Book Review: THE SCRATCH OF A PEN: 1763 and the Transformation of North America

As with all books in the “Pivotal Moments in American History” series, this book is exceedingly well written. David Hackett Fischer [Washington’s Crossing] has superbly edited this work and his 3 page editor’s note is itself, worth the price of the book. Dartmouth Professor of History, Colin Calloway has closely examined 1763, one of the most critical years in American History in his book, THE SCRATCH OF A PEN: 1763 AND THE TRANSFORMATION OF NORTH AMERICA. This one is sure to take its place on the “essential reading” list of American history lovers.

The book derives its name from historian Francis Parkman, who wrote regarding the 1763 Treaty of Paris at the conclusion of the Seven Years War, “half a continent changed hands at the scratch of a pen”. What is commonly referred to in America as the French and Indian War was in actuality, the first World War. It was fought on 4 continents and 3 oceans around the globe. Its’ participants included not only the British and French, but Americans, Canadians, American Indians, Prussians, Austrians, Russians, Spaniards and East Indians as well.

Nearly a decade of war left both Britain and France in economic ruin. Britain, being victorious, tried to extricate itself from financial crisis by attempting to simultaneously cut costs (reducing gifts the Indians had grown so accustomed to receiving from the French) and increasing its revenue by raising taxes (on the colonials), which NEVER works.

Cutting costs led in part to sparking an Indian war, and raising taxes led to an all out revolt by the colonies. Ultimately, Britain would be unable to benefit from its’ newly won empire. Calloway shows in explicit detail how the 1763 Peace of Paris Treaty had a much more tumultuous effect upon the peoples of North America than the war itself. Britain tried to divide its newfound empire into two pieces, one for its colonists and one for the Indian tribes. The colonists, however, had a much different view. They saw their hard fought victory in the war as giving them the right to expand into the newly conquered territory, to itself relieve some its financial burden through land speculation and settlement.

In an attempt to quell the growing anarchy in the new territory, Britain engaged in perhaps one of the first instances of bio-terrorism by purposely infecting Indians with small pox. Though successful in “thinning the herd” so to speak, British lack of government intervention and control in the territory spurred anarchy among both the Indians and the settlers.

Calloway has brilliantly defined both the short and long-term effects the Peace of Paris had on every venue of North America, from Hudson Bay to Florida and Cuba, and Nova Scotia to the Louisiana Territory. For a much better understanding of American history and the causes that pushed the colonies towards independence, this is essential reading. Professor Calloway holds the reader in his grasp with every page. The text flows nicely and is capped off with an exhaustive bibliography that will surely add to one’s reading list.

For as much as I truly loved this book, I do have one complaint. On page 117, this historian with a magnificent proficiency in writing, pierced my soul when he failed to contain himself from interpolating his own political essence upon current events, with just one brief sentence. I won’t give too much away, as I don’t want to dissuade anyone from reading this extraordinary work. But if Professor Calloway should ever happen to read this review, I say to you sir, you are a brilliant writer. Your work here is superb. Please don’t blemish such a brilliant work with your own leanings. As you know, the purpose of the historian is to record and report the facts, not to color them.

There, now that I have that off my chest, let me conclude by saying, I absolutely loved this book. It has given critical insight to not only the causes behind the revolution, but how the Peace of Paris Treaty of 1763 transformed the lives of so many then, and countless millions since. Do not miss out on reading this book.

Monty Rainey

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About montyrainey

Public Speaker and District Manager. Mission: To empower and inspire others professionally, personally and spiritually to elevate their lives to a higher level.
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