The Falklands Crisis of 1770 Turns into War Between France and Britain

In 1770, Spain and Britain butted heads over control of the Falkland Islands. The Spanish asked for French support and there was a reasonable chance they would get it due to the dynastic ties between Spain and France and the desire in some French circles to reverse the defeats of the Seven Years War, known in the colonies as the French and Indian War. Historically, the French king decided not to try for another go and a compromise was reached.

For perspective, 1770 was just past the midpoint of the stretch between the Seven Years War, which eliminated French power in North America and the start of the American Revolution. Friction was growing between the American colonies and Britain but an open break was still five or six years away.

What would have happened if the French had chosen war? How would the English colonies in North America have reacted? Less than a decade earlier, in the Seven Years War, the colonies played a major role in helping to defeat the French in North America, pretty much eliminating the French as a power in North America. Friction between Britain and the colonists was already starting to ramp up, with the stamp act passed in 1765, followed by considerable and successful colonial mostly non-violent resistance. British troops occupied Boston in 1768, which was followed by what Americans still call the Boston Massacre.

The Committees of Correspondence, a network of colonists trying to coordinate colonial response to British moves, was established in 1772, a little too late to have had an impact in this scenario.

So this could go at least two ways. First, the colonial unrest could get worse faster, encouraging the French to go to war in 1770 when they didn’t historically. Second, the French could have made the decision for war for French internal reasons. Either way, the war would put British/colonial relationships on a different trajectory. The Brits would need to raise manpower and money for the war effort, which would make the colonies a tempting source for those resources. At the same time, the colonies would to some extent feel threatened by this new war and dependent on British resources to resist French attacks, especially on shipping to and from the colonies.

Spain would be involved in the war, and they controlled Louisiana, so there would be some land conflict in North America. At this point though, there was a lot of Indian-controlled territory and not much logistics between the colonies and Louisiana. I suppose the British could launch a seaborne attack. British-controlled Louisiana at the end of the war? That would have a big impact on the American Revolution, assuming it happened on schedule.

This all assumes that the French and the colonies don’t come up with some tacit arrangement where the colonies passively resist helping the British war effort and the French don’t bother them. I doubt that would be workable though. Playing footsie with the French when Britain and France were at war would probably still be seen as treason in the colonies and certainly in Britain, so you would have a whole different dynamic in the war than in the American Revolution.

How would the war have gone? A lot would depend on how the rest of Europe reacted. The Seven Years War had been a general European conflict, an attempt by Austria, France and sometimes Russia to partition Prussia, returning it to minor power status as just another one of the dozens of German states.

By 1770, the configuration in Eastern Europe was quite a bit different, with Russia heavily involved in a long but ultimately successful war against the Ottoman empire and a war with the Bar Confederacy, an alliance of Polish magnates trying to protect their own power within Poland, as well as ridding Poland of foreign influence. I’m not sure those wars would merge with the French/British ones. They might remain parallel wars, with France able to concentrate on colonial wars.

I’m also not sure how that war would go. Historically, the French navy got thoroughly beaten in the Seven Years War, did much better for a couple years in the American Revolution, then got badly defeated in the later stages of that war.

So, what do you think? Would the colonies rally around the British flag in the face of war against the ancient French enemy? Would they chafe at British attempts to raise money and manpower in the colonies? Would they use the war to extract concessions from the British? How would France do in the war? Would it raid North America? Try to regain North American colonies? Seven years after the Brits formally took Canada, how would the French in Canada react? Would they revolt against the British if a French Army showed up? Could the French get an army to Canada? Could it keep it supplied if it got one there. How would this affect the ongoing French/British rivalry in India? What impact would war have on Spanish settlement of California? Historically, the first overland Spanish mission to California was in 1769-70, and the first mission was founded in 1770. Would war have slowed expansion of that settlement? Maybe even caused it to be abandoned until the war ended?

Comments are very welcome. This is a weird one and I’m not sure how it would play out.

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