unaccounted expenditures; that his contractors had been behindhand in procuring supplies and profligate in spending money for them; that he had allowed the provincial officers of the Crown Point expedition to operate as if they were an autonomous force, permitting them to recruit their troops on conditions that in effect insulated them from the control of the commander in chief.16
As Loudoun confronted Shirley with these accusations, Shirley came for the first time to understand that prosecution might well lie in his future, and began peppering the commander in chief with self-justifying letters (nine within the first week alone). His lordship received each with more displeasure than the last, annotated them with critical comments, and dispatched them to England, where they became part of the dossier that Cumberland and Fox were compiling for use against the unfortunate governor. Soon Loudoun and Shirley were no longer on speaking terms.
John Campbell, fourth earl of Loudoun (1705–82). Shown here as painted by Allan Ramsay perhaps fifteen years before he was appointed commander in chief, Lord Loudoun was an energetic man, a thoroughly professional military administrator, and a keen critic of American foibles. Notwithstanding formal powers that made him little less than a viceroy for America, his inability to work with provincial troops and colonial legislative leaders alike kept him from realizing the advantages of manpower and matériel he built up while supreme commander. Courtesy of the National Galleries of Scotland.
What troubled Loudoun most about Shirley’s misrule was the position in which he had left the provincials on the Crown Point expedition. Loudoun, a supremely orderly man who amused himself on his Ayrshire estate by planting a wood along the avenue to the house “in the form of [an infantry] regiment drawn up in review, a tree to a man,” could not tolerate so carnivalesque a campaign. For such a general as he, a dedicated administrator and a stickler for discipline, it was almost intolerable that the un-uniformed, untrained, mobbish provincials of Winslow’s army should be bumbling about on the most direct route to Canada, separating the king’s regulars from the enemy. What made it worst of all was the result of the provincial officers’ council of war at Lake George, which had been meeting to discuss the consequences of joint operations with the regulars when Loudoun arrived in New York. As Winslow reported the proceedings of the council, the majority of his colonels had agreed that any effort to put them and their men under joint command with the redcoats would end in “a dissolution of the army.” The reason they gave for this remarkable conclusion was that the conditions under which they had accepted their commissions and the understandings of the troops at the time of their enlistment had been contractual in character, and those contracts would be violated if the provincials were placed under direct regular command. Once the agreement that created it was broken, the army would cease to exist.17
Such reasoning was nonsense to Loudoun, who immediately identified Shirley as “the first contriver and fomenter of all the Opposition, the New England Men make, to being Join’d to the Kings Troops.” In fact Loudoun, to a degree unappreciated among Winslow’s subordinates, had done his best to improve the status of provincial officers serving jointly with regulars; before he left Britain he had seen to it that the regulation on precedence was modified so that provincial field officers and generals would rank as “eldest captains” when in joint service with regulars. This so-called Rule of 1755 meant that twenty-year-old subalterns could no longer issue orders to senior colonial officers, although the most junior redcoat majors were still free to do so.18
In Loudoun’s mind, this was a great concession. The provincials thought otherwise. Their intransigence so irked the commander in chief that when he went to Albany at the end of July he made it his first priority to set Winslow straight. When the New Englander (mistaking an order for an invitation) proved slow to respond to Loudoun’s summons, Loudoun ordered him to Albany in peremptory terms, on August 5. Winslow did not make the same mistake a second time. Within two days of receiving Loudoun’s letter, he and all his principal subordinates were waiting on his lordship at Albany.
And yet—concerned as they were at the sight and sound of the squat, irate Scot who was demanding that they explain, in writing, why they did not wish to place themselves under his command—Winslow and his officers stood fast. As for himself, Winslow replied, “your lordship may be assured I shall ever be ready to obey your commands.” His fellow officers, he continued, were “ready and willing to act in conjunction with his majesty’s troops and put themselves under the command of your lordship, who is commander in chief; so that the terms and conditions, agreed upon and established by the several governments to whom they belong and upon which they were raised, be not altered. . . .” So there would be no mistake, the next day one of Winslow’s subordinates provided Loudoun with a list of the “terms and conditions on which the provincial troops, now on their march towards Crown Point, were raised.” 19
Since the provincials had made it clear that they would resign before they would submit, and since Loudoun had no means to defend the Lake George frontier without them, all that the commander in chief could do was look for some face-saving compromise. It did not make him happy to have to do so. In the end, he settled for having each of the officers sign a formal written submission to the king’s authority, in return for which he promised that he would allow their expedition to proceed without the injection of regular troops or direct regular command. By August 19, the provincials were back at Fort William Henry, preparing once more to embark for Ticonderoga and Crown Point.20
Loudoun now wrote furious reports to Whitehall and to the duke of Cumberland, detailing the outrages that Shirley and his henchmen, the Massachusetts officers, had perpetrated. Yet even as he wrote the commander in chief was beginning to see that it was not just Shirley who was causing these problems. On the basis of his monthlong acquaintanceship with Americans, it was already clear to Loudoun that they lacked a proper sense of subordination to constituted authority. The New Englanders, prattling about contracts, were the worst; even their legislatures so distrusted his authority when he attempted to rationalize the provincial supply system that they refused to cooperate until they could be sure he was not trying to use provisioning as a pretext for claiming direct control over the provincial forces. Something larger was indeed afoot in America, but he did not know what to call it.21
Loudoun did not—because a man of his background, class, and position could not—understand that the New Englanders clung so obstinately to contractual principles and seemed to care so little for efficiency and professionalism because they understood military obligations and ideals differently from him. If they saw their undertaking of a campaign against the French and Indians as a function of agreements openly entered into between soldiers and the province that employed them, it was because much in the culture of New Englanders, the descendants of seventeenth-century Puritans, was premised upon covenantal relationships, and therefore upon the strict observation of contractual obligations. Moreover, if New Englanders were loath to allow their soldiers to be subjected to the strict discipline of His Majesty’s forces, it was because New England’s comparatively unstratified society, when required to create armies as large as those of 1755 and 1756, could not produce the kind of armies that contemporary European states did.
Given the social configuration of their provinces, New England governments simply could not field forces made up of economically marginal men led by their social superiors, on the model of the British army. Instead, the provinces had to commission as officers those ordinary farmers and tradesmen who could most effectively convince the young men of their towns to follow them for a year of campaigning. As often as not, this meant that recruits served in companies commanded by older neighbors or relatives; in most cases there was some personal bond, or at least prior acquaintanceship, between officers and the men they enlisted. Among the provincials the relationships of civil society thus carried over directly as the basis for military life, narrowing what was in professional European forces a vast social gulf between officers and enlisted men to a barely perceptible gap. To expect the officers of such an army to subject their men to the strict discipline required by His Majesty’s regulations was to expect the impossible. Neither the contractual understanding of military service nor the close social connections between officers and men would allow it.
Because such circumstances as these were so utterly outside Loudoun’s experience as an aristocrat and professional officer, and because the army they produced was so anomalous when judged by the standard of professionalism the British army set, it is scarcely surprising that the commander in chief should have railed against the New Englanders. It was not much longer, however, before Loudoun came to realize that the New Englanders were only the worst of a bad lot. All over the colonies during the summer of 1756, local officials and provincial assemblies were refusing to provide adequate housing for His Majesty’s troops. Shirley had avoided the problem of quartering by paying what amounted to the market rent for room and board: his warrants for “slap-gelt” (as the victualing and billeting allowance was called) helped drain the military chest to the bone-dry state in which it stood at the end of his tenure as supreme commander. Loudoun would have none of such outrageous expedients, and he insisted that the colonists contribute quarters on his terms or face the consequences. To his astonishment and vexation, such resistance arose that even in Albany, his very headquarters, he had to use armed force to secure quarters for his men and officers.22
Loudoun could not comprehend the unwillingness of colonial civilians to provide accommodations for the soldiers who had been sent so far, at enormous expense, to protect them. All he heard from the people who opposed him, like the mayor of Albany and the sheriff of Albany County, were sermons on how the English Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom from the arbitrary quartering of troops as one of the most cherished of all the rights of Englishmen. No American he met seemed to understand the concept of self-sacrifice, of service to the common cause; there was, by contrast, no shortage of Americans willing to plunder the royal purse. The result for Lord Loudoun was continual frustration and rising anger. “The delays we meet with,” he wrote in exasperation to Cumberland, “in carrying on the Service, from every parts of this Country, are immense; they have assumed to themselves, what they call Rights and Priviledges, totaly unknown in the Mother Country, and [these] are made use of, for no purpose, but to screen them, from giving any Aid, of any sort, for carrying on, the Service, and refusing us Quarters.”23
America was a topsy-turvy place where “opposition [to royal authority] seems not to come from the lower People, but from the leading People, who raise the dispute, in order to have a merit with the others, by defending their Liberties, as they call them.” Magistrates could not enforce the law against the popular will; “from whence there is no Law prevailing at present here, that I have met with, but the Rule every man pleases to lay down to himself.” Governors themselves were mere “Cyphers” because the provincial assemblies were their paymasters; they had sold the whole of the King’s Prerogative, to get their Sallaries; and till you find a Fund, independent of the Province[s], to Pay the Governors, and new model the Government, you can do nothing with the Provinces. I know it has been said in London, that this is not the time; if You delay it till a Peace, You will not have a force to Exert any Brittish Acts of Parliament here, for tho’ they will not venture to go so far with me, I am assured by the Officers, that it is not uncommon, for the People of this Country to say, they would be glad to see any Man, that dare exert a Brittish Act of Parliament here.24
Although it could hardly be called dispassionate, Loudoun’s analysis was astute, even prescient. It was based on what was for him the almost inevitable assumption that departures from British standards and practices were evidence of retrograde development, if not outright degeneracy, and therefore signified problems that required correction. Cumberland, Fox, Halifax, and the rest of the men who supported him in England could hardly have agreed more; nor could any of them have been expected to credit more highly than Loudoun himself did the objections Americans made to the authority of the Crown.
That the ministers did not take Loudoun’s advice and “new model” the colonial governments when the troops were on hand to enforce Parliament’s will proceeded less from any reservation they might have had about the rightness or the necessity of such reforms than from the sheer impossibility of undertaking them. For indeed, Loudoun’s quarrels with the Americans who refused to cooperate in quartering his troops and his inability to get the New England provincials to submit to joint operations with the regulars were only the quietest harbingers of the whirlwind of defeat and political disorder that was about to engulf the British war effort. In western New York, the marquis de Montcalm was preparing to unleash the storm even as Winslow was groping for the words that could make Loudoun understand why his provincial army would self-destruct if the commander in chief tried to give it a direct order.