Student Reader

American Revolution

The American Revolution was prompted when England's monarchy and Parliament sought increasing suzerainty over the Atlantic seaboard colonies and their powerful assemblies.

Many measures specifically targeted the American colonies on the Atlantic seaboard, even sometimes individual colonies (usually restless, dominant Massachusetts)

English king George IIIreign 1760 - 1820
Proclamation of 17631763British ruling forbidding settlers from settling beyond a line drawn along the Appalachian mountains in the upper Ohio Valley, for fear that doing so would spark war with the Indigenous. It was supported by the Cherokee. It was ineffective because European settlers refused to honor it and British authorities failed at enforcing it.
PM George Grenvillefrom 1763Grenville became Prime Minister in 1763. England faced heavy debts and obligations from years of fighting and the costs of administering vast new North American territories. Grenville believed that the colonies needed to help pay for their own defense and administration, needed to be tightly controlled, and should be forced to obey British law. His program involved British ships patrolling the colonial waters for smugglers; the Mutiny, Sugar, Currency and Stamp Acts; and permanently stationed British troops in British colonial America. This succeeded in raising significant revenues from the colonies, but the colonies viewed the program as an attack on colonial political power and united in opposition to the British. Before 1763, colonial governments had the power to levy taxes, spend money, approve political appointments and pass laws.
Currency Actpassed 1764Required colonial assemblies to stop issuing paper money and remove all existing currency.
Mutiny/Quartering Act1765Required colonists to provide quarters and supplies for British troops in America.
Stamp Act1765A tax imposed on most printed materials in the colonies. This angered the colonists (in the Caribbean, too) because it was merely a means to raise revenue, not to regulate commerce. It was eventually repealed due to economic pressure from a colonial boycott.
Stamp Act CongressOct 1765James Otis persuaded his colleagues in the Massachusetts assembly to come together in the Stamp Act Congress. Representatives from nine colonies met in October 1765 in New York. The Stamp Act Congress petitioned the king and Parliament that the colonies could only be rightfully taxed through their own provincial assemblies (their own representatives).
Sons of Libertyformed mid-1765Members formed disciplined vigilante groups to enforce boycotts and other popular resistances in all the colonies. They also terrorized agents attempting to enforce the Stamp Act.
Townshend Duties1767A group of acts that levied new taxes on so-called external goods, those goods that were imported to the colonies from England: lead, paint, paper and tea.
Boston MassacreMar 5 1770A murky incident where Redcoats fired into a crowd, killing five people. However, it was followed by a period of relative peace until the Boston Tea Party.
Lord NorthPrime Minister who succeeded Townshend. He replaced all the Townshend Duties except the tea tax.
Committees of Correspondenceest 1772
Boston
Tea Act1773
Boston Tea PartyDec 16, 1773In 1773, the British East India Company had large tea stocks it could not sell in England. Boston men disguised as Indigenous dumped several ships' tea cargo into the harbor.
Coercive Acts1774Known in America as the Intolerable Acts, they required colonists to board British troops, reduced the Massachusetts government's powers, and (until the cost of the Boston Tea Party was repaid) closed the Boston port. King George III and Lord North intended the Coercive Acts as a punishment against Boston.
First Continental CongressSept 1774
Philadelphia
Delegates from all colonies except Georgia met in Philadelphia and agreed to boycotts of British goods, recommended that preparations be made for defense against British attack, and endorsed a list of grievances. However, the First Continental Congress rejected a plan for colonial unit (much like the Albany Plan), and did not have any resolution for the king to recognize the colonies as a single political entity.
1775General Thomas Gage dispatched British troops to Lexington and Concord, where shots were fired that began the American Revolution.
Revolutionary War, § I
New England

The Revolutionary War did not begin as a war for independence. Indeed, for the first year of the Revolutionary War, many Americans still believed that they were fighting to solve a disagreement with the British; and many British still believed they were merely suppressing pockets of rebellion. Congress raised money to finance the war by issuing paper money (Continental Currency), borrowing from other nations, and requisitioning money from the state governments.

Battle of Bunker HillJun 17, 1775
Boston
Second Continental Congressmeets 1775
Common Sensepublished 1776Thomas Paine wrote this pamphlet that galvanized many Americans, providing a voice for their yearning for independence.
Mar 17, 1776British troops evacuate Boston.
Declaration of Independence1776

The Declaration provided formal justification for dissolving the political connection between the colonies and Great Britain. However, it did not declare war nor did it provide a new unified colonial government.

The Declaration of Independence turned former colonies into states. The first task in forming a state government was to adopt a state constitution, and each state began adopting its own written constitutions. However, early state conventions were written by state legislatures; and the state legislature could easily amend or violate the constitution.

Massachusetts did not finalize its constitution until 1780, but it introduced fundamental changes that influenced other state constitutions: creation of a constitutional convention; and strengthening the executive branch. Constitutional conventions were envisioned as special assemblies convened for a single purpose.

1776General William Howe drove George Washington's forces from the New York city.
Revolutionary War, § II
Mid-Atlantic region

With the United States invaded Canada, and the Loyalist uprising in 1776 in North Carolina, the British realized that the war was not confined to New England.

Articles of Confederationadopted 1777
ratified 1781
Congress was the only unit with national authority, but it had little authority. A unanimous (not just a majority) Congressional vote was required to amend the Articles. There was no executive branch. Indeed, when John Adams went to London, the British were confused whether he represented one nation or thirteen nations. However, the Confederation did succeed in resolving policy in the western frontier.
British campaign1777The British endeavored to split the United States in two, with British general William Howe moving north while John Burgoyne, the northern force's commander, would move south. They were supposed to unite, but Howe unexpectedly went south to capture Philadelphia (thinking that taking the capital would quickly topple the United States).
Burgoyne surrenders1778
Saratoga, New York
French-American allianceest 1778
Revolutionary War, § III
Southern Phase (1778 - 1781)

There was not much military activity in the north after 1778.

Cornwallis surrenders1781
Yorktown, Virginia
Treaty of Paris1783

At the conclusion of the war, Loyalists fled and established the first English-speaking community in Quebec. Because Britain closed its ports to American trade and disrupted American ships at sea, American trade expanded with South America, Asia and the Caribbean.

Escalating provocations

Resistance to English impositions was most concentrated in colonial legislatures.

By 1763, Britain and the colonies had reached a compromise between imperial control and colonial self-government. America's foreign affairs and overseas trade were controlled by the king and Parliament, the British legislature. All other government was left to colonial rule. However, the colonies were very expensive. The colonists needed protection from the French and their American Indian allies during the Seven Years' War (1756 - 1763), which accrued vast expenses. English countrymen argued that Americans should bear the cost of the war since the Americans were benefiting.

The British chose taxation to meet the costs of administering the colonies. The tax itself was minor, but colonists were aghast because they were not given Parliament legislation during this decision. A group of citizens -- merchants, lawyers and prosperous traders -- formed the intercolonial association Sons of Liberty. Sons of Liberty destroyed taxed items (identified by special stamps) and forced the official stamp distributors to resign. Daughters of Liberty resulted when women resisted the hated taxes by joining together. They met in public to spin homespun cloth (as opposed to British cloth) and also began consuming only American food and local herbal teas. Due to British tea taxes, colonists left shipments of tea on loading docks untouched to rot -- or forced the deliverer back without unloading.

On the night of December 16, 1773, a group of Massachusetts colonists reacted to British tea taxes by organizing the Boston Tea Party. A mob boarded three ships and emptied 342 chests of valuable leaves into Boston Harbor. In an attempt to reassert British control over its recalcitrant colonists, Parliament passed the Coercive (or "Intolerable") Acts in 1774. One act imposed a blockade on Boston until the tea was paid for; another gave royal governors the power to quarter British soldiers in private American homes. Taxation become a secondary issue, and primary was the struggle between British demands for order and American demands for liberty.

Virginian and Massachusetts assemblies summoned a continental congress to speak and act for all the colonists. Except Georgia, every colony sent representatives to the First Continental Congress' initial September 1774 Philadelphia meeting. The objective was to restore harmony between Great Britain and the American colonies. At this point the colonies still very much viewed themselves as true -- albeit very discontent -- Britons. In an effort at unity, all colonies were given one vote and a leader (called the president) was elected. The terms president and congress originate from this meeting. Since each colony had only one vote, that meant more populous colonies had less representation in the congress than those with less population.

In October, the delegates adopted a statement of rights and principles. Many of these concepts were later included in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. For example, the congress claimed a right "to life, liberty, and property" and a right "peaceably to assemble, consider of their grievances, and petition the king." The congress adjourned and agreed to reconvene in May 1775.

Revolutionary War

By 1775, the colonists had embraced the beginnings of revolution. Colonists in Massachusetts fought the British at Concord and Lexington. Delegates to the Second Continental Congress met in May to face the dilemma of preparing for war or struggling for reconciliation. The Second Continental Congress remained in power as conditions with Britain continued to deteriorate.

Accounting for 1% of the colonial population, Catholics were agonized whether to support the Protestants who ostracized them or support Britain. Anti-Catholic revolutionaries noted the importance of solidarity and the need for the support of Catholic France. Thus, Protestant and Catholic rebels united to fight Britain.

Phase I
New England

Phase II
Mid-Atlantic region

Phase III
The South

Aftermath

Britain was fighting in five theaters, and America was just one; Britain won in the other four. Further, it is difficult to imagine the United States having won without aid from Europe.

Glossary

American PatriotsThose opposing the British chose this name for themselves.
Articles of ConfederationAdopted by the Continental Congress in 1777, it provided for a national government much like that in place at the time.
Benedict ArnoldAmerican general who shocked the Washington forces, and Washington in particular, by becoming a traitor against the Patriots.
Boston Tea PartyA coordinated event seen as a revolt against "taxation without representation" and taxation itself.
Charles TownshendChancellor of the exchequer in William Pitt's government.
Committees of CorrespondenceOriginally begun as a news group by Samuel Adams in Massachusetts in 1772. Later, a loose network of intercolonial groups.
Conciliatory PropositionsContained provisions for colonial self-taxation.
Daniel ShaysA former captain in the Continental Army who led a rebellion demanding paper money, tax relief, debt moratorium, and abolition of debt imprisonment.
The EnlightenmentThe Enlightenment spawned revolutions worldwide, especially based on its tenets regarding: religious tolerance; consent of the governed; and popular sovereignty.
Sir Henry ClintonReplacement for William Howe as British commander in chief.
HessiansGerman mercenaries.
HomespunA rough, simple variety of fabric that became fashionable in the colonies as a patriotic statement.
John BurgoyneBritish general of the northern force who surrendered to General Horatio Gates at Saratoga.
John LockePromulgated the theory that governments were formed to protect the rights of life, liberty and property.
Joseph and Mary BrantMohawk siblings who persuaded Mohawk, Seneca and Cayuga tribes to support the British.
Lord CornwallisSir Clinton's appointed British commander of troops in the south.
LoyalistsMinority (c 20%) in America who disapproved of the Revolutionary War and supported the British.
Nathanael GreeneHighly capable American general appointed by George Washington to replace Horatio Gates as commander in the south..
Quebec ActAct whose purpose was to provide political rights for the French-speaking Roman Catholic inhabitants of Canada. Colonists mistakenly interpreted it as an attempt to expand the Catholic Church's influence in America.
Samuel AdamsThe leading figure in formenting public outrage over the Boston massacre and the most effective radical in the colonies.
SaratogaSite of a British surrender that was a turning point in the war. After this, the French not only offered supply aid but diplomatic recognition to the United States.
Second Continental CongressGroup that met at the State House in Philadelphia three weeks after the battles of Lexington and Concord. All colonies but Georgia were represented.
Sugar ActEnacted to raise revenue and stop illegal sugar trading.
Thomas SumterPatriot guerrilla fighter.
Valley ForgeInfamous winter quarters of Washington's troops in 1777 - 1778.
William HoweBritish general who abandoned his northern campaign to size Philadelphia, leaving General Burgoyne to fight alone and leading to Burgoyne's critical defeat at Saratoga.
William PittEnglish Secretary of State and eventually Prime Minister, who was later known as Lord Chatham.
YorktownSite where more than 7,000 British troops formally surrendered on October 19, 1781.
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