It is one of the well-known facts of history that a people loosely united by domestic ties of a political and economic nature, even a people torn by domestic strife, may be welded into a solid and compact body by an attack from a foreign power. The imperative call to common defense, the habit of sharing common burdens, the fusing force of common service—these things, induced by the necessity of resisting outside interference, act as an amalgam drawing together all elements, except, perhaps, the most discordant. The presence of the enemy allays the most virulent of quarrels, temporarily at least. “Politics,” runs an old saying, “stops at the water’s edge.”
This ancient political principle, so well understood in diplomatic circles, applied nearly as well to the original thirteen American colonies as to the countries of Europe. The necessity for common defense, if not equally great, was certainly always pressing. Though it has long been the practice to speak of the early settlements as founded in “a wilderness,” this was not actually the case. From the earliest days of Jamestown on through the years, the American people were confronted by dangers from without. All about their tiny settlements were Indians, growing more and more hostile as the frontier advanced and as sharp conflicts over land aroused angry passions. To the south and west was the power of Spain, humiliated, it is true, by the disaster to the Armada, but still presenting an imposing front to the British empire. To the north and west were the French, ambitious, energetic, imperial in temper, and prepared to contest on land and water the advance of British dominion in America.
RELATIONS WITH THE INDIANS AND THE FRENCH
=Indian Affairs.=—It is difficult to make general statements about the relations of the colonists to the Indians. The problem was presented in different shape in different sections of America. It was not handled according to any coherent or uniform plan by the British government, which alone could speak for all the provinces at the same time. Neither did the proprietors and the governors who succeeded one another, in an irregular train, have the consistent policy or the matured experience necessary for dealing wisely with Indian matters. As the difficulties arose mainly on the frontiers, where the restless and pushing pioneers were making their way with gun and ax, nearly everything that happened was the result of chance rather than of calculation. A personal quarrel between traders and an Indian, a jug of whisky, a keg of gunpowder, the exchange of guns for furs, personal treachery, or a flash of bad temper often set in motion destructive forces of the most terrible character.