A Tale of Two Francis’s

In 1884, Francis Parkman wrote his highly influential history of the 7 Years’ War in North America, titled Montcalm and Wolfe. Almost Exactly 100 years later, in 1988, another Francis with the last name Jennings published An Empire of Fortune, a new monumental work on the same subject with very different methodology and conclusions. Each century that has passed since the 1763 Treaty of Paris has tried to make sense of the war, and each has naturally viewed the conflict through the lens of their own time. There are doubtless innumerable movements and events that influenced the opinions of the above two writers, but I will focus on only two here for the sake of brevity.

Detail from a Know Nothing Party ribbon. The “KN” Party was one of several nativist movements of 19th Century America. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

For example, Francis Parkman suffered from quite the case of Anglophilia. When I first began to read Parkman’s history, I met with an introduction I shall never forget. To paraphrase, he essentially stated that the war was a blessing on the continent. Soon I saw what he meant. He praises the fact that English victory led to Anglo domination over supposedly universal Native American “savagery” and French incompetence. By portraying Anglo-Saxon Culture as superior to every other in colonial America, he apparently attempts to justify Victorian-Era nativist movements that sought to restrict the liberties and influence of Eastern European, Roman Catholic, and Asian immigrants from countries like Germany, Ireland, and China. As demonstrated by the political ribbon pictured above, the Nativist’s mission was to preserve the what they believed to be the distinctly English heritage of founders like Washington.

On the other hand, Jennings’s portrayal of the war reflects the global nature of American politics during the second half of the twentieth century. Whereas Parkman wrote his history while the Union was still reeling from civil war, Jennings’s America was riding out the closing stages of a Cold War involving faraway places from Moscow, to Washington, and even to the Moon. This seems to give the latter historian a less introspective view of the 7 Years’ War. Thus, Jennings is careful to not portray American and French colonial powers as the sole forces behind the fighting in North America. Unlike Parkman, he makes extensive references to the Iroquois and their power in the American West, and to the war in Europe. His 18th Century North America was not merely embroiled in a squabble between eastern French Canada and the Atlantic Seaboard, but was one of many moving parts in a world war involving diverse peoples from Dakotas, the Plains, the western Great Lakes, the Rhineland, and the urban centers of Eastern Europe.

Sources:

Parkman, Francis, and De La Vergne, Earl W. Montcalm and Wolfe. (Little, Brown and Company, 1884.)

Hoffer, Peter Charles. Past Imperfect : Facts, Fictions, Fraud– American History from Bancroft and Parkman to Ambrose, Bellesiles, Ellis, and Goodwin. (New York: PublicAffairs, 2004.)

Jennings, Francis, Empire of Fortune: Crowns, colonies, and tribes in the Seven Years War in America (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1988)