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When a quarrel has been long carried on between individuals, it is often very hard to tell by whom it was begun. Every fact is darkened by distance, by interest, and by multitudes. Information is not easily procured from far; those whom the truth will not favour, will not step voluntarily forth to tell it; and where there are many agents, it is easy for
every single action to be concealed.
All these causes concur to the obscurity of the question, “ By whom were hostilities in America ,
commenced ” Perhaps there never can be remembered a time in which hostilities had ceased. Two powerful colonies inflamed with immemorial rivalry, and placed out of the superintendence of the mother nations, were not likely to be long at rest. Some opposition was always going forward, some mischief was every day done or meditated, and the borderers were always better pleased with what they could snatch from their neighbours, than what they had of their own.
In this disposition to reciprocal invasion a cause of dispute never could be wanting. The forests and desarts of America are without land-marks, and therefore cannot be particularly specified in stipulations: the appellations of those wide-extended regions have in every mouth a different mean. ing, and are understood on either side as inclination happens to contract or extend them. Who has yet pretended to define how much of America is included in Brazil, Mexico, or Peru ? It is almost as easy to divide the Atlantic ocean by a line, as clearly to as, certain the limits of those uncultivated, uninhabitable, unmeasured regions,
It is likewise to be considered, that contracts concerning boundaries are often left vague and indefinite without necessity, by the desire of each party, to interpret the ambiguity to its own advantage when a fit opportunity shall be found. In forming stipulations, the commissaries are often ignorant, and often negligent ; they are sometimes weary with debate, and contract a tedious discassion into general terms, or refer it to a former treaty, which was never understood. The weaker part is always afraid of requiring explanations, and the stronger always has an interest in leaving the question undecided : thus it will happen, without great caution on either side, that after long treaties solemnly ratified, the rights that had been disputed are still equally open to controversy.
În America, it may easily be supposed, that there are tracts of land not yet claimed by either party, and therefore mentioned in no treaties, which yet one or the other may be afterwards inclined to occupy; but to these vacant and unsettled countries each vation may pretend, as each conceives itself entitled to all that is not expressly granted to the other.
Here then is a perpetual ground of contest : every enlargement of the possessions of either will be considered as something taken from the other, and each will endeavour to regain what had never been claimed, but that the other occupied it.
Thus obscure in its original is the American contest. It is difficult to find the first invader, or to tell where invasion properly begins; but I suppose it is not to be doubted, that after the last war,
when the French had made
with such apparent superiority, they naturally began to treat us with less respect in distant parts of the world, and to consider us as a people from whom they had nothing to fear, and who could no longer presume to contravene their designs, or to check their progress.
The power of doing wrong with impunity seldom waits long for the will; and it is reasonable to believe, that in America the French would avow their purpose of aggrandizing themselves with at least as little reserve as in Europe. therefore readily believe, that they were unquiet neighbours, and had no great regard to right, which they believed us no longer able to enforce.
That in forming a line of forts behind our cofonies, if in no other part of their attempt, they had acted against the general intention, if not against the literal terms of treaties, can scarcely be denied; for it never can be supposed that we intended to be enclosed between the sea and the French garrisons, or preclude ourselves from extending our plantations backwards to any length that our convenience should require.
With dominion is conferred every thing that can secure dominion. He that has the coast, has likewise the sea to a certain distance; he that possesses a fortress, has the right of prohibiting another fortress to be built within the command of its cannon. When therefore we planted the coast of North America, we supposed the possession of the inland region granted to an indefinite extent, and
every nation settled in that part of the world, seems, by
the permission of every other nation, to have made the same supposition in its own favour.
Here then, perhaps, it will be safest to fix the justice of our cause; here we are apparently and indisputably injured, and this injury may, according to the practice of nations, be justly resented. Whether we have not in return made some encroachments upon them, must be left doubtful, till our practices on the Ohio shall be stated and vindi. cated. There are no two nations confining on each other, between whom a war may not always be kindled with plausible pretences on either part, as there is always passing between them a reciprocation of injuries, and fluctuation of encroachments.
From the conclusion of the last peace perpetual complaints of the supplantations and invasions of the French have been sent to Europe from our colonies, and transmitted to our ministers at Paris, where good words were sometimes given us, and the practices of the American commanders were sometimes disowned, but no redress was ever obtained, nor is it probable that any prohibition was sent to America. We were still amused with such doubtful promises as those who are afraid of war are ready to interpret in their own favour, and the French pushed forward their line of fortresses, and seemed to resolve that before our complaints were finally dismissed, all remedy should be hopeless.
We likewise endeavoured at the same time to form a barrier against the Canadians by sending a colony to New Scotland, a cold uncomfortable tract of ground, of which we had long the nominal possession before we really began to occupy it. To this those were invited whom the cessation of
war deprived of employment, and made burthensome to their country; and settlers were allured thither by many fallacious descriptions of fertile vallies and clear skies. What effects these pictures of American happiness had upon my countrymen, I was never informed; but 1 suppose very few sought provision in those frozen regions, whom guilt or poverty did not drive from their native country. About the boundaries of this new colony there were some disputes, but as there was nothing yet worth a contest, the power of the French was not much exerted on that side ; some disturbance was however given, and some skirmishes ensued. But perhaps being peopled chiefly with soldiers, who would rather live by plunder than by agriculture, and who consider war as their best trade, New Scotland would be more obstinately defended than some settlements of far greater value; and the French are too well informed of their own interest, to provoke hostility for no advantage, or to select that country for invasion, where they must hazard much and can win little. They therefore pressed on southward behind our ancient and wealthy settlements, and built fort after fort, at such distances that they might conveniently relieve one another, invade our colonies with sudden incursions, and retire to places of safety before our people could unite to oppose them.
This design of the French has been long forms ed, and long known, both in America and Europe, and might at first have been easily repressed, had force been used instead of expostulation. When the English attempted a settlement upon the Vol. II.