American Revolution and War for Independence
situation ………………………………………………………………………… 2
2. British and
French conflict ……………………………………………………….……… 3
stirrings of unity ……………………………………………………………………. 4
resistance …………………………………………………………….………… 5
5. Tax dispute
6. Abatement of
tax disputes …………………………………………………….…………. 7
7. The “Boston
tea party” ……………………………………………………………….….. 9
8. The British
repressions …………………………………………………………….….… 10
9. The congress
debates on independence ……………………………………………….… 12
stiffening of resolution …………………………………………………………….. 13
11. Declaration of
Independence ……………………………………………………………. 14
final victory of the colonies ……………………………………………….. 15
This paper is
dedicated to the history of American Revolution and the War for Independence.
The primary purpose of the survey given here is to carry out an analysis of the
events of the late 18th century in the British colonies in North
America on the basis of vast historical material published in the United
States. The process that took place before and during the 1776-1783 period when
13 British colonies’ aspiration for independence broke out into the so-called
War for Independence is very remarkable for it’s many unique features, on the
one hand, and for many historical parallels that took place a century later
when the world-wide spreaded colonial system began to collapse.
second President of the United States, declared that the history of the
American Revolution began as far back as 1620. "The Revolution," he
said, "was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the
minds and hearts of the people." The principles and passions that led the
Americans to rebel ought, he added, "to be traced back for two hundred
years and sought in the history of the country from the first plantation in
As a practical
matter, however, the overt parting of the ways between England and America
began in 1763, more than a century and a half after the first permanent
settlement had been founded at Jamestown, Virginia. The colonies had grown
vastly in economic strength and cultural attainment, and virtually all had long
years of self-government behind them. Their combined population now exceeded
1,500,000-a six-fold increase since 1700.
implications of the physical growth of the colonies were far greater than mere
numerical increase would indicate. The 18th century brought a steady expansion
from the influx of immigrants from Europe, and since the best land near the
seacoast had already been occupied, new settlers had to push inland beyond the
fall line of the rivers. Traders explored the back country, brought back tales
of rich valleys, and induced farmers to take their families into the
wilderness. Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept
coming, and by the 1730s frontiersmen had already begun to pour into the
to 1763, Great Britain had formulated no consistent policy for her colonial
possessions. The guiding principle was the confirmed mercantilist view that
colonies should supply the mother country with raw materials and not compete in
manufacturing. But policy was poorly enforced, and the colonies had never
thought of themselves as subservient. Rather, they considered themselves
chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England herself, having only a
loose association with authorities in London.
infrequent intervals, sentiment in England was aroused and efforts were made by
Parliament or the Crown to subordinate the economic activities and governments
of the colonies to England’s will and interest — efforts to which the majority
of the colonists were opposed. The remoteness afforded by a vast ocean allayed
fears of reprisal the colonies might otherwise have had.
Added to this remoteness was the character of life itself in early America.
From countries limited in space and dotted with populous towns, the settlers
had come to a land of seemingly unending reach. On such a continent natural
conditions stressed the importance of the individual.
1. Frontier situation
colonists-inheritors of the traditions of the Englishman’s long struggle for political
liberty-incorporated concepts of freedom into Virginia’s first charter. This
provided that English colonists were to exercise all liberties, franchises, and
immunities "as if they had been abiding and born within this our Realm of
England." They were, then, to enjoy the benefits of the Magna Charta and
the common law.
the early days, the colonies were able to hold fast to their heritage of rights
because of the King’s arbitrary assumption that they were not subject to
parliamentary control. In addition, for years afterward, the kings of England
were too preoccupied with a great struggle in England itself — a struggle which
culminated in the Puritan Revolution — to enforce their will. Before Parliament
could bring its attention to the task of molding the American colonies to an
imperial policy, they had grown strong and prosperous in their own right.
the first year after they had set foot upon the new continent, the colonists
had functioned according to the English law and constitution — with legislative
assemblies, a representative system of government, and a recognition of the
common-law guarantees of personal liberty. But increasingly legislation became
American in point of view, and less and less attention was paid to English
practices and precedents. Nevertheless, colonial freedom from effective English
control was not achieved without conflict, and colonial history abounds in
struggles between the assemblies elected by the people and the governors
appointed by the King.
colonists were often able to render the royal governors powerless, for, as a
rule, governors had “no subsistence but from the Assembly”. Governors were
sometimes instructed to give profitable offices and land grants to influential
colonists to secure their support for royal projects but, as often as not, the
colonial officials, once they had secured these emoluments, espoused the
popular cause as strongly as ever.
recurring clashes between governor and assembly worked increasingly to awaken
the colonists to the divergence between American and English interests.
Gradually, the assemblies took over the functions of the governors and their
councils, which were made up of colonists selected for their docile support of
royal power, and the center of colonial administration shifted from London to
the provincial capitals. Early in the 1770s, following the final expulsion of
the French from the North American continent, an attempt was made to bring
about a drastic change in the relationship between the colonies and the mother
2. British and French
While the British had been filling the Atlantic coastal area with farms,
plantations, and towns, the French had been planting a different kind of
dominion in the St. Lawrence Valley in eastern Canada. Having sent over fewer
settlers but more explorers, missionaries, and fur traders, France had taken
possession of the Mississippi River and, by a line of forts and trading posts,
marked out a great crescent-shaped empire stretching from Quebec in the
northeast to New Orleans in the south. Thus they tended to pin the British to
the narrow belt east of the Appalachian Mountains.
British had long resisted what they considered "the encroachment of the
French." As early as 1613, local clashes occurred between French and
English colonists. Eventually, there was organized warfare, the American
counterpart of the larger conflict between England and France. Thus, between
1689 and 1697, “King William’s War” was fought as the American phase of the
European "War of the Palatinate." From 1702 to 1713, “Queen Anne’s
War” corresponded to the "War of the Spanish Succession." And from
1744 to 1748, “King George’s War” paralleled the "War of the Austrian
Succession." Though England secured certain advantages from these wars,
the struggles were generally indecisive, and France remained in a strong
position on the American continent.
the 1750s, the conflict was brought to a final phase. The French, after the
Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, tightened their hold on the Mississippi
Valley. At the same time, the movement of English colonists across the
Alleghenies increased in tempo, stimulating a race for physical possession of
the same territory. An armed clash in 1754, involving Virginia militiamen under
the command of 22-year old George Washington and a band of French regulars,
ushered in the “French and Indian War” — with the English and their Indian
allies fighting the French and their Indian allies. This was destined to
determine once and for all French or English supremacy in North America.
Never had there
been greater need for action and unity in the British colonies. The French
threatened not only the British Empire but the American colonists themselves,
for in holding the Mississippi Valley, France could check their westward
expansion. The French government of Canada and Louisiana had not only increased
in strength but had also in prestige with the Indians, even the Iroquois, the
traditional allies of the British. With a new war, every British settler wise
in Indian matters knew that drastic measures would be needed to ward off
3. First stirrings of unity
this juncture, the British Board of Trade, hearing reports of deteriorating
relations with the Indians, ordered the governor of New York and commissioners
from the other colonies to call a meeting of the Iroquois chiefs to frame a
joint treaty. In June 1754, representatives of New York, Pennsylvania,
Maryland, and the New England colonies met with the Iroquois at Albany. The
Indians aired their grievances, and the delegates recommended appropriate
Albany Congress, however, transcended its original purpose of solving Indian
problems. It declared a union of the American colonies "absolutely
necessary for their preservation," and the colonial representatives
present adopted the Albany Plan of Union. Drafted by Benjamin Franklin, the
plan provided that a president appointed by the King act with a grand council
of delegates chosen by the assemblies, each colony to be represented in
proportion to its financial contributions to the general treasury. The
government was to have charge of all British interests in the west — Indian
treaties, trade, defense, and settlement. But none of the colonies accepted
Franklin’s plan, for none wished to surrender either the power of taxation or
control over the development of the west.
colonies offered little support for the war as a whole, all schemes failing to
bring them "to a sense of their duty to the King."The colonists could
see the war only as a struggle for empire on the part of England and France.
They felt no compunction when the British government was obliged to send large
numbers of regular troops to wage colonial battles. Nor did they regret that
the "redcoats," rather than provincial troops, won the war. Nor did
they see any reason for curtailing commerce that, in effect, constituted trade
with the enemy.
spite of this lack of wholehearted colonial support and in spite of several
early military defeats, England’s superior strategic position and her competent
leadership ultimately brought complete victory. After eight years of conflict,
Canada and the upper Mississippi Valley were finally conquered, and the dream
of a French empire in North America faded.
Having triumphed over France, not only in America but in India and throughout
the colonial world generally, Britain was compelled to face a problem that she
had hitherto neglected — the governance of her empire. It was essential that
she now organize her vast possessions to facilitate defense, reconcile the
divergent interests of different areas and peoples, and distribute more evenly
the cost of imperial administration.
North America alone, British overseas territories had more than doubled. To the
narrow strip along the Atlantic coast had been added the vast expanse of Canada
and the territory between the Mississippi River and the Alleghenies, an empire
in itself. A population that had been predominantly Protestant English and
Anglicized continentals now included Catholic French and large numbers of
partly Christianized Indians. Defense and administration of the new territories,
as well as the old, would require huge sums of money and increased personnel.
The "old colonial system" was obviously inadequate. Even during the
exigencies of a war imperiling the very existence of the colonists themselves,
the system had proved incapable of securing colonial cooperation or support.
What then could be expected in time of peace when no external danger loomed?
Clear as was the British need for a new imperial design, the situation in
America was anything but favorable to a change. Long accustomed to a large
measure of independence, the colonies were demanding more, not less, freedom,
particularly now that the French menace had been eliminated. To put a new
system into effect, to tighten control, the statesmen of England had to contend
with colonists trained to self-government and impatient of interference.
of the first things attempted by the British was to organize the interior. The
conquest of Canada and of the Ohio Valley necessitated policies that would not
alienate the French and Indian inhabitants. But here the Crown came into
conflict with the interests of the colonies, which, fast increasing in
population, were bent upon exploiting the newly won territories themselves.
Needing new land, various colonies claimed the right to extend their boundaries
as far west as the Mississippi River.
British government, fearing that farmers migrating into the new lands would
provoke a series of Indian wars, believed that the restive Indians should be
given time to settle down and that lands should be opened to colonists on a
more gradual basis. In 1763, a royal proclamation reserved all the western
territory between the Alleghenies, the Florida, the Mississippi, and Quebec for
the use of the Indians. Thus the Crown attempted to sweep away every western
land claim of the thirteen colonies and to stop westward expansion. Though
never effectively enforced, this measure, in the eyes of the colonists,
constituted a highhanded disregard of their most elementary right to occupy and
utilize western lands as needed.
serious in its repercussions was the new financial policy of the British
government, which needed more money to support the growing empire. Unless the
taxpayer in England was to supply it all, the colonies would have to
contribute. But revenue could be extracted from the colonies only through a
stronger central administration, at the expense of colonial self-government.
first step in inaugurating the new system was the passage of the Sugar Act of
1764. This was designed to raise revenue without regulating trade. In fact, it
replaced the Molasses Act of 1733, which had placed a prohibitive duty on the
import of rum and molasses from non-English areas. The amended Sugar Act
forbade the importation of foreign rum; put a modest duty on molasses from all
sources; and levied duties on wines, silks, coffee, and a number of other
luxury items. To enforce it, customs officials were ordered to show more energy
and strictness. British warships in American waters were instructed to seize
smugglers, and "writs of assistance" (blanket warrants) authorized
the King’s officers to search suspected premises.
was not so much the new duties that caused consternation among New England
merchants. It was rather the fact that steps were being taken to enforce them
effectively, an entirely new development. For over a generation, New Englanders
had been accustomed to importing the larger part of the molasses for their rum
distilleries from the French and Dutch West Indies without paying a duty. They
now contended that payment of even the small duty imposed would be ruinous.
it happened, the preamble to the Sugar Act gave the colonists an opportunity to
rationalize their discontent on constitutional grounds. The power of Parliament
to tax colonial commodities for the regulation of trade had long been accepted
in theory though not always in practice, but the power to tax "for improving
the revenue of this Kingdom," as stated in the Revenue Act of 1764, was
new and hence debatable.
constitutional issue became an entering wedge in the great dispute that was
finally to wrest the American colonies from England. "One single act of
Parliament," wrote James Otis, fiery orator from Massachusetts, "has
set more people a-thinking in six months, more than they had done in their
whole lives before." Merchants, legislatures, and town meetings protested
against the expediency of the law, and colonial lawyers like Samuel Adams found
in the preamble the first intimation of "taxation without
representation," the catchword that was to draw many to the cause of the
American patriots against the mother country.
Later in the same year, Parliament enacted a Currency Act "to prevent
paper bills of credit hereafter issued in any of His Majesty’s colonies from
being made legal tender." Since the colonies were a deficit trade area and
were constantly short of "hard money," this added a serious burden to
the colonial economy. History of American Money equally objectionable from the
colonial viewpoint was the Billeting Act, passed in 1765, which required
colonies to provide quarters and supplies for royal troops.
Strong as was the opposition to these acts, it was the last of the measures
inaugurating the new colonial system that sparked organized resistance. Known
to history as the “Stamp Act”, it provided that revenue stamps be affixed to
all newspapers, broadsides, pamphlets, licenses, leases, or other legal
documents, the revenue (collected by American agents) to be used for
"defending, protecting, and securing" the colonies. The burden seemed
so evenly and lightly distributed that the measure passed Parliament with
violence of the reaction in the thirteen colonies, however, astonished moderate
men everywhere. The act aroused the hostility of the most powerful and
articulate groups in the population, journalists, lawyers, clergymen,
merchants, and businessmen, north and south, east and west, for it bore equally
on all sections of the country. Soon leading merchants, whose every bill of
lading would be taxed, organized for resistance and formed non-importation
Trade with the mother country fell off sharply in the summer of 1765. Prominent
men organized as "Sons of Liberty," and political opposition soon
flared into rebellion. Inflamed crowds paraded the streets of Boston. From
Massachusetts to South Carolina the act was nullified, and mobs, forcing
luckless agents to resign their offices, destroyed the hated stamps.
Spurred by Patrick Henry, the Virginia Assembly passed a set of resolutions
denouncing taxation without representation as a threat to colonial liberties. A
few days later, the Massachusetts House invited all the colonies to appoint
delegates to a Congress in New York to consider the Stamp Act menace. This
Congress, held in October 1765, was the first inter-colonial meeting ever
summoned on American initiative. Twenty-seven men from nine colonies seized the
opportunity to mobilize colonial opinion against parliamentary interference in
American affairs. After much debate, the Congress adopted a set of resolutions
asserting that "no taxes ever have been or can be constitutionally imposed
on them, but by their respective legislatures" and that the Stamp Act had
a "manifest tendency to subvert the rights and liberties of the colonists."
Abatement of tax disputes
issue thus drawn centered on the question of representation. From the colonies’
point of view, it was impossible to consider themselves represented in
Parliament unless they actually elected members to the House of Commons. But
this conflicted with the orthodox English principle of “virtual
representation”, that is, representation by classes and interests rather than
British officials held that Parliament was an imperial body representing and
exercising the same authority over the colonies as over the homeland: It could
pass laws for Massachusetts as it could for Berkshire in England.
American leaders argued that no "imperial" Parliament existed; their
only legal relations were with the Crown. It was the King who had agreed to
establish colonies beyond the sea and the King who provided them with
governments. That the King was equally a King of England and a King of
Massachusetts they agreed, but they also insisted that the English Parliament
had no more right to pass laws for Massachusetts than the Massachusetts
legislature had to pass laws for England.
British Parliament was unwilling to accept the colonial contentions. British
merchants, however, feeling the effects of the American boycott, threw their
weight behind a repeal movement, and in 1766 Parliament yielded, repealing the
Stamp Act and modifying the Sugar Act. The colonies rejoiced. Colonial
merchants gave up the non-importation agreement, the Sons of Liberty subsided,
trade resumed its course, peace seemed at hand.
it was only a respite. The year 1767 brought another series of measures that
stirred anew all the elements of discord. Charles Townshend, British Chancellor
of the Exchequer, was called upon to draft a new fiscal program. Intent upon
reducing British taxes by making more efficient the collection of duties levied
on American trade, he tightened customs administration, at the same time
sponsoring duties on paper, glass, lead, and tea exported from Britain to the
was designed to raise revenue to be used in part to support colonial governors,
judges, customs officers, and the British army in America. Another act
suggested by Townshend authorized the superior courts of the colonies to issue
writs of assistance, thus giving specific legal authority to the general search
warrants already hateful to the colonists.
The agitation following
enactment of the Townshend duties was less violent than that stirred by the
Stamp Act, but it was nevertheless strong. Merchants once again resorted to
non-importation agreements. Men dressed in homespun clothing, women found
substitutes for tea. Students used colonial-made paper. Houses went unpainted.
In Boston where the mercantile interests here most sensitive to any
interference, enforcement of the new regulations provoked violence. When
customs officials sought to collect duties, they were set upon by the populace
and roughly handled. For this, two regiments were dispatched to protect the
presence of British troops in Boston was a standing invitation to disorder. On
March 5, 1770, after 18 months of resentment, antagonism between citizens and
soldiery flared up. What began as a harmless snowballing of the redcoats
degenerated into a mob attack. Someone gave the order to fire; three Bostonians
lay dead in the snow; and colonial agitators had a valuable issue n their
campaign to arouse hostility toward England. Dubbed the Boston Massacre, the
incident was dramatically pictured as proof of British heartlessness and
Faced with such opposition, Parliament in 1770 opted for a strategic retreat and
repealed all the Townshend duties except that on tea. The tea tax was retained
because, as George III said, there must always be one tax to keep up the right.
To most colonists the action of Parliament constituted, in effect, a
"redress of grievances," and the campaign against England was largely
dropped. An embargo on "English tea" continued but was not too
Generally, the situation seemed auspicious for imperial relations. Prosperity
was increasing and most colonial leaders were willing to let the future take
care of itself. Inertia and neglect seemed to succeed where bolder policies had
failed. The moderate element, everywhere predominant in the colonies, welcomed
this peaceful interlude.
The Boston "Tea Party"
a three-year interval of calm, a relatively small number of “patriots” or
“radicals” strove energetically to keep the controversy alive. As long as the
tea tax remained, they contended, the principle of Parliament’s right over the
colonies remained. And at any time in the future, the principle might be
applied in full with devastating effect on colonial liberties.
Typical of the patriots was their most effective leader Samuel Adams of
Massachusetts, who toiled tirelessly for a single end: independence. From the
time he graduated from Harvard College, Adams was a public servant in some
capacity-inspector of chimneys, tax-collector, moderator of town meetings. A
consistent failure in business, he was shrewd and able in politics, with the
New England town meeting the theater of his action.
Adam’s tools were men: his goal was to win the confidence and support of
ordinary people, to free them from awe of their social and political superiors,
make them aware of their own importance, and arouse them to action. To do this,
he published articles in newspapers and made speeches in town meetings,
instigating resolutions appealing to the colonists’ democratic impulses.
1772, he induced the Boston town meeting to select a "committee of
correspondence" to state the rights and grievances of the colonists, to
communicate with other towns on these matters, and to request them to draft
replies. Quickly, the idea spread. Committees were set up in virtually all the
colonies, and out of them soon grew a base of effective revolutionary
1773, Britain furnished Adams and his co-workers with a desired issue. The
powerful East India Company, finding itself in critical financial straits,
appealed to the British government and was granted a monopoly on all tea
exported to the colonies. Because of the Townshend tea tax, the colonists had
boycotted the company’s tea and, after 1770, such a flourishing illegal trade
existed that perhaps nine-tenths of the tea consumed in America was of foreign
origin and imported duty-free.
company decided to sell its tea through its own agents at a price well under
the customary one, thus simultaneously making smuggling unprofitable and
eliminating the independent colonial merchants. Aroused not only by the loss of
the tea trade but also by the monopolistic practice involved, the colonial
traders joined the patriots. In virtually all the colonies, steps were taken to
prevent the East India Company from executing its design.
ports other than Boston, agents of the company were "persuaded" to
resign, and new shipments of tea were either returned to England or warehoused.
In Boston, the agents refused to resign and, with the support of the royal
governor, preparations were made to land incoming cargoes regardless of
opposition. The answer of the patriots, led by Samuel Adams, was violence. On
the night of December 16 1773 a band of men disguised as Mohawk Indians boarded
three British ships lying at anchor and dumped their tea cargo into the Boston
The British repressions
crisis now confronted Britain. The East India Company had carried out a
parliamentary statute, and if the destruction of the tea went unheeded,
Parliament would admit to the world that it had no control over the colonies.
Official opinion in Britain almost unanimously condemned the Boston “Tea Party”
as an act of vandalism and advocated legal measures to bring the insurgent
colonists into line.
responded with new laws-called by the colonists "Coercive Acts." The
first one, the Boston Port Bill, which closed the port of Boston until the tea
was paid for, threatened the very life of the city, for to exclude Boston from
the sea meant economic disaster. Other enactments prescribed appointment by the
King of Massachusetts councilors, formerly elected by the colonists; and the
summoning of jurors by sheriffs, who were agents of the governor. Hitherto
jurors had been chosen in colonial town meetings. Also, the governor’s
permission would be required for holding town meetings, and the appointment and
removal of judges and sheriffs would be in his hands. A Quartering Act required
local authorities to find suitable quarters for British troops.
the suggestion of the Virginia Burgesses, colonial representatives were
summoned to meet in Philadelphia on September 5, 1774, "to consult upon
the present unhappy state of the Colonies." Delegates to this meeting,
known as the first Continental Congress, were chosen by provincial congresses
or popular conventions. Every colony except Georgia sent at least one delegate,
and the total number of 55 was large enough for diversity of opinion but small
enough for genuine debate and effective action.
division of opinion in the colonies posed a genuine dilemma for the Congress:
it must give an appearance of firm unanimity to induce the British government
to make concessions and, at the same time, it must avoid any show of radicalism
or "spirit of independence" that would alarm moderate Americans. A
cautious keynote speech, followed by a "resolve" that no obedience
was due the Coercive Acts, ended with a Declaration of Rights and Grievances
addressed to the people of Great Britain.
most important action taken by the Congress, however, was the formation of an
"Association," which provided for the renewal of the trade boycott
and for a system of committees to inspect customs entries, publish the names of
merchants who violated the agreements, confiscate their imp0rtations, and
encourage frugality, economy, and industry.
Association everywhere assumed the leadership, spurring new local organizations
to end what remained of royal authority. These intimidated the hesitant into joining
the popular movement and punished the hostile. They began the collection of
military supplies and the mobilization of troops. And they fanned public
opinion into revolutionary ardor.
breach that had been developing slowly among the people widened with the
activities of the Association committees. Many Americans, opposed to British
encroachment on American rights, favored discussion and compromise as the
proper solution. This group included most of those of official rank
(Crown-appointed officers), many Quakers and members of other religious sects
opposed to the use of violence, many merchants, especially from the middle
colonies, and some discontented farmers and frontiersmen from southern
colonies. The patriots, on the other hand, drew their support not only from the
less well-to-do but from many of the professional class, especially lawyers,
most of the great planters of the south, and a number of merchants.
the course of events after the passage of the Coercive Acts left the loyalists
appalled and frightened, the King might well have effected an alliance with
them and, by timely concessions, so strengthened their position that the
patriots would have found it difficult to proceed with hostilities. But George
III had no intention of making concessions. In September 1774, scorning a
petition by Philadelphia Quakers, he wrote, "The die is now cast, the
Colonies must either submit or triumph." This cut the ground from under
the loyalists or "Tories," as they were coming to be called.
GeneralThomas Gage, an amiable English gentleman with an American-born wife,
was in command of the garrison at Boston, where political activity had almost
wholly replaced trade. A leading patriot of the town, Dr. Joseph Warren, wrote
to an English friend on February 20 1775:
"It is not yet too late to accommodate the dispute amicably, but I am of
the opinion that if once General Gage should lead his troops into the country
with the design to enforce the late acts of Parliament, Great Britain may take
her leave, at least of the New England colonies, and if I mistake not, of all
America. If there is any wisdom in the nation, God grant it may be speedily called
General Gage’s duty was to enforce the Coercive Acts. News reached him that the
Massachusetts patriots were collecting powder and military stores at the
interior town of Concord, 32 kilometers from Boston. On the night of April 18,
1775, he sent a strong detail of his garrison to confiscate these munitions and
to seize Samuel Adams and John Hancock, both of whom had been ordered sent to
England to stand trial for their lives. But the whole countryside had been
alerted by Paul Revere and two other messengers.
the British troops, after a night of marching, reached the village of
Lexington, they saw through the early morning mist a grim band of 50 minutemen
— armed colonists — lined up across the common. There was a moment of
hesitation, cries and orders from both sides and, in the midst of the noise, a
shot. Firing broke out along both lines, and the Americans dispersed, leaving
eight of their dead upon the green. The first blood of the war for American
independence had been shed.
British pushed on to Concord, where the
"embattled farmers" at North Bridge "fired the shot heard round
the world." Their purpose partly accomplished, the British force began the
return march. All along the road, behind stone walls, hillocks, and houses
militiamen from village and farm made targets of the bright red coats of the
British soldiers. By the time the weary column stumbled into Boston its losses
totaled nearly three times those sustained by the colonists.
The congress debates on independence
news of Concord flew from one
local community to another in the thirteen colonies. Within 20 days, it evoked
a common spirit of American patriotism from Maine to Georgia.
While the alarms of Lexington and Concord were still re-sounding, the Second
Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775. Its president was
John Hancock, a wealthy Boston merchant. Benjamin Franklin, who had returned
from London, where, as "agent" for several of the colonies, he had
vainly sought conciliation. The Congress had barely organized before it was
called upon to face the issue of open warfare. Although some opposition was
present, the real temper of the Congress was revealed by a stirring declaration
of the “Causes and necessity of taking up arms”, the joint product of John
Dickinson and Jefferson:
"Our cause is just. Our union is perfect. Our internal resources are
great, and, if necessary, foreign assistance is undoubtedly attainable…. The
arms we have been compelled by our enemies to assume, we will… employ for the
preservation of our liberties, being with one mind resolved to die free men
rather than live slaves."
as the declaration was being debated, Congress took the militia into
continental service and appointed Colonel George Washington commander in chief
of the American forces. Yet in spite of the military involvement and the
appointment of a commander in chief, the idea of complete separation from
England was still repugnant to some members of the Congress and to a sizeable
portion of the American people. It was obvious, however, that the colonies
could not forever remain half in and half out of the British empire.
The stiffening of resolution
the months wore on, the difficulties of prosecuting a war while still part of
the British empire became more and more apparent. No compromise came from
England, and, on August 23, 1775, King George issued a proclamation declaring
the colonies to be in a state of rebellion.
months later, Thomas Paine published a 50-page pamphlet, Common Sense, driving
home in vigorous style the necessity for independence. Paine, a political
theorist who had come to America from England in 1774, even dared to attack the
sacred person of the King, ridiculing the idea of hereditary monarchy and
declaring that one honest man was worth more to society than "all the
crowned ruffians that ever lived." Persuasively he presented the
alternatives — continued submission to a tyrannical king and an outworn
government or liberty and happiness as a self-sufficient, independent republic.
Circulated throughout the colonies, the pamphlet helped to crystallize
conviction and to rally the undecided to the cause of separation.
There still remained the task of gaining the approval of each colony to a
formal declaration of separation. There was common agreement that the
Continental Congress should take no such definitive step as independence
without first receiving explicit instructions from the colonies. But the
Congress daily heard of the establishment of other new extralegal colonial governments
and of delegates being authorized to vote for independence. At the same time,
the predominance of radicals in the Congress increased as they extended their
correspondence, bolstered weak committees, and fired patriot minds with
Finally, on May 10, 1776, a resolution to "cut the Gordian knot" was
adopted. Now only a formal declaration was needed. On June 7, Richard Henry Lee
of Virginia introduced a resolution declaring in favor of independence, foreign
alliances, and American federation. Immediately, a committee of five, headed by
Thomas Jefferson of Virginia, was appointed to prepare a formal declaration
"setting forth the causes which impelled us to this mighty
Declaration of Independence
Declaration of Independence, adopted July 4, 1776 — not only announced the
birth of a new nation, it also set forth a philosophy of human freedom
thenceforth to be a dynamic force in the entire western world. It rested, not
upon particular grievances, but upon a broad base of individual liberty that
could command general support throughout America. Its political philosophy is
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,
that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that
among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure
these rights, governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers
from the consent of the governed: that whenever any form of government becomes
destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish
it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such
principles, and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most
likely to effect their safety and happiness."
Declaration of Independence served a purpose far beyond that of a public notice
of separation. Its ideas inspired mass fervor for the American cause, for it
instilled among ordinary folk a sense of their own importance, inspiring them
to struggle for personal freedom, self-government, and a dignified place in
Revolutionary War lasted more than six years, with fighting in every colony.
Even before the Declaration of Independence, there were military operations
that had an important influence on he outcome of the war — for instance, the
crushing of the North Carolina loyalists in February of 1776, and in March the
forced evacuation of British forces from Boston.
many months after independence was declared, the Americans suffered severe
setbacks. The first of these was in New York. In the battle of Long Island,
Washington’s position became ununtenable, and he executed a masterly retreat in
small boats from Brooklyn to the Manhattan shore. The wind held north and the
British warships could not come up the East River. Thus British General William
Howe lost a chance to deal the American cause a crushing blow, perhaps to end
Washington, though constantly driven back, was able to keep his forces fairly
intact until the end of the year. Important victories at Trenton and Princeton
revived colonial hopes, then once more calamity struck. In September 1777, Howe
captured Philadelphia, drove the Congress into flight, and left Washington to
winter with his men at Valley Forge.
Nevertheless, 1777 also saw the greatest American victory of the war, the
military turning point of the Revolution. British General John Burgoyne moved
down from Canada with a force designed to gain control of the Lake
Champlain-Hudson River line and thus isolate New England from the other
colonies. Burgoyne reached the upper Hudson River but, before he could proceed
southward, was compelled to wait for supplies until the middle of September.
Ignorance of American geography led him to suppose it would be easy for a
raiding force to march across the Hampshire Grants (Vermont) down along the
Connecticut River and back, collecting horses, cattle, and wagons along the way
for the use of his army-all in a matter of two weeks. For this exploit he chose
375 dismounted Hessian dragoons and about 300 Canadians and Indians. They did
not even reach the Vermont line. The Vermont militia met them near Bennington.
Few of the Hessians ever returned.
Battle of Bennington rallied New England militiamen, and Washington sent
reinforcements from the lower Hudson. By the time Burgoyne again put his force
in motion, the army of General Horatio Gates
was waiting for him. Led by Benedict Arnold, the Americans twice repulsed the
British. Burgoyne fell back to Saratoga, and on October 17, 1777, he
surrendered. This decisive blow of the war brought France to the American side.
the final victory of the colonies
the time the Declaration of Independence
was signed, France had not been neutral. The government had been eager for
reprisal against England ever since the defeat of France in 1763. Moreover,
enthusiasm for the American cause was high: the French intellectual world was
itself in revolt against feudalism and privilege. Still, though France had
welcomed Benjamin Franklin to the French court and had given the United States
aid in the form of munitions and supplies, it had been reluctant to risk direct
intervention and open war with England.
Burgoyne’s surrender, however, Franklin was able to secure treaties of commerce
and alliance. Even before this, many French volunteers had sailed to America.
The most prominent among them was the Marquis de La Fayette, a young army
officer, who, in the winter of 1779-80, went to Versailles and persuaded his
government to make a real effort to bring the war to an end. Soon afterward,
Louis XVI sent to America an expeditionary force of 6,000 men under the Comte
de Rochambeau. In addition, the French fleet aggravated the difficulties the
British were having in supplying and reinforcing their forces, and Frenchmen
joined with American blockade runners in inflicting severe losses on British
1778, the British were forced to evacuate Philadelphia because of threatened
action by the French fleet. During the same year, in the Ohio Valley, they
suffered a series of setbacks which assured American domination of the
northwest. Nevertheless, the British continued to press the war in the south.
Early in 1780 they captured Charleston, the principal southern seaport, and
overran the Carolina country. The following year they made an effort to conquer
Virginia. But the French fleet, which temporarily gained control of American
coastal waters that summer, ferried Washington’s and Rochambeau’s troops in
boats down Chesapeake Bay. Their combined armies, totaling 15,000 men, penned
in Lord Cornwallis’ army of 8,000 at Yorktown on the Virginia coast. On October
19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered.
the news of the American victory at Yorktown reached Europe, the House of
Commons voted to end the war. Peace negotiations began in April 1782 and
continued through November, when preliminary treaties were signed. These were
not to take effect until France concluded peace with Great Britain. In 1783,
they were signed as final and definitive. The peace settlement
acknowledged the independence, freedom, and sovereignty of the 13 states, to
which it granted the much coveted territory west to the Mississippi, and set
the northern boundary of the nation nearly as it runs now. The Congress was to
recommend to the states that they restore the confiscated property of the
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