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The war of Independence

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The war of Independence

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, was a war between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the thirteen 'United Colonies' which expelled royal officials in 1775, set up the Second Continental Congress, formed an army, and declared their independence as a new nation, the United States of America in 1776. The war was the culmination of the political American Revolution, whereby the colonists overthrew British rule. By 1778 major European powers had joined against Britain. American Indians fought for both British and American sides.




Throughout the war, the British were able to use their naval superiority to capture and occupy coastal cities, but control of the countryside (where 90% of the population lived) largely eluded them. After an American victory at Saratoga in 1777, France, with Spain and the Netherlands as its allies, entered the war against Britain. French involvement proved decisive, with a French naval victory in the Chesapeake leading to the surrender of a British army at Yorktown in 1781. The Treaty of Paris in 1783 ended the war and recognized the sovereignty of the United States over the territory bounded by Canada to the North, Florida to the South, and the Mississippi River to the west.

The American Revolution refers to the period during the last half of the 18th century in which the Thirteen Colonies that became the United States of America gained independence from the British Empire.

In this period, the Colonies rebelled against the British Empire and entered into the American Revolutionary War between and . This culminated in an American declaration of independence in , and victory on the battlefield in .

Origins

Taxation without representation

By 1763, Great Britain possessed a vast holding on the North American continent. In addition to the thirteen colonies, sixteen 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, the colonists still considered themselves loyal subjects of the British Crown, with the same historic rights and obligations as subjects in Britain.

The British government sought to tax its American possessions, primarily to help pay for its defence of North America from the French in the Seven Years' War. The problem for many American colonists was not that taxes were high (they were low) but that they were not consulted about the new taxes, as they had no representation in parliament. The phrase 'no taxation without representation' became popular within many American circles. London argued that the Americans were represented 'virtually'; but most Americans rejected the theory that men in London, who knew nothing about their needs and conditions, could represent them.

In theory, Great Britain already regulated the economies of the colonies through the Navigation Acts according to the doctrines of mercantilism, which said that anything that benefited the Empire (and hurt other empires) was good policy. Widespread evasion of these laws had long been tolerated. Now, through the use of open-ended search warrants (Writs of Assistance), strict enforcement 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 case. Clerical pay had been tied to the price of tobacco by Virginia legislation. When the price of tobacco skyrocketed after a bad crop in 1758, the Virginia legislature passed the Two-Penny Act to stop clerical salaries from inflating as well but in 1763, King George III vetoed the Two-Penny Act. Patrick Henry defended the law in court and 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.'

In 1764, Parliament enacted the Sugar Act and the Currency Act, further vexing the colonists. Protests led to a powerful new weapon, the systemic boycott of British goods. The colonists had a new slogan, 'no taxation without representation,' meaning only their colonial assemblies, and not Parliament, could levy taxes on them. Committees of correspondence were formed in the colonies to coordinate resistance to paying the taxes. In previous years, the colonies had shown little inclination towards collective action. Prime Minister George Grenville's policies were bringing them together.

Liberalism and republicanism

John Locke's liberal ideas were very influential; his theory of the 'social contract' implied the natural right of the people to overthrow their leaders, should those leaders betray the historic rights of Englishmen. Historians find little trace of Jean-Jacques Rousseau's influence in America. In terms of writing state and national constitutions, the Americans used Montesquieu's analysis of the ideally 'balanced' British Constitution.

The motivating force was the American embrace of a political ideology called 'republicanism', which was dominant in the colonies by 1775. It was influenced greatly by the 'country party' in Britain, whose critique of British government emphasized that corruption was to be feared. The colonists associated the 'court' with luxury and inherited aristocracy, which Americans increasingly condemned. Corruption was the greatest possible evil, and civic virtue required men to put civic duty ahead of their personal desires. Men had a civic duty to fight for their country. For women, 'republican motherhood' became the ideal, as exemplified by Abigail Adams and Mercy Otis Warren; the first duty of the republican woman was to instill republican values in her children and to avoid luxury and ostentation. The 'Founding Fathers' were strong advocates of republicanism, especially Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams.



Western land dispute

The Proclamation of 1763 restricted American movement across the Appalachian Mountains. Regardless, groups of settlers continued to move west. The proclamation was soon modified and was no longer a hindrance to settlement, but its promulgation and the fact that it had ever been written without consulting Americans angered the colonists. The Quebec Act of 1774 extended Quebec's boundaries to the Ohio River, shutting out the claims of the 13 colonies. By then, however, the Americans had scant regard for new laws from London—they were drilling militia and organizing for war.

France played a key role in aiding the new nation Americans with money and munitions, organizing a coalition against Britain, and sending an army and a fleet that played a decisive role at Yorktown. The Americans however were revolting against royalty and aristocracy and did not look to France as a model.

The Revolution included a series of broad intellectual and social shifts that occurred in the early American society, such as the new republican ideals that took hold in the American population. In some states sharp political debates broke out over the role of democracy in government. The American shift to republicanism, as well as the gradually expanding democracy, caused an upheaval of the traditional social hierarchy, and created the ethic that formed the core of American political values.

The revolutionary era began in 1763, when the military threat to the colonies from France ended and Britain imposed a series of taxes which the colonists considered to be illegal. After protests in Boston the British sent combat troops; the Americans mobilized their militia and fighting broke out in 1775. Although Loyalists were about 15-20% of the population, the Patriots usually controlled 80-90% of the territory, for the British could only hold a few coastal cities. The height of the Revolution came in 1776, with the unanimous Declaration of Independence by the 13 states which formed the United States of America. The Americans formed an alliance with France in 1778 that evened the military and naval strengths. Two main British armies were captured at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781, leading to peace with the Treaty of Paris in 1783, with the recognition of the United States as an independent nation bounded by British Canada on the north, Spanish Florida on the south, and the Mississippi River on the west.

The military history of the war in 1775 focused on Boston, held by the British but surrounded by militia from nearby colonies. The Congress selected George Washington as commander in chief, and he forced the British to evacuate the city in March 1776. At that point the Patriots controlled virtually all of the 13 colonies and were ready to consider independence.

On January 10, , Thomas Paine published a political pamphlet entitled Common Sense arguing that the only solution to the problems with Britain was republicanism and independence from Great Britain.

On July 4, , the United States Declaration of Independence was ratified by the Second Continental Congress. The war began in April 1775, while the declaration was issued in July 1776. Until this point, the colonies sought favorable peace terms; now all the states called for independence.

The Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, commonly known as the Articles of Confederation, formed the first governing document of the United States of America, combining the colonies into a loose confederation of sovereign states. The Second Continental Congress adopted the Articles in November 1777.

On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia in the Pennsylvania State House (now Independence Hall), approved the Declaration of Independence, severing the colonies' ties to the British Crown

War

British return: 1776-1777

The British returned in force in August 1776, engaging the fledgling Continental Army for the first time in the largest action of the Revolution in the Battle of Long Island. They eventually seized New York City and nearly captured General Washington. They made the city their main political and military base, holding it until 1783. They also held New Jersey, but in a surprise attack, Washington crossed the Delaware into New Jersey and defeated British armies at Trenton and Princeton, thereby reviving the Patriot cause and regaining New Jersey. In 1777, the British launched two uncoordinated attacks. The army based in New York City defeated Washington and captured the national capital at Philadelphia. Simultaneously a second army invaded from Canada with the goal of cutting off New England. It was trapped and captured at Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. The victory encouraged the French to officially enter the war, as Benjamin Franklin negotiated a permanent military alliance in early 1778. Later Spain (in 1779) and the Dutch became allies of the French, leaving Britain to fight a major war alone without major allies. The American theatre thus became only one front in Britain's war.



Because of the alliance 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 northern states. 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 southern theatre.

British attack the South, 1779-1781

The siege of Yorktown ended with the surrender of a British army, paving the way for the end of the American Revolutionary War.

In late December 1778, the British captured Savannah and started moving north into South Carolina. Northern Georgia was spared occupation during this time period, due to the Patriots victory at the Battle of Kettle Creek in Wilkes County, Georgia. The British moved on to capture Charleston and set up a network of forts inland, believing 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, where they expected to be rescued by the British fleet. That fleet was defeated by a French fleet, however. Trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, the British surrendered their main combat army to Washington in October 1781. Although King George III wanted to fight on, his supporters lost control of Parliament, and the war effectively ended for America.

Treason issue

In August 1775 the King declared Americans in arms to be traitors to the Crown. The British government then started treating American prisoners as common criminals. They were thrown into jail and preparations were made to bring them to trial for treason. Lord George Germain and Lord Sandwich were especially eager to do so. Many of the prisoners taken by the British at Bunker Hill apparently expected to be hanged. But the government declined to take the next step: treason trials and executions. No American prisoners were put on trial for treason, and although many were badly treated, they were accorded the rights of belligerents. In 1782, by act of Parliament, they were officially recognized as prisoners of war rather than traitors. At the end of the war both sides released their prisoners.

Peace treaty

The peace treaty with Britain, known as the Treaty of Paris (1783) gave the U.S. all land east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes. 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.

Worldwide influence

The most radical impact was the sense that all men have an equal voice in government and that inherited status carried no political weight in the new republic.The British principles of parliamentary democracy were extended to remove all remaining unelected (hereditary) positions in the government structure, and the individual rights laid out in numerous earlier legal documents were collected together into charters, the most notable of which was the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Thus came the widespread assertion of liberty, individual rights, and equality which would prove core values to Americans. The greatest challenge to the old order in Europe was the idea that government should be by consent of the governed and the delegation of power to the government through written constitutions. The example of the first successful revolution against a European empire provided a model for many other colonial peoples who realized that they too could break away and become self-governing nations.

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 liberation. Aftershocks reached Ireland in the 1798 rising, 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 was the first lesson 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.

Instead of writing essays that the common people had the right to overthrow unjust governments, the Americans acted and succeeded. The American Revolution was a case of practical success, which provided the rest of the world with a 'working model'. American republicanism played a crucial role in the development of European liberalism, as noted by the great German historian Leopold von Ranke in 1848:

'By abandoning English constitutionalism and creating a new republic based on the rights of the individual, the North Americans introduced a new force in the world. Ideas spread most rapidly when they have found adequate concrete expression. Thus republicanism entered our Romantic/Germanic world. Up to this point, the conviction had prevailed in Europe that monarchy best served the interests of the nation. Now the idea spread that the nation should govern itself. But only after a state had actually been formed on the basis of the theory of representation did the full significance of this idea become clear. All later revolutionary movements have this same goal…. This was the complete reversal of a principle. Until then, a king who ruled by the grace of God had been the center around which everything turned. Now the idea emerged that power should come from below. These two principles are like two opposite poles, and it is the conflict between them that determines the course of the modern world. In Europe the conflict between them had not yet taken on concrete form; with the French Revolution it did.'

Nowhere was the influence of the American Revolution more profound than in Latin America, where American writings and the model of colonies, which actually broke free and thrived decisively, shaped their struggle for independence. Historians of Latin America have identified many links to the U.S. model.

The North American states' new-found independence from the British Empire allowed slavery to continue in the United States until 1865, long after it was banned in all British colonies.

Interpretations

Interpretations about the effect of the revolution vary. At one end of the spectrum is the older view that the American Revolution was not 'revolutionary' at all, that it did not radically transform colonial society but simply replaced a distant government with a local one. The more recent view pioneered by historians such as Bernard Bailyn Gordon Wood and Edmund Morgan is 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 republicanism, such as peoples' natural rights, and a system of laws chosen by the people.

National debt

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 promissary 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, Congress combined the state debts with the foreign and domestic debts into one national debt totalling $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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