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A double-edged peace treaty

Posted on February 10, 2013 at 3:39 PM
Today marks the day in 1763 when the Treaty of Paris ended the Seven Years' War, or the French and Indian War as we Americans call it. This was a classic example of an agreement that ended up biting both Great Britain and France, the two main belligerents.

On the surface, Britain ran the table. It got Florida from Spain, seized effective control of India, and expelled France from Canada. France was the big loser. So far, the main story holds up. In fact, France entered the war with a humongous debt problem. Losing the war made the problem much harder to deal with. In fact, the Bourbon kings had turned to finance ministers who tried expedients rather than dealing with the main problem, the fact that so much of France's wealth was effectively off-limits to taxation. This dubious practice continued until, a quarter-century later, Louis XVI had to call a session of the Estates-General, which hadn't met since 1615. We all know how that turned out.

The treaty was also a poison pill for the British. Early wars between Britain and France hadn't required the dispatch of significant numbers of regular troops from the UK to the American colonies. That changed with the Seven Years' War. The problem of how to pay for the care and feeding of those redcoat regiments led King George III and his ministers to try a series of expedients, from the Stamp Act to closing the port of Boston to all commerce. We also know how that turned out.

All this goes to show that great wars can so jumble the field that it's hard to tell the winners from the losers. War is a double-edged sword. Peace treaties may be double-edged also.

Categories: War and Peace

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