The American Revolution was predicated by a number of ideas and events that, combined, led to a political and social separation of colonial possessions from the home nation and a coalescing of those former individual colonies into an independent nation.
The revolutionary era began in 1763, when the French military threat to British North American colonies ended.
Adopting the policy that the colonies should pay an increased proportion of the costs associated with keeping them in the Empire, Britain imposed a series of direct taxes followed by other laws intended to demonstrate British authority, all of which proved extremely unpopular in America. Because the colonies lacked elected representation in the governing British Parliament, many colonists considered the laws to be illegitimate and a violation of their rights as Englishmen. In 1772, groups of colonists began to create committees of correspondence, which would lead to their own Provincial Congresses in most of the colonies. In the course of two years, the Provincial Congresses or their equivalents rejected the Parliament and effectively replaced the British ruling apparatus in the former colonies, culminating in 1774 with the coordinating First Continental Congress.
In response to protests in Boston over Parliament's attempts to assert authority, the British sent combat troops, dissolved local governments, and imposed direct rule by Royal officials. Consequently, the Colonies mobilized their militias, and fighting broke out in 1775. First ostensibly loyal to King George III, the repeated pleas by the First Continental Congress for royal intervention on their behalf with Parliament resulted in the declaration by the King that the states were "in rebellion", and Congress traitors. In 1776, representatives from each of the original thirteen states voted unanimously in the Second Continental Congress to adopt a Declaration of Independence, which now rejected the British monarchy in addition to its Parliament. The Declaration established the United States, which was originally governed as a loose confederation through a representative government selected by state legislatures (see Second Continental Congress and Congress of the Confederation).
John Locke's ideas on liberty greatly influenced the political thinking behind the revolution. Jean-Jacques Rousseau's theory of the "social contract" influenced Locke's belief that among humanity's natural rights was the right of the people to overthrow their leaders, should those leaders betray the historic rights of Englishmen. In terms of writing state and national constitutions, the Americans used Montesquieu's analysis of the "balanced" British Constitution.
A motivating force behind the revolution was the American embrace of a political ideology called "republicanism", which was dominant in the colonies by 1775. The republicanism was inspired by the "country party" in Britain, whose critique of British government emphasized that corruption was a terrible reality in Britain. Americans feared the corruption was crossing the Atlantic; the commitment of most Americans to republican values and to their rights, energized the revolution, as Britain was increasingly seen as hopelessly corrupt and hostile to American interests. Britain seemed to threaten the established liberties that Americans enjoyed. The greatest threat to liberty was depicted as corruption–not just in London but at home as well. The colonists associated it with luxury and, especially, inherited aristocracy, which they condemned.
The Founding Fathers were strong advocates of republican values, particularly Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, which required men to put civic duty ahead of their personal desires. Men had a civic duty to be prepared and willing to fight for the rights and liberties of their countrymen and countrywomen. John Adams, writing to Mercy Otis Warren in 1776, agreed with some classical Greek and Roman thinkers in that "Public Virtue cannot exist without private, and public Virtue is the only Foundation of Republics." He continued:
"There must be a positive Passion for the public good, the public Interest, Honour, Power, and Glory, established in the Minds of the People, or there can be no Republican Government, nor any real Liberty. And this public Passion must be Superior to all private Passions. Men must be ready, they must pride themselves, and be happy to sacrifice their private Pleasures, Passions, and Interests, nay their private Friendships and dearest connections, when they Stand in Competition with the Rights of society."
For women, "republican motherhood" became the ideal, exemplified by Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; the first duty of the republican woman was to instil republican values in her children and to avoid luxury and ostentation.
Tom Paine's best-seller pamphlet Common Sense appeared in January 1776, after the Revolution had started. It was widely distributed and loaned, and often read aloud in taverns, contributing significantly to spreading the ideas of republicanism and liberalism, bolstering enthusiasm for separation from Britain, and encouraging recruitment for the Continental Army. Paine provided a new and widely accepted argument for independence, by advocating a complete break with history. Common Sense is oriented to the future in a way that compels the reader to make an immediate choice. It offered a solution for Americans disgusted and alarmed at the threat of tyranny.
Dissenting (i.e. Protestant, non-Church of England) churches of the day were the "school of democracy– President John Witherspoon of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) wrote widely circulated sermons linking the American Revolution to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible. Throughout the colonies dissenting Protestant congregations (Congregationalist, Baptist, and Presbyterian) preached Revolutionary themes in their sermons, while most Church of England ministers preached loyalty to the King. Religious motivation for fighting tyranny reached across socioeconomic lines to encompass rich and poor, men and women, frontiersmen and townsmen, farmers and merchants.
The classical authors read in the Enlightenment period taught an abstract ideal of republican government that included hierarchical social orders of king, aristocracy and commoners. It was widely believed that British liberties relied on the balance of power between these three social orders, maintaining the hierarchal deference to the privileged class. Historian Bernard Bailyn notes, "Puritanism – and the epidemic evangelism of the mid-eighteenth century, had created challenges to the traditional notions of social stratification– by preaching that the Bible taught all men are equal, that the true value of a man lies in his moral behavior, not his class, and that all can be saved."
The Revolution was predicated by a number of pieces of legislation originating from the British Parliament that, for Americans, were illegitimate acts of a government that had no right to pass laws on Englishmen in the Americas who did not have elected representation in that government. For the British, policy makers saw these laws as necessary to rein in colonial subjects who, in the name of economic development that was designed to benefit the home nation, had been allowed near-autonomy for too long.
The British Empire at the time operated under the mercantile system, where economic assets, or capital, are represented by bullion (gold, silver, and trade value) held by the state, which is best increased through a positive balance of trade with other nations (exports minus imports). Mercantilism suggests that the ruling government should advance these goals through playing a protectionist role in the economy, by encouraging exports and discouraging imports, especially through the use of tariffs. Great Britain regulated the economies of the colonies through the Navigation Acts according to the doctrines of mercantilism. Widespread evasion of these laws had long been tolerated. Eventually, through the use of open-ended search warrants (Writs of Assistance), strict enforcement of these Acts became the practice. In 1761, Massachusetts lawyer James Otis argued that the writs violated the constitutional rights of the colonists. He lost the case, but John Adams later wrote, "American independence was then and there born".
In 1762, Patrick Henry argued the Parson's Cause in Virginia, where the legislature had passed a law and it was vetoed by the King. Henry argued, "that a King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a Tyrant and forfeits all right to his subjects' obedience".
Following the French and Indian War, the British government sought to minimize defense costs wherever possible and was keen to maintain peaceful relations with those Indian tribes that had allied with the French. To this end, the Proclamation of 1763 restricted settlement across the Appalachian Mountains as this was designated an Indian Reserve. Regardless, groups of settlers continued to move west and establish farms. The proclamation was soon modified and was no longer a hindrance to settlement, but its promulgation and the fact that it had been written without consulting colonists angered them. The Quebec Act of 1774 extended Quebec's boundaries to the Ohio River, shutting out the claims of the thirteen colonies. By then, however, the Americans had little regard for new laws from London; they were drilling militia and organizing for war.
By 1763, Great Britain possessed vast holdings in North America. In addition to the thirteen colonies, twenty-two smaller colonies were ruled directly by royal governors. Victory in the Seven Years' War had given Great Britain New France (Canada), Spanish Florida, and the Native American lands east of the Mississippi River. In 1765 however, the colonists still considered themselves loyal subjects of the British Crown, with the same historic rights and obligations as subjects in Britain.
The British did not expect the colonies to contribute to the interest or the retirement of debt incurred during the French and Indian War, but they did expect a portion of the expenses for colonial defense to be paid by the Americans. Estimating the expenses of defending the continental colonies and the West Indies to be approximately –200,000 annually, the British goal after the end of this war was that the colonies would be taxed for –78,000 of this amount.
The real point for London was for the tax to demonstrate that Parliament was in full control. The main issue with the colonists was not that the taxes were high (they were low) but that the colonies had no representation in the Parliament which passed the taxes. On the one hand, Lord North in 1775 argued for the British position that Englishmen paid on average twenty-five shillings annually in taxes whereas Americans paid only sixpence. The colonists countered that such an argument failed to take into consideration the taxes collected by colonial governments - they believed, especially considering the economic restraints the British were keen to enforce in the colonies, that any additional tax burden from London was excessive.
The colonists never objected to the principle of contributing to the cost of their own defense (colonial legislatures spent large sums raising and outfitting militias during the French and Indian War), however they disputed the need to station regular British troops in North America when they considered colonial militias (which were funded by taxes raised by colonial legislatures) to be sufficient in the absence of a French threat. Many colonists were even in favour of maintaining regular military units for the purpose of defending the colonies from Indian attacks. One problem with that proposal was that the British were unwilling to commission colonial officers nor would they recognize colonial commissions, effectively negating the will or even the legal authority of the colonies to contribute to defense in that sort of way. The real underpinnings of British objections to colonial preferences with regards to defense were based on politics as opposed to military necessity. There were some 1,500 well-connected British officers that would have potentially become redundant in the aftermath the French and Indian War, and the only realistic options for London would have been to discharge them (which was politically unacceptable)[why?] or post them to America.
In 1764, Parliament enacted the Sugar Act and the Currency Act, further vexing the colonists. Protests led to a powerful new weapon, the systematic boycott of British goods. The British pushed the colonists even further that same year by also enacting the Quartering Act, which stated that British soldiers were to be quartered at the expense of residents in certain areas.
In 1765 the Stamp Act was the first direct tax ever levied by Parliament on the colonies. All official documents, newspapers, almanacs, and pamphlets–even decks of playing cards–were required to have the stamps. All 13 colonies protested vehemently, as popular leaders such as Patrick Henry in Virginia and James Otis in Massachusetts, rallied the people in opposition. A secret group, the "Sons of Liberty" formed in many towns and threatened violence if anyone sold the stamps, and no one did. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty burned the records of the vice-admiralty court and looted the elegant home of the chief justice, Thomas Hutchinson. Several legislatures called for united action, and nine colonies sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City in October 1765. Moderates led by John Dickinson drew up a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances" stating that taxes passed without representation violated their Rights of Englishmen. Lending weight to the argument was an economic boycott of British merchandise, as imports into the colonies fell from –2,250,000 in 1764 to –1,944,000 in 1765. In London, the Rockingham government came to power and Parliament debated whether to repeal the stamp tax or send an army to enforce it. Benjamin Franklin made the case for the boycotters, explaining the colonies had spent heavily in manpower, money, and blood in defense of the empire in a series of wars against the French and Native Americans, and that further taxes to pay for those wars were unjust and might bring about a rebellion. Parliament agreed and repealed the tax, but in a "Declaratory Act" of March 1766 insisted that parliament retained full power to make laws for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever".
In 1767, the Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which placed a tax on a number of essential goods including paper, glass, and tea. Angered at the tax increases, colonists organized a boycott of British goods. In Boston on March 5, 1770, a large mob gathered around a group of British soldiers. The mob grew more and more threatening, throwing snowballs, rocks and debris at the soldiers. One soldier was clubbed and fell. All but one of the soldiers fired into the crowd. Eleven people were hit; three civilians were killed at the scene of the shooting, and two died after the incident. The event quickly came to be called the Boston Massacre. Although the soldiers were tried and acquitted (defended by John Adams), the widespread descriptions soon became propaganda to turn colonial sentiment against the British. This in turn began a downward spiral in the relationship between Britain and the Province of Massachusetts.
In June 1772, in what became known as the Gaspe Affair, a British warship that had been vigorously enforcing unpopular trade regulations was burned by American patriots. Soon afterwards, Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts reported that he and the royal judges would be paid directly from London, thus bypassing the colonial legislature.
On December 16, 1773, a group of men, led by Samuel Adams and dressed to evoke American Indians, boarded the ships of the government-favored British East India Company and dumped an estimated –10,000 worth of tea on board (approximately –636,000 in 2008) into the harbor. This event became known as the Boston Tea Party and remains a significant part of American patriotic lore.
The British government responded by passing several Acts which came to be known as the Intolerable Acts, which further darkened colonial opinion towards the British. They consisted of four laws enacted by the British parliament. The first was the Massachusetts Government Act, which altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings. The second Act, the Administration of Justice Act, ordered that all British soldiers to be tried were to be arraigned in Britain, not in the colonies. The third Act was the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party (the British never received such a payment). The fourth Act was the Quartering Act of 1774, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner.
American political opposition was initially through the colonial assemblies such as the Stamp Act Congress, which included representatives from across the colonies. In 1765, the Sons of Liberty were formed which used public demonstrations, violence and threats of violence to ensure that the British tax laws were unenforceable. While openly hostile to what they considered an oppressive Parliament acting illegally, colonists persisted in numerous petitions and pleas for intervention from a monarch to whom they still claimed loyalty. In late 1772, after the Gaspe Affair, Samuel Adams set about creating new Committees of Correspondence, which linked Patriots in all thirteen colonies and eventually provided the framework for a rebel government. In early 1773 Virginia, the largest colony, set up its Committee of Correspondence, on which Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson served.
In response to the Massachusetts Government Act, Massachusetts and then other colonies formed local governments called "Provincial Congresses". In 1774, the First Continental Congress convened, consisting of representatives from each of the Provincial Congresses or their equivalents, to serve as a conduit for deliberation and collective action. Standing Committees of Safety were created by each Provincial Congress or equivalent for the enforcement of the resolutions by the Committee of Correspondence, Provincial Congress, and the Continental Congress. British colonies in North America that did not have government responsible to its people did not join the Continental Congress, but remained loyal to the Crown. They included: Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Bermuda, West Florida and East Florida.
The population of the Thirteen Colonies was far from homogeneous, particularly in their political views and attitudes. Loyalties and allegiances varied widely not only within regions and communities, but also within families and sometimes shifted during the course of the Revolution.
At the time, revolutionaries were called 'Patriots', 'Whigs', 'Congress-men', or 'Americans'. They included a full range of social and economic classes, but a unanimity regarding the need to defend the rights of Americans. After the war, Patriots such as George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay were deeply devoted to republicanism while also eager to build a rich and powerful nation, while Patriots such as Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson represented democratic impulses and the agrarian plantation element that wanted a localized society with greater political equality.
The word "patriot" refers to a person in the colonies who sided with the American Revolution. Calling the revolutionaries "patriots" is a long-standing historical convention, which began prior to the war. For example, the term –Patriot– was in use by American colonists during the 1760s.
Generally speaking, during the enlightenment era, the word "patriot" was not used interchangeably with "nationalist", as it is today. Rather, the concept of patriotism was linked to enlightenment values concerning a common good, which transcended national and social boundaries. Patriotism, thus, did not require someone to support their leader's actions or a nation's policies in all circumstances, and there wouldn't necessarily be a contradiction between being a patriot and revolting against king and country.
One way to understand the Patriots is to compare their psychology with that of the Loyalists. Labaree (1948) has identified eight characteristics of the Loyalists that made them essentially conservative; opposite traits characterized the patriots. Psychologically, Loyalists were older, better established, and resisted innovation. They thought resistance to the Crown–the legitimate government–was morally wrong, while the Patriots thought morality was on their side. They were alienated when the Patriots resorted to violence, such as burning houses and tarring and feathering. Loyalists wanted to take a middle-of-the road position and were angry when forced by the Patriots to declare their opposition. Many Loyalists, especially merchants in the port cities, had a long-standing sentimental attachment to Britain (often with business and family links to other parts of the British Empire). Some Loyalists were procrastinators who realized that independence was bound to come some day, but wanted to postpone the moment; the Patriots wanted to seize the moment. Loyalists were cautious and afraid of anarchy or tyranny that might come from mob rule; Patriots made a systematic effort to use and control mob violence. Finally, Labaree argues that Loyalists were pessimists who lacked the confidence in the future displayed by the Patriots.
Historians, such as J. Franklin Jameson in the early 20th century, examined the class composition of the Patriot cause, looking for evidence that there was a class war inside the revolution. In the last 50 years, historians have largely abandoned that interpretation, emphasizing instead the high level of ideological unity. Just as there were rich and poor Loyalists, the Patriots were a 'mixed lot', with the richer and better educated more likely to become officers in the Army. Ideological demands always came first: the Patriots viewed independence as a means of freeing themselves from British oppression and taxation and, above all, reasserting what they considered to be their rights. Most yeomen farmers, craftsmen, and small merchants joined the patriot cause as well, demanding more political equality. They were especially successful in Pennsylvania and less so in New England, where John Adams attacked Thomas Paine's Common Sense for the "absurd democratical notions" it proposed.
While there is no way of knowing the actual numbers, historians have estimated that about 15–20% of the population remained loyal to the British Crown; these were known at the time as "Loyalists", "Tories", or "King's men". The Loyalists never controlled territory unless the British Army occupied it. Loyalists were typically older, less willing to break with old loyalties, often connected to the Church of England, and included many established merchants with business connections across the Empire, as well as royal officials such as Thomas Hutchinson of Boston. The revolution sometimes divided families; for example, the Franklins. William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin and Governor of New Jersey remained Loyal to the Crown throughout the war and never spoke to his father again. Recent immigrants who had not been fully Americanized were also inclined to support the King, such as recent Scottish settlers in the back country; among the more striking examples of this, see Flora MacDonald.
Most Native Americans rejected pleas that they remain neutral and supported the king. The tribes that depended most heavily upon colonial trade tended to side with the revolutionaries, though political factors were important as well. The most prominent Native American leader siding with the king was Joseph Brant of the Mohawk nation, who led frontier raids on isolated settlements in Pennsylvania and New York until an American army under John Sullivan secured New York in 1779, forcing the Loyalist Indians permanently into Canada.
Some African-American slaves became politically active and supported the king, especially in Virginia where the royal governor actively recruited black men into the British forces in return for manumission, protection for their families, and the promise of land grants. Following the war, many of these "Black Loyalists" settled in Nova Scotia, Upper and Lower Canada, and other parts of the British Empire, where the descendants of some remain today.
A minority of uncertain size tried to stay neutral in the war. Most kept a low profile. However, the Quakers, especially in Pennsylvania, were the most important group that was outspoken for neutrality. As patriots declared independence, the Quakers, who continued to do business with the British, were attacked as supporters of British rule, "contrivers and authors of seditious publications" critical of the revolutionary cause.
After the war, the great majority of the 450,000–500,000 Loyalists remained in America and resumed normal lives. Some, such as Samuel Seabury, became prominent American leaders. Estimates vary, but about 62,000 Loyalists relocated to Canada, and others to Britain (7,000) or to Florida or the West Indies (9,000). This made up approximately 2% of the total population of the colonies. When Loyalists left the South in 1783, they took thousands of blacks with them as slaves to the British West Indies.
Several types of women contributed to the American Revolution in multiple ways. Like men, women participated on both sides of the war. Among women, European Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans also divided between the Patriot and Loyalist causes.
While formal Revolutionary politics did not include women, ordinary domestic behaviors became charged with political significance as patriot women confronted a war that permeated all aspects of political, civil, and domestic life. They participated by boycotting British goods, spying on the British, following armies as they marched, washing, cooking, and tending for soldiers, delivering secret messages, and in a few cases like Deborah Samson fighting disguised as men. Above all, they continued the agricultural work at home to feed the armies and their families.
The boycott of British goods required the willing participation of American women; the boycotted items were largely household items such as tea and cloth. Women had to return to spinning and weaving–skills that had fallen into disuse. In 1769, the women of Boston produced 40,000 skeins of yarn, and 180 women in Middletown, Massachusetts, wove 20,522 yards (18,765 m) of cloth.
A crisis of political loyalties could also disrupt the fabric of colonial America women–s social worlds: whether a man did or did not renounce his allegiance to the king could dissolve ties of class, family, and friendship, isolating women from former connections. A woman–s loyalty to her husband, once a private commitment, could become a political act, especially for women in America committed to men who remained loyal to the king. Legal divorce, usually rare, was granted to patriot women whose husbands supported the king.
Spain joined in full the cause of the American Revolution by declaring war on England on June 21, 1779. Bernardo de G¡lvez y Madrid, general of the Spanish forces in New Spain who also served as governor of Louisiana was sent to Florida at the head of an expedition of colonial troops to aid the American colonists in their rebellion against Britain . The importance of Galvez's campaign from the American perspective was that he denied the British the opportunity of encircling the American rebels from the south, and kept open a vital conduit for supplies. In recognition to his help to the American cause, George Washington took him to his right in the parade of July 4 and the American Congress cited G¡lvez for his aid during the Revolution.
In early 1776, France set up a major program of aid to the Americans, and the Spanish secretly added funds. Each country spent one million "livres tournaises" to buy munitions. A dummy corporation run by Pierre Beaumarchais concealed their activities. Americans obtained some munitions through Holland as well as French and Spanish ports in the West Indies.
The great majority of the 200,000 Native Americans east of the Mississippi distrusted the colonists and supported the British cause. Even though there was no major Native American participation during the war, the British provided funding and weapons to attack American outposts. Some Indians tried to remain neutral, seeing little value in participating yet again in a European conflict. A few supported the American cause.
The British provided arms for the Indians, under Loyalist leadership, to raid frontier settlements from the Carolinas to New York, threatening to massacre the settlers, especially in Pennsylvania. The most prominent was Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, who led a band of 300 Indian warriors and 100 white loyalists in 1778 and 1780 multiple attacks on small settlements in New York and Pennsylvania. In 1776 Cherokee war parties attacked all along the southern frontier.
While the Cherokee could launch raids numbering a couple hundred warriors, as seen in the Chickamauga Wars, they could not mobilize enough forces to fight a major invasion without allies. In 1779 Washington sent General John Sullivan with four brigades of Continental soldiers to drive the Iroquois out of upstate western New York. There was little combat but Sullivan systematically burned 40 (empty) Indian villages and, most important, destroyed about 160,000 bushels of corn that comprised the winter food supply. Facing starvation the Iroquois permanently fled to the Niagara Falls area and to Canada, where the British fed them.
At the peace conference the British abandoned their Indian allies, and the Americans took possession of all the land west of the Mississippi and north of Florida. Calloway concludes:
The British, however, did not give up their forts in the west until 1796 and kept alive the dream of one day forming a satellite Indian nation in what is now the Ohio to Wisconsin part of the Midwest. That goal was one of the causes of the War of 1812.
Some slaves understood Revolutionary rhetoric as promising freedom and equality. Both British and American governments made promises of freedom for service and some slaves fought in one or the other armies. Starting in 1777 abolition occurred in the North, usually on a gradual schedule with no payments to the owners, but slavery persisted in the South and took on new life after 1790.
During the Revolution, efforts were made by the British to turn slavery against the Americans, but historian David Brion Davis explains the difficulties with a policy of wholesale arming of the slaves:
But England greatly feared the effects of any such move on its own West Indies, where Americans had already aroused alarm over a possible threat to incite slave insurrections. The British elites also understood that an all-out attack on one form of property could easily lead to an assault on all boundaries of privilege and social order, as envisioned by radical religious sects in Britain–s seventeenth-century civil wars.
Davis underscored the British dilemma: "Britain, when confronted by the rebellious American colonists, hoped to exploit their fear of slave revolts while also reassuring the large number of slave-holding Loyalists and wealthy Caribbean planters and merchants that their slave property would be secure". The colonists accused the British of encouraging slave revolts.
American advocates of independence were commonly lampooned in Britain for their hypocritical calls for freedom, while many of their leaders were slave-holders. Samuel Johnson snapped, "how is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the [slave] drivers of the Negroes?" Benjamin Franklin countered by criticizing the British self-congratulation about "the freeing of one Negro" (Somersett) while they continued to permit the Slave Trade.
The Battle of Lexington and Concord took place April 19, 1775, when the British sent a force of roughly 1000 troops to confiscate arms and arrest revolutionaries in Concord. They clashed with the local militia, marking the first fighting of the American Revolutionary War. The news aroused the 13 colonies to call out their militias and send troops to besiege Boston. The Battle of Bunker Hill followed on June 17, 1775. While a British victory, it was at a great cost; about 1,000 British casualties from a garrison of about 6,000, as compared to 500 American casualties from a much larger force.
The Second Continental Congress convened in 1775, after the war had started. The Congress created the Continental Army and extended the Olive Branch Petition to the crown as an attempt at reconciliation. King George III refused to receive it, issuing instead the Proclamation of Rebellion, requiring action against the "traitors".
In March 1776, with George Washington as the commander of the new army, the Continental Army forced the British to evacuate Boston. The revolutionaries were now in full control of all 13 colonies and were ready to declare independence. While there still were many Loyalists, they were no longer in control anywhere by July 1776, and all of the Royal officials had fled.
In August 1775, the King declared Americans in arms against royal authority to be traitors to the Crown. The British government at first started treating captured rebel combatants as common criminals and preparations were made to bring them to trial for treason. American Secretary Lord Germain and First Lord of the Admiralty Lord Sandwich were especially eager to do so, with a particular emphasis on those who had previously served in British units (and thereby sworn an oath of allegiance to the crown).
Many of the prisoners taken by the British at Bunker Hill apparently expected to be hanged, but British authorities declined to take the next step: treason trials and executions. There were tens of thousands of Loyalists under American control who would have been at risk for treason trials of their own (by the Americans)[clarification needed], and the British built much of their strategy around using these Loyalists. After the surrender at Saratoga in 1777, there were thousands of British prisoners in American hands.
Therefore no American prisoners were put on trial for treason, although most were badly treated and many died nonetheless, resulting in more deaths than every American battlefield and naval action fatality, combined. Eventually they were technically accorded the rights of belligerents in 1782, by act of Parliament, when they were officially recognized as prisoners of war rather than traitors. At the end of the war, both sides released their surviving prisoners.
Following the Battle of Bunker Hill in June 1775, the Patriots had control of most of the territory and population; the Loyalists were powerless.[dubious ] In all thirteen colonies, Patriots had overthrown their existing governments, closing courts and driving British governors, agents and supporters from their homes. They had elected conventions and "legislatures" that existed outside of any legal framework; new constitutions were used in each state to supersede royal charters. They declared they were states now, not colonies.
On January 5, 1776, New Hampshire ratified the first state constitution, six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Then, in May 1776, Congress voted to suppress all forms of crown authority, to be replaced by locally created authority. Virginia, South Carolina, and New Jersey created their constitutions before July 4. Rhode Island and Connecticut simply took their existing royal charters and deleted all references to the crown.
The new states had to decide not only what form of government to create, they first had to decide how to select those who would craft the constitutions and how the resulting document would be ratified. In states where the wealthy exerted firm control over the process, such as Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New York and Massachusetts, the results were constitutions that featured:
In states where the less affluent had organized sufficiently to have significant power–especially Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New Hampshire–the resulting constitutions embodied
Whether conservatives or radicals held sway in a state did not mean that the side with less power accepted the result quietly. The radical provisions of Pennsylvania's constitution lasted only fourteen years. In 1790, conservatives gained power in the state legislature, called a new constitutional convention, and rewrote the constitution. The new constitution substantially reduced universal white-male suffrage, gave the governor veto power and patronage appointment authority, and added an upper house with substantial wealth qualifications to the unicameral legislature. Thomas Paine called it a constitution unworthy of America.
On January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine published a political pamphlet entitled Common Sense arguing that the only solution to the problems with Britain was independence and a liberal republic. In the ensuing months, before the allied states declared independence in unison in the name of the United States, the colonies had begun the process of creating their own constitutions to form sovereign states and some of them individually took the step to declare independence. Virginia, for instance, declared its independence from Great Britain on May 15, 1776. The war had been underway since April 1775, and until this point, the states had sought favorable peace terms; compromise was no longer a possibility, despite belated British efforts to come to a political resolution.
On June 11, 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee to prepare a draft declaration of independence. Thomas Jefferson, with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin, brought the draft before Congress on June 28. On July 2, 1776, Congress voted the independence of the United States; two days later, on July 4, it adopted the Declaration of Independence, which date is now celebrated as Independence Day in the United States.
On June 12, 1776, the Second Continental Congress resolved to appoint a committee of thirteen to prepare a draft agreement on a governing constitution and a perpetual union of the states. The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, commonly known as the Articles of Confederation or simply the Articles, formed the first governing document of the United States of America, based on a confederation type government. Of equal importance is the fact that the Articles combined the sovereign states into a perpetual Union. The Second Continental Congress approved the Articles for ratification by the States on November 15, 1777, and began operating under their terms. The Articles were formally ratified when the representatives of Maryland became the last to apply their signatures to the document on March 1, 1781. At that point, the Continental Congress was dissolved and on the following day a new government of the United States in Congress Assembled took its place, with Samuel Huntington as President.
After Washington forced the British out of Boston in spring 1776, neither the British nor the Loyalists controlled any significant areas. The British, however, were massing forces at their great naval base at Halifax, Nova Scotia. They returned in force in July 1776, landing in New York and defeating Washington's Continental Army in August at the Battle of Brooklyn in one of the largest engagements of the war. The British requested a meeting with representatives from Congress to negotiate an end to hostilities, and a delegation including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin met Howe on Staten Island in New York Harbor on September 11. Howe demanded a retraction of the Declaration of Independence, which was refused, and negotiations ended until 1781. The British then quickly seized New York City and nearly captured General Washington. They made the city their main political and military base of operations in North America, holding it until November 1783. New York City consequently became the destination for Loyalist refugees, and a focal point of Washington's intelligence network. The British also took New Jersey, pushing the Continental Army into Pennsylvania, but in a surprise attack in late December 1776 Washington crossed the Delaware River back into New Jersey and defeated Hessian and British armies at Trenton and Princeton, thereby regaining New Jersey. The victories gave an important boost to pro-independence supporters at a time when morale was flagging, and have become iconic events of the war.
In 1777, as part of a grand strategy to end the war, the British sent an invasion force from Canada to seal off New England, which the British perceived as the primary source of agitators. In a major case of mis-coordination, the British army in New York City went to Philadelphia which it captured from Washington. The invasion army under Burgoyne waited in vain for reinforcements from New York, and became trapped upstate. It surrendered after the Battle of Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. From early October 1777 until November 15 a pivotal siege at Fort Mifflin, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania distracted British troops and allowed Washington time to preserve the Continental Army by safely leading his troops to harsh winter quarters at Valley Forge.
The capture of a British army at Saratoga encouraged the French to formally enter the war in support of Congress, as Benjamin Franklin negotiated a permanent military alliance in early 1778, significantly becoming the first country to officially recognize the Declaration of Independence. William Pitt spoke out in parliament urging Britain to make peace in America, and unite with America against France, while other British politicians who had previously sympathised with colonial grievances now turned against the American rebels for allying with British international rival and enemy.
Later Spain (in 1779) and the Dutch (1780) became allies of the French, leaving the British Empire to fight a global war alone without major allies, and requiring it to slip through a combined blockade of the Atlantic. The American theater thus became only one front in Britain's war. The British were forced to withdraw troops from continental America to reinforce the valuable sugar-producing Caribbean colonies, which were considered more valuable.
Because of the alliance with France and the deteriorating military situation, Sir Henry Clinton, the British commander, evacuated Philadelphia to reinforce New York City. General Washington attempted to intercept the retreating column, resulting in the Battle of Monmouth Court House, the last major battle fought in the north. After an inconclusive engagement, the British successfully retreated to New York City. The northern war subsequently became a stalemate, as the focus of attention shifted to the smaller southern theater.
The British strategy in America now concentrated on a campaign in the southern colonies. With fewer regular troops at their disposal, the British commanders saw the Southern Strategy as a more viable plan, as the south was perceived as being more strongly Loyalist, with a large population of recent immigrants as well as large numbers of slaves who might be captured or run away to join the British.
Beginning in late December 1778, the British captured Savannah and controlled the Georgia coastline. In 1780 they launched a fresh invasion and took Charleston as well. A significant victory at the Battle of Camden meant that royal forces soon controlled most of Georgia and South Carolina. The British set up a network of forts inland, hoping the Loyalists would rally to the flag. Not enough Loyalists turned out, however, and the British had to fight their way north into North Carolina and Virginia, with a severely weakened army. Behind them much of the territory they had already captured dissolved into a chaotic guerrilla war, fought predominantly between bands of Loyalist and American militia, which negated many of the gains the British had previously made. The excesses brought on by the guerilla warfare (though famously exaggerated in the 2000 film The Patriot) were enough to erode support for the British in the region where it had been strongest.
The southern British army marched to Yorktown, Virginia where they expected to be rescued by a British fleet which would take them back to New York. When that fleet was defeated by a French fleet, however, they became trapped in Yorktown. In October 1781 under a combined siege by the French and Continental armies, the British, under the command of General Cornwallis, surrendered. However, Cornwallis was so embarrassed at his defeat that he had to send his second in command to surrender for him.
News of the defeat effectively ended major offensive operations in America. Support for the conflict had never been strong in Britain, where many sympathised with the rebels, but now it reached a new low.
Although King George III personally wanted to fight on, his supporters lost control of Parliament, and no further major land offensives were launched in the American Theatre. A final naval battle was fought on March 10, 1783 off the coast of Cape Canaveral by Captain John Barry and his crew of the USS Alliance who defeated three British warships led by HMS Sybil, who were trying to take the payroll of the Continental Army.
The peace treaty with Britain, known as the Treaty of Paris, gave the U.S. all land east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes, though not including Florida (On September 3, 1783, Britain entered into a separate agreement with Spain under which Britain ceded Florida back to Spain.). The Native American nations actually living in this region were not a party to this treaty and did not recognize it until they were defeated militarily by the United States. Issues regarding boundaries and debts were not resolved until the Jay Treaty of 1795.
Losing the war and the 13 colonies was a shock to the British system. The war revealed the limitations of Britain's fiscal-military state when it had powerful enemies, no allies, depended on extended and vulnerable transatlantic lines of communication, and was faced for the first time since the 17th century by both Protestant and Catholic foes. The defeat heightened dissension and escalated political antagonism to the King's ministers. Inside parliament, the primary concern changed from fears of an over-mighty monarch to the issues of representation, parliamentary reform , and government retrenchment. Reformers sought to destroy what they saw as widespread institutional corruption. The result was a powerful crisis, 1776-1783. The peace in 1783 left France financially prostrate, while the British economy boomed thanks to the return of American business. The crisis ended after 1784 thanks to the king's shrewdness in outwitting Charles James Fox (the leader of the Fox-North Coalition), and renewed confidence in the system engendered by the leadership of the new Prime Minister, William Pitt. Historians conclude that loss of the American colonies enabled Britain to deal with the French Revolution with more unity and better organization than would otherwise have been the case.
Interpretations about the effect of the Revolution vary. Though contemporary participants referred to the events as "the revolution", at one end of the spectrum is the view that the American Revolution was not "revolutionary" at all, contending that it did not radically transform colonial society but simply replaced a distant government with a local one. More recent scholarship pioneered by historians such as Bernard Bailyn, Gordon Wood, and Edmund Morgan accepts the contemporary view of the participants that the American Revolution was a unique and radical event that produced deep changes and had a profound impact on world affairs, based on an increasing belief in the principles of the Enlightenment as reflected in how liberalism was understood during the period, and republicanism. These were demonstrated by a leadership and government that espoused protection of natural rights, and a system of laws chosen by the people.
Some historians, such as Daniel Boorstin, see the motivation for the revolution as primarily legal. The adherence of the colonists to the British constitution and what they viewed to be the tyrannical deprivation of English rights by the British Parliament, in concert with the failure of King George III to protect his subjects from such abuses, are what he sees as compelling the colonists to sever political ties with Great Britain.
For roughly five percent of the inhabitants of the United States, defeat was followed by self-exile. Of those, approximately 62,000 United Empire Loyalists left the newly founded republic, most settling in the remaining British colonies in North America, such as the Province of Quebec (concentrating in the Eastern Townships), Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia. The new colonies of Upper Canada (now Ontario) and New Brunswick were created by Britain for their benefit.
After the Revolution, genuinely democratic politics became possible. The rights of the people were incorporated into state constitutions. Thus came the widespread assertion of liberty, individual rights, equality and hostility toward corruption which would prove core values of republicanism to Americans. The greatest challenge to the old order in Europe was the challenge to inherited political power and the democratic idea that government rests on the consent of the governed. The example of the first successful revolution against a European empire, and the first successful establishment of a republican form of democratically elected government, provided a model for many other colonial peoples who realized that they too could break away and become self-governing nations with directly elected representative government.
In 1777, Morocco was the first state to recognize the independence of the United States of America. The two countries signed the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship ten years later. Friesland, one of the seven United Provinces of the Dutch Republic, was the next to recognize American independence (February 26, 1782), followed by the Staten-Generaal of the Dutch Republic on April 19, 1782. John Adams became the first US Ambassador in The Hague..
Since the Dutch Republic was at war with the United Kingdom at the signing of the treaty in 1782, it is often considered that Sweden was the first neutral sovereign power that recognized the United States of America. On April 3, 1783, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary, Count Gustaf Philip Creutz, representing the King of Sweden, and Benjamin Franklin, Minister Plenipotentiary of the United States of America, signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce in Paris, France. In the Treaty, they pledged, firm, inviolable and universal peace and a true and sincere friendship between the King, his heirs and successors, and the United States of America..
The American Revolution was the first wave of the Atlantic Revolutions that took hold in the French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, and the Latin American wars of independence. Aftershocks reached Ireland in the Irish Rebellion of 1798, in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and in the Netherlands.
The Revolution had a strong, immediate impact in Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, and France. Many British and Irish Whigs spoke in favor of the American cause. The Revolution, along with the Dutch Revolt (end of the 16th century) and the English Civil War (in the 17th century), was one of the first lessons in overthrowing an old regime for many Europeans who later were active during the era of the French Revolution, such as Marquis de Lafayette. The American Declaration of Independence had some impact on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789. The spirit of the Declaration of Independence led to laws ending slavery in all the Northern states and the Northwest Territory, with New Jersey the last in 1804–long before the British Parliament acted in 1833 to abolish slavery in its colonies.
The national debt after the American Revolution fell into three categories. The first was the $11 million owed to foreigners–mostly debts to France during the American Revolution. The second and third–roughly $24 million each–were debts owed by the national and state governments to Americans who had sold food, horses, and supplies to the revolutionary forces. Congress agreed that the power and the authority of the new government would pay for the foreign debts. There were also other debts that consisted of promissory notes issued during the Revolutionary War to soldiers, merchants, and farmers who accepted these payments on the premise that the new Constitution would create a government that would pay these debts eventually. The war expenses of the individual states added up to $114,000,000, compared to $37 million by the central government. In 1790, at the recommendation of first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Congress combined the remaining state debts with the foreign and domestic debts into one national debt totaling $80 million. Everyone received face value for wartime certificates, so that the national honor would be sustained and the national credit established.
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