Moving Toward Independence 

            In 1763 the colonists shared in the ebullience of patriotism generated by the great victory over the French. But the moment of euphoria was all too brief. It served to mask festering resentments and new problems that were the heritage of the war. Underneath the pride in the British Empire an American nationalism was maturing. Ben Franklin foresaw a time, he said, when the capital of the British Empire would be on the Hudson instead of the Thames. Americans were beginning to think and speak of themselves more as Americans than as English or British. With a great new land to exploit, they could look to the future with confidence.

Many Americans had a new sense of importance after starting and fighting a vast world war with such success. Some harbored resentment justified or not, at the haughty air of British soldiers and slights received at their hands, and many in the early stages of the war lost their awe of British soldiers, who were at such a loss in frontier fighting. One Massachusetts soldier expressed some puzzlement that he should be expected to "stand still to be shot at" in the field rather than take cover.

Recent studies of the Seven Years' War reveal that many Americans became convinced as well of their moral superiority to their British allies. Ninety percent of the New England provincial soldiers were probably volunteers, and most of them were sons of moderately prosperous and tenaciously pious farm families. The proportion of volunteers was lower in New York and much lower in Virginia until pay rates and bounties were raised in a successful effort to boost recruitment.

At least one-third of military age New England males participated in the fighting. For them, army life was both a revelation and an opportunity. From their isolated farms they converged to form huge army camps--hives of thousands of strangers living in overcrowded and disease-infested conditions. Although they admired the courage and discipline of the British redcoats under fire, New Englanders abhorred the carefree cursing, whoring, and Sabbath breaking they observed among British troops. But most upsetting were the daily shrieks and cries resulting from the brutal punishments imposed by the British leaders on their wayward men. Minor offenses might earn hundreds of lashes and a thousand was the standard punishment for desertion. One American soldier recorded in his diary in 1759 that "there was a man whipped to death belonging to the Light Infantry. They say he had twenty-five lashes after he was dead." The war thus heightened the New Englanders' sense of their separate identity and of their greater worthiness to be God's chosen people. The Puritan utopia might be a lost cause, but the Puritan ideal remained resilient.

Imperial forces nevertheless had borne the burnt of the war and had won it for the colonists, who had supplied men and materials, sometimes reluctantly, and who persisted in treading with the enemy. Molasses in the French West Indies, for instance, continued to draw New England ships like flies. The trade was too important for the colonists to give up, but was more than Prime Minister William Pitt could tolerate. Along with naval patrols, one important means of disrupting this trade was the use of "writs of assistance," general search warrants that allowed officers to enter any place during daylight hours to seek evidence of illegal trade. In 1760 Boston merchants hired James Otis to fight the writs in the courts. He lost, but in the process advanced the provocative argument that any act of Parliament that authorized such "instruments of slavery" violated the British constitution and was therefore void. This was a very radical idea for its time. Otis sought to overturn a major tenet of the English legal system, namely that acts of Parliament were by their very nature constitutional.

English faced several dilemmas after the war:


·         How should new possessions won from French and Spanish be governed?

·         Western lands occupied by Indians were coveted by Whites.

·         War debt was unprecedented – high

·         New areas required defense/administration

·         Colonies must have some role in the whole picture.  What should that role be?


In 1760, George III became King of England, succeeding his grandfather, George II. His ministers were unreliable, and mediocre at best.  They were more concerned with lining their pockets than with administering the affairs of the empire. Ministers were often hired/fired as a result of personal favors, or because someone offended the King.  The constant changes meant no consistent policy to deal with the colonies; which were largely ignored. 


Western LandsNo sooner was peace arranged in 1763 than events thrust the problem of the western lands upon the government in an acute form. The Indians of Ohio region, skeptical that their French friends were helpless and fully expecting the reentry of English settlers, grew restless and receptive to the warnings of Pontiac, chief of the Ottowas. In May 1763 Pontiac's effort to seize Fort Detroit was betrayed and failed, but the western tribes joined his campaign to reopen frontier warfare and within a few months wiped out every British post in the Ohio region except Detroit and Fort Pitt. A relief force lifted the siege of Fort Pitt and Pontiac abandoned the attack on Detroit, but the outlying settlements suffered heavy losses before  British forces could stop the attacks. Pontiac himself did not agree to peace until 1766.


To keep the peace and to keep earlier promises to the Delawares and Shawnees, the ministers in London postponed further settlement. The immediate need was to stop Pontiac's warriors and reassure the Indians. There were influential fur traders, moreover, who preferred to keep the wilderness as a game preserve. The pressure for expansion into Indian-held territory might ultimately prove irresistible--British and American speculators were already dazzled by the prospects--but there would be no harm in a pause while things settled down and an new policy evolved. The king's ministers therefore brought forward, and the king signed, the Royal Proclamation of 1763. The order drew a Proclamation Line along the crest of the Appalachians beyond which settlers were forbidden to go and colonial governors were forbidden to authorize surveys or issue land grants. It also established the new British colonies of Quebec and East and West Florida, the last two consisting mainly of small settlements at St. Augustine and St. Marks, respectively, now peopled mainly by British garrisons.


Whereas We have taken into Our Royal Consideration the extensive and valuable Acquisitions in America, secured to our Crown by the late Definitive Treaty of Peace, concluded at Paris the 10th Day of February last; and being desirous that all Our loving Subjects, as well of our Kingdom as of our Colonies in America, may avail themselves with all convenient Speed, of the great Benefits and Advantages which must accrue therefrom to their Commerce, Manufactures, and Navigation, We have thought fit, with the Advice of our Privy Council. to issue this our Royal Proclamation. . . .


We do therefore, with the Advice of our Privy Council, declare it to be our Royal Will and Pleasure, that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our Colonies of Quebec, East Florida. or West Florida, do presume, upon any Pretence whatever, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass any Patents for Lands beyond the Bounds of their respective Governments. as described in their Commissions: as also that no Governor or Commander in Chief in any of our other Colonies or Plantations in America do presume for the present, and until our further Pleasure be known, to grant Warrants of Survey, or pass Patents for any Lands beyond the Heads or Sources of any of the Rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the West and North West, or upon any Lands whatever, which, not having been ceded to or purchased by Us as aforesaid, are reserved to the said Indians, or any of them.



The line drawn by the Proclamation didn’t last long; several treaties with Indians moved line westward.  A number of land speculators, including Benjamin Franklin, planned a new settlement over present day Ohio and West Virginia, to be a colony called Vandalia.  It never got off the ground.


Regardless of the formalities, hardy settlers pushed on over the Appalachian ridges; by 1770 the town of Pittsburgh had twenty log houses, and a small village had appeared on the site of Wheeling. In 1769 another colony was settled on the Watauga River by immigrants from southwestern Virginia, soon joined by settlers from North Carolina.  Among those who settled the area near present day Kentucky was Daniel Boone, who helped cut the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap.


At about the same time, George Grenville  was named Treasury minister in Britain. Grenville was like the king: industrious and honest, but hardheaded. Grenville wanted to keep British soldiers in America to help defend frontier; but also to keep from demobilizing the Army – this would have brought a large number of influential officers back home to England, and could cause political problems. Even so, the cost of keeping troops in America was quite expensive (similar to America’s twenty-first experiences in Iraq), in addition to a tremendous governmental debt structure in England.


He tried raising taxes in England by a variety of means, including a Cider Tax, but this was so unpopular, it temporarily cost him his job. Taxes in England were quite high while taxes in the colonies quite low; so, it seemed only natural to increase taxes for the colonies; after all, they should pay for their own defense.  (Or so Grenville thought.) He also learned of the widespread smuggling going on in America; and determined to put a stop to it. Many customs agents had been absentee; they had sent deputies in their place. The deputies were easily bought off by local shippers who wished to sell outside the provisions of the Navigation Acts.  Grenville put a stop to this, and told them they must go themselves. He also ordered the Navy to patrol the American coast, looking for smugglers; replaced Admiralty Courts with new courts which had no juries.


EFFECT:  The period of salutary neglect and lack of enforcement of the Navigation Acts came to a screeching halt. This greatly annoyed American shippers who had made lots of money by smuggling to the French and others.  Several measures were pushed through by Grenville.  Among them:


·         Sugar Act of 1764 – cut duty on molasses; levied new duties on foreign textiles, wines, coffee, indigo, sugar.  NOTE: This was the first attempt by Parliament to raise revenue directly from colonies.  Previous duties had been solely for the purpose of regulating trade.  Now Parliament attempted to raise revenue from America. 


The Sugar Act was to replace the old Molasses Act of 1733 which had placed a prohibitively high tax on molasses to keep colonies from trading with enemy –they had, of course, simply ignored it.


·         Currency Act of 1764 – made it illegal for colonies to make their own paper money legal tender.  Colonies had always been short of “hard” currency,” which had been used to pay for goods in England.  As a result, they had printed paper money.  English merchants were unwilling to accept it since it might not be able to be redeemed at face value.  When it was declared illegal, no one was required to accept it as payment, and the result was a severe shock to colonial economy.


·         Stamp Act  passed in February, 1765, to go into effect on November 1, 1765.  It provided for a documentary stamp tax on all legal documents, newspapers, pamphlets, dice and playing cards.


·         Quartering Act – required colonies to provide barracks and provisions for British soldiers, or provide other accommodations for them.  New York, headquarters of British forces,  was the colony mainly affected by this, although all Colonies were obligated. 


The Colonists were furious at Grenville’s actions.  They felt that Parliament, which in the past had rescued the Empire from the despotism of the King had now imposed upon them the very abuses which had brought down the monarchy.  The French had left North America, and the Indians had been subdued in the West; it now appeared that the British soldiers still in America were not there to defend the colonists so much as to keep them in check.  Among their other gripes:


·         Englishmen had the right to trial by jury and a presumption of innocence; however the admiralty courts which tried smuggling cases sat without juries, and the presumption was against the defendant.


·         Englishmen had always had the right to taxation only by their duly elected representatives.  The colonists had long enjoyed the “rights of Englishmen,” including this one, as they only paid taxes levied by the Colonial legislatures.  Now, they were being taxed by Act of Parliament for the purpose of raising revenue, not regulation, and they were not represented in Parliament.  Thus the familiar cry arose of “taxation without representation.”


The colonists protested loudly.  Pamphlets, speeches, debates, etc turned on the issue.  James Otis, the famous Colonial lawyer published a pamphlet entitled The Rights of the British Colonists Asserted and Proved.  Grenville had a response prepared in which he said that the colonies had “virtual representation” in Parliament; that is, they had no vote in Parliament, but neither did many Englishmen who lived in areas that were not properly apportioned.  His reasoning was that each Member of Parliament represented the whole empire, not just a certain area.  Under this theory, any city in America had equal representation as any city in England.  (Grenville conveniently overlooked the fact that the M.P.’s were all elected from and resided in England.)  Americans quickly proclaimed “virtual representation” to be nonsense.


The Stamp Act brought the most protest.  The sugar Act had affected mostly New England, but Stamp Act affected all colonies; plus it hit the influential people the hardest. Mass protests developed – parades, bonfires; mass meetings, demonstrations, etc.  Those opposed to Stamp Act called themselves “Sons of Liberty” and met beneath “Liberty Trees.”


Revenue agents afraid to enforce Stamp Act, and it was largely ignored.  Newspapers printed a skull and crossbones instead of the tax stamp. In addition, British goods were boycotted People drank sassafras tea instead of imported British tea, and wore homespun garments as sign of protest. The colonists knew that they were a major market for British manufactured goods, and by boycotting English goods, they could exercise some leverage in England.


Homespun garments made by women; so this was an opportunity for women to participate in protest.


Protests over the revenue acts served to unite the colonies.  Colonists soon discovered that they had more in common with each other than they did with London.  (The opposite had been true fifty years before).  The Virginia legislature, inspired by young Patrick Henry, issued a series of resolutions protesting that they were denied the rights of Englishmen, and that Englishmen could only be taxed by their own representatives.  The resolutions were printed in Newspapers, and led the Massachusetts House of Representatives to issue a letter in 1765 inviting the several colonies to meet in New York and issue an appeal for relief to the King and Parliament.


Nine Colonies sent delegates:  Became the Stamp Act  Congress which met from October 7-25, 1765.  The delegates issued a Declaration of the Rights and Grievances of the Colonies, petitioning the King and Parliament for repeal of the Stamp Act. They acknowledged their subordination to the King and the right of Parliament to regulate trade, but disputed the right of Parliament to raise revenue in the colonies unless the taxes were imposed by their own representatives.  Grenville responded that the colonists were “ungrateful.”


Grenville felt out of favor with King; and was dismissed from office.  He was replaced by Marquis of Rockingham, who was sympathized with colonial views.  Also, British merchants had felt the heat of the American boycott, and wanted the Stamp Act repealed.  Finally, when Parliament convened in 1766, William Pitt demanded that the Stamp Act be repealed, but also said that Britain’s authority over the colonies “be asserted in as strong a terms as possible,” except on the issue of taxation.  


Rockingham came up with idea that colonists were only opposed to “internal” taxes, but not to “external” taxes.  Benjamin Franklin was summoned before Parliament, and apparently lent support to this idea.  In 1766 the Stamp Act was repealed; but new statute, the Declaratory Act passed which asserted that Parliament had full power to make laws for the colonies “in all cases whatsoever.”  This was little more than a dodge, that allowed both sides to claim that they had won.


George III continued playing musical chairs with his ministers.  In 1767, the most influential minister was the Chancellor of the  Exchequer, Charles Townshend. 


Horace Walpole said Townshend “had abilities superior those of any man; and judgment below that of any man.”


Townshend dreamed up the idea that colonists were not adverse to “external taxes.” He apparently didn’t believe it for a minute, but it sounded good.  He drew up a series of Acts of Parliament which were all passed, although he died within a few months of introducing them.  They became known as the Townshend Acts:


·         New York had refused to abide by Quartering Act; Parliament suspended all acts of the New York Legislature until it agreed to comply.


·         Revenue Act of 1767 – put tax on importation of glass, lead, paint, paper, and tea.


·         A Board of Customs Commissioners was set up in Boston.  This had been Smuggler City for many years, and the Customs Board was there to stop it.


Some revenue was realized as a result, but it indirectly hurt British merchants.  Of greater consequence, Townshend proposed using the revenue produced from the Act of 1767 to pay Royal Governors.  The Governors had been paid by the colonial legislatures, who used the power of the purse to keep them in check.  Now this power was lost to them.


Once again, Protests appeared in colonies.  Among them, John Dickinson who published twelve Letters of a Pennsylvania Farmer Dickinson’s argument was that Parliament could regulate commerce, but not tax for purposes of revenue.  An excerpt:


Here then, my dear country men ROUSE yourselves, and behold the ruin hanging over your heads. If you ONCE admit, that Great-Britain may lay duties upon her exportations to us, for the purpose of levying money on us only, she then will have nothing to do, but to lay those duties on the articles which she prohibits us to manufacture- and the tragedy of American liberty is finished. . . . If Great-Britain can order us to come to her for necessaries we want, and can order us to pay what taxes she pleases before we take them away, or when we land them here, we are  as abject slaves as France and Poland can shew in wooden shoes, and with uncombed hair. 


 Despite the tone of his protest, Dickinson argued against extreme measures, and urged moderation, which led John Adams to dismiss him a “piddling genius.”


Revolutionary fever was in the air; among those more than willing to spread it was Samuel Adams,  cousin of John.


Adams had graduated from Harvard, went into family brewing business, but ran it into bankruptcy rather quickly.  He loved to talk politics, and often went into taverns wearing a dirty red coat and with a large Newfoundland Dog.  There he would eat raw oysters and fish chowder, and argue politics.


Adams was obsessed with the idea that Parliament had no right to govern colonies that they should return to their Puritan heritage, and defend themselves from this conspiracy against their liberties. Adams formed Sons of Liberty and with James Otis formulated letter to the colonists stating that Parliament had no legal right to tax colonies. 


Adams activity and other similar activities led Parliament to consider these acts treasonous, but the King’s ministers knew they could never get a conviction of one like Sam Adams before an American jury, so they recommended that the King order anyone in Massachusetts accused of treason be tried in England. George III never acted on the suggestion, but unquestionably, the situation was going downhill.  The Virginia legislature passed a resolution challenging any requirement that one be transported across the Atlantic for trial, and asserted it had the sole right to tax Virginians.  As a result, the Royal Governor dissolved the legislature, but the members set up shop elsewhere, and called themselves a “convention.” 


Two regiments of soldiers were sent to Boston in 1768.  It didn’t take a genius to figure out that they were NOT there to protect the colonists from the Indians. Colonists immediately protested the existence of a “standing army.” Boston local authorities often indicted British soldiers on technical violations of local law, while citizens on the street heckled and ridiculed them, calling them “lobster backs.”


March 5, 1770  a crowd of rowdies gathered at the Customs house and  began snowballing, taunting British soldiers.  Someone rang the town fire-bell, which drew a large crowd.  Crispus Attucks, a runaway mullato slave who worked out of the Boston shipyard was at the  head of the rowdies (or so it is told, no proof). One soldier was knocked down, and fired into th crowd. Attucks and four others were killed, eight were wounded.  This event became known as Boston Massacre.


The soldiers involved in the massacre were charged with murder; were represented by John Adams, who said everyone was entitled to a lawyer, regardless of the nature of his crime.  Adams said that the soldiers were provoked by a “motley rabble of saucy boys, Negroes, mullatoes, Irish teagues and outlandish Jack tars.”  All were acquitted except two, who were convicted of manslaughter, and branded on their thumbs – this by an American Jury.


The Boston massacre sent shockwaves through the colonies. Parliament sensed trouble, and repealed all of the Townshend Acts except the tax on tea. By a vote of 5-4, Parliament had left the Tea tax in place as a token of Parliamentary authority.  The tea tax was no big deal, as most colonists bought tea smuggled in by the Dutch anyway.  The Sugar Act, Quartering Act, and Currency Act remained in place.


Vigilante groups called “regulators appeared on frontier; refused to pay taxes; sometimes attacked British government offices.  Result, Parliament concluded colonies were increasingly unstable, needed firmer control—including military force to keep civil order.  Even so, the situation was tense.  British troops were removed from Boston, but were not far away, and British ships still patrolled the waters off the coast of New England to watch for smugglers.


Things grew worse in 1772, when a British Schooner, the Gaspee, which was patrolling near Providence, R.I. for smugglers, ran aground.  A  bunch from shore came onboard, removed the crew, and set the ship afire.  Plans were made to try the offenders in England, but no witnesses could be found.  In the meantime, when the Governor of Massachusetts, Thomas Hutchinson, informed the legislature that his salary and that of the Judges of the Superior Court would be paid from Customs revenues, Sam Adams and others organized Committees of Correspondence to protest action of British. These soon spread to all colonies, and a  network of committees formed.  It was a fuse waiting to be lit.  Lord North lit the fuse in 1773, when he wanted to help out a few old friends at the East India Company, which had 17 million pounds of tea in British warehouses.  He had the tea sent to the colonies for sale; and allowed company agents to sell directly to retailers, which cut out colonial middlemen.  This reeked of monopoly, and the colonists were afraid the government would soon monopolize all business.


            Lord North’s actions did not increase the price of tea, or raise the tax; in fact it lowered the price of tea in the colonies; but it had all the earmarks of the government taking control of  commerce.


            A shipment of tea had landed at Boston, in late 1773, but no one would assist in unloading it. The ship’s captain wanted to turn back, but Governor would not allow this:  after 20 days, the customs agents were legally bound to seize the tea, for non-payment of tax. On the night of December 16, 1773, a group dressed as Mohawk Indians boarded three ships, and dumped  £15,000 of tea into harbor a considerable sum.  This was the infamous Boston Tea Party.


Most people of colonies disapproved of the actions of the Tea Party participants.  Ben Franklin said that the colony should pay for the tea and apologize.  Had the British been more diplomatic, the effect of the Tea Party might have been minimal;  but the British had been provoked to the point of no return. They believed that the very empire was at stake. If this were ignored, efforts to evade royal authority would become commonplace.  George III wrote to Lord North that the “colonists must either submit or triumph.”


In response to the destruction of the tea in Boston, Parliament passed a series of four Acts designed to discipline that city..  Parliament called them the Coercive Acts; in the Colonies, they were called the Intolerable Acts:


·         Boston Port Act – closed the port of Boston from July 1, 1774until the destroyed tea was paid for.


·         Act for Impartial Administration of Justice – allowed the royal governor to transfer trial of any official accused of an offense in the line of duty to be tried in England. The act was aimed to prevent the trial of redcoats on technical offenses.


·         Second Quartering Act – required local authorities to provide lodging for soldiers in private homes if necessary.


·         Massachusetts Government Act – made all Massachusetts governmental offices appointive rather than elective.  Sheriffs would select jurors, and no town meeting could be held without the Governor’s consent.  In May, 1774, General Thomas Gage replaced Thomas Hutchinson as Governor of Massachusetts—the colony now had a military governor.


The Acts were designed to isolate Boston, and make an example of Massachusetts – instead they only emboldened colonists and galvanized resistance.  The Acts applied only to Massachusetts, but the colonists fretted that they would soon be extended to all the colonies.  Edmund Burke, the champion of the colonists in Parliament warned his fellow members: “Your scheme yields no revenue; it yields nothing but discontent, disorder, and disobedience.”


Parliament’s handling of affairs in Canada didn’t help.  The Quebec Act of June 1774 provided that Canada would have no representative assembly, but would have an appointed governor and council.  It also protected the Catholic church.  It was intended to protect the French Canadians who were predominantly Catholic, and were not accustomed to representative assemblies; however Americans interpreted it differently.  To them, it was yet another attempt to remove any vestige of democracy from North America.  Also, many Americans had died fighting against the “papists” in the Colonial wars; and now the British wished to protect that very entity.


Boston was under siege, and a number of colonies took up collections and provided provisions for the relief of its citizens. (This a far cry from the earlier days when the colonies insisted that they had nothing in common with one another.)  Thomas Jefferson, a young member of the Virginia assembly, proposed that June 1 (the date in which the Boston Port Act went into effect) as a day of prayer and fasting in Virginia.  In response to the resolution, the Virginia Royal governor promptly dissolved the assembly.  The members then reassembled at a tavern and passed a resolution for a “Continental Congress” to represent the interests of all the colonies.  Similar calls were issued in other colonies. The Massachusetts Assembly suggested Philadelphia as a suitable meeting place.  George Washington, a delegate from Virginia, wrote to a friend before departing, “The crisis is arrived when we must assert our rights, or submit to every imposition that can be                               heaped upon us, till custom and use shall make us tame and abject slaves, as the blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway.” 


The First Continental Congress convened on September 5, 1774 in Philadelphia.  Twelve colonies were represented. (It was called a “continental” congress, as delegates from the Canadian colonies were also invited.) The sole American colony not appearing was Georgia.  The Convention agreed to vote by colonies, although Patrick Henry from Virginia advised otherwise, arguing, that the delegates were Americans before they were Virginians or New Yorkers, etc. 


      A “Plan of Union” was proposed with a central administration to consist of a governor-general appointed by the King and a grand council appointed by the colonies. All acts of the administration would be subject to Parliamentary approval. The plan was defeated by a vote of 6-5.  In its place a  Declaration of American Rights was approved.  It stated:


·         Parliament had the right to regulate commerce and only strictly imperial matters; Parliament’s right to regulate internal matters in the colonies was expressly denied.

·         Proclaimed the rights of Americans as English Citizens.

·         Proclaimed the right of each colonial assembly to determine if British troops were needed within its borders.


The Congress also adopted the Continental Association of 1774 which recommended a each colony from committees to enforce a boycott of British manufactured goods.  It provided for interconnection of the colonies to see that provisions of the boycott were enforced, as well as non-exportation of American goods to Britain, unless colonial grievances were addressed.


The Congress had adopted a doctrine later known as the “Dominion theory,” namely that each colony was a separate and distinct realm, and was not subject to the rule of Parliament, but merely to the English monarch.  Since England was a Constitutional Monarchy, the rights of Englishmen would implicitly be granted to the colonials.


George III was furious.  He told his minister, "The New England governments are now in a state of rebellion. Blows must decide whether they are to be subject to this country, or to be independent."  Reminders were issued by Britons that Parliament had absolute sovereignty which could not be shared.  Parliament could not abandon its authority.  Some few MP’s notably Edmund Burke urged conciliation.  In a speech before the Commons, Burke argued “The question is not whether you have the right to make your people miserable, but whether it is in your best interests to make them happy.”


Parliament was in no mood to negotiate.  It declared Massachusetts in rebellion, forbade New England to trade outside the empire, and excluded New England fisherman from North Atlantic fishing waters.  Lord North proposed a Conciliatory Resolution  adopted February 27, 1775, which said Parliament would only tax to regulate trade, and would grant each colony the customs duties collected within its boundaries, provided the colonies would voluntarily contribute a quota for the defense of the Empire.  Burke said of this compromise, it was a formula “not for peace but for new quarrels.”



Events were too far-gone for reconciliation.  The Continental Congress urged all colonies to mobilize units.  Units of militia were called “minutemen,” as they were ready to move quickly. Royal authorities were gradually losing control, as provincial groups organized and militia raided military stores to arm themselves.  


The British had no doubt this tempest in a teapot wouldn’t last.  Gen John Pitcairn wrote his wife:  “I am satisfied that one active campaign, a smart action, and burning two or three of their towns will set everything to rights.”


On April 14, 1775, Gov. General Gage received orders to suppress the rebellion, capture the leaders of the Provincial Congress, and seize the militia’s supply depot at Concord.  Seven hundred men were assembled on Boston Common to march on Concord by way of Lexington.  Local patriots caught wind of it, and the Boston Committee on Safety sent Paul Revere and William Dawes to spread the alarm.  This, of course, was Paul Revere’s famous ride.


The common misnomer of Revere’s ride is that he was alerted by the lights in the Old North Church at Boston, a myth perpetuated by Longfellow’s poem:


    One if by land, and two if by sea;

                              And I on the opposite shore will be,

                              Ready to ride and spread the alarm

                              Through every Middlesex village and farm,

                              For the country folk to be up and to arm."


            In fact, Revere had ordered the lanterns to be displayed himself as a warning to others; he had already been notified of the British movement, and was on his way.


            On April 19, an advance British guard arrived at Lexington, and found seventy Minutemen lined up, presumably as a silent protest.  Gen Pitcairn rode onto the green, swung his sword, and yelled, “Disperse you damned rebels! You dogs, run!”  The Minutemen had already begun to back away, but someone fired a shot.  The redcoats returned fire into the minutemen and charged them with bayonets.  Eight were killed and ten wounded.  One American, whose wife and children were watching, crawled 100 yards and died on his own front doorstep.


Pitcairn brought his troops under control quickly, and marched to marched them to Concord.  Most of the munitions had been carried off by Americans, but Pitcairn destroyed what he could. At the North Bridge, American forces fired on the British troops, inflicting fourteen casualties.  By noon, the redcoats marched back to Boston, but on the way back, they were constantly attacked by farmers, from behind stone walls and fences, inflicting over 250 casualties on the army. Americans suffered over 100 casualties.  Wrote one British general: “Whoever looks upon them as an irregular mob will find himself much mistaken.


The event was immortalized in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Concord Hymn: (1837)


                     By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

                      Their flags to April's breeze unfurled,

                      Here once the embattled farmers stood,

                      And fired the shot heard round the world.


Another byproduct of the battle was the tune Yankee Doodle. Many Redcoats scoffed at New Englanders as "Yankees" by the 1750s, and doodle was a hoary title for a half-witted fool. That meant that the finished composition, "Yankee Doodle" was an open insult to all colonists, not simply those of Massachusetts and adjoining regions.  A Yankee Doodle was a bumpkin who              was awed and mystified by so simple an experience as his first encounter with a military drum:


                                               "There I saw a wooden keg

                                                 With heads made out of leather

                                                They knocked upon it with some sticks

                                                  To call the folks together . . . "


After having smarted under the insulting message of "Yankee Doodle" for many years, Colonists abruptly seized upon it as a way to retort.  Redcoats allegedly sang the ditty as they marched to Lexington and Concord, and when they retreated -- so the story goes -- the patriots mocked them by singing it as a taunt. Tradition says that once he reached the safety of Boston, General Gage exclaimed, "I hope that I shall never hear that tune again!"  



The war was on. The Second Continental Congress convened May 10, 1775 in Philadelphia, when Boston was under siege by the Massachusetts Militia.  The Congress haad no authority or resources, but circumstances forced it to assume the role of a  de facto  revolutionary government.  In one of its first actions, George Washington named as commander in chief of Continental Army.  He accepted on condition that he receive no salary.


Washington’s experience in the French and Indian Wars  and his status as a prominent Virginian aided in his selection.  When nominated for the position, Washington excused himself from the room to allow candid debate.  Only one person, John Hancock, was opposed to Washington’s selection, as he wished the position for himself.


Congress had no money to pay troops so it printed paper money which was virtually useless, as there was precious little “hard currency” to support it.  A common phrase of the was “not worth a continental, in reference to the Continental Dollars” printed by authority of the Congress.”


The first major battle of the war was fought on June 17, 1775, the same day that Washington was commissioned, at Bunker Hill.  Three British major-Generals, Sir William Howe, Sir Henry Clinton, and John Burgoyne, commanded the British troops.  The rebels were pumped up and spoiling for a fight.  One Boston physician named Joseph Warren said, “The British say we won’t fight; by heavens I hope I shall die up to my knees in blood!”  (He got his wish.)


Americans fought behind barricades hastily constructed the night before. During the battle, the last of three major advances by the British finally ousted the Americans with a bayonet charge, but only after the latter had run out of gunpowder, at which point they threw stones.  The British won, but at the cost of 1,054 casualties.  Colonials lost 400.  Gen. Clinton wrote in his journal, “A dear bought victory; another such would have ruined us.”


Two major consequences of the Battle of Bunker Hill:


·         The British Command soon realized that this was not to be a joy ride, and became more cautious in planning skirmishes.

·         The Continental Congress asked all able-bodied men to enlist.  As a result, the entire male populace soon became divided between Patriots and Loyalists (those who considered themselves still the Kings good and loyal servants.)  No one could ride the fence any further.


July 5 and 6,  1775 Continental Congress issued two important documents:


The Olive Branch Petition, written by John Dickinson (Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer) which begged King to refrain from further hostilities pending reconciliation.  The Petition rejected Independence for Americans, but also affirmed that the colonists intended to fight for their rights as Englishmen rather than be held as slaves:


The apprehension of being degraded into a state of servitude from the preeminent rank of English freemen, while our minds retain the strongest love of liberty, and clearly foresee the miseries preparing for us and our posterity, excites emotions in our breasts which, though we can not describe, we should not wish to conceal. Feeling as men, and thinking as subjects, in the manner we do, silence would be disloyalty. By giving this faithful information, we do all in our power to promote the great objects of your royal cares, the tranquility of your government and the welfare of your people.


We ask but for peace, liberty, and safety. We wish not a diminution of the prerogative, nor do we solicit the grant of any newright in our favor. Your royal authority over us, and our connection with Great Britain, we shall always carefully and zealously endeavor to support and maintain.


George III was outraged and refused to read the petition. On August 22, he declared the Americans “Open and avowed enemies, and the next day  issued a proclamation of rebellion.


In the meantime, the Continental Congress assumed more and more the authority of a governing body, and the British took more and more action that made reconciliation impossible. The Congress appointed commissioners to negotiate treaties with the Indian tribes (so they would not fight with the British), and organized a Post Office Department with Benjamin Franklin as the first Postmaster General.  It also authorized formation of a navy and marine corps.  In the meantime, Parliament passed a Prohibitory Act that declared the colonies closed to all commerce. Additionally, mercenaries were recruited in Europe to fight in America, including Hessians. Parliament and the King had discounted the possibility that, by involving other Europeans in the fighting, they risked additional war with France and Spain.


In 1776,  Thomas Paine published his pamphlet, Common Sense in Philadelphia. IN it, he argued that common sense told one that King George and his cronies were responsible for the ill feeling that existed in the colonies, and Americans should look after their own interests, abandon the King, and declare their independence:


Every thing that is right or natural pleads for separation. The blood of the  slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, 'tis time to part. Even the distance at which the Almighty hath placed England and America, is a strong and natural proof, that the authority of the one, over the other, was never the design of Heaven.


Over 150,000 copies of Common Sense were published, a huge number for that day.  It set in motion the wheels for a declaration that the colonies were independent of Britain.  As a result, on June 7, 1776  Richard Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee)  moved in the Continental Congress “that these United Colonies are, of right ought to be free and independent states….” The resolution passed on July 2.  (John Adams wrote to his wife that that date “will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” He mised it by two days; the resolution was adopted on July 4, 1776.)


A Committee of five was appointed to draft a rationale for a declaration of independence.  All deferred to Thomas Jefferson, because of his reputation for eloquence.  He worked on the document for two days in his rented apartment in Philadelphia.  He relied on two sources:  His own draft of the Virginia Constitution drafted several weeks earlier, and George Mason’s draft of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights.  It relied heavily on John Locke’s Second Treatise on Civil Government, written to justify the Glorious Revolution of 1688.


·         Governments derive powers from consent of governed.

·         The people were entitled to alter or abolish any government that denied their “unalienable rights” of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” (Parliament is never mentioned by name, as it had no direct authority over the colonies, only “the present King of Great Britain.”

·         King had “combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution.”

·         It also contained “a history or repeated injuries and usurpations…having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over these States.”

·         Thirteen United Colonies declared themselves free and independent States.


Eighty-six changes were made in the Jefferson’s draft, many which he regretted. Congress inserted two references to God which Jefferson had not included.  Comments about the British people were eliminated, and only the British monarch was criticized.  A clause criticizing the British slave trade was also deleted, a change which he opposed.  The final draft was one fourth shorter than originally written by Jefferson.


            Thus, thirteen years after Britain had gained exclusive control of North America, the colonies declared themselves independent.  Historians have long debated the underlying cause which led to the separation.  Among the reasons offered:  trade regulation, restriction on western lands, taxes, the debts owed to British merchants, the growth of a national consciousness in America, the lack of representation in Parliament, even the advancement of Enlightenment ideals, among others.  All have some role in the causes.  At the heart lies the stubborn refusal of the British ministry to adapt to the demands of the colonists and the stubbornness of the Colonists to force the issue. The cause is best summed up by one Levi Preston, a veteran of Lexington and Concord: "What we meant in going for those Redcoats was this: We always governed  ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn't mean we should."


The American Revolution


 Essay Topic:  The revolution was much more than simply a war for independence.  It was an engine for political experimentation and social change.


            Foreign observers assumed that American chances against the world’s greatest empire were remote indeed..  The British won most of the battles, and initially inflicted heavy losses on American forces. The peculiar tenacity of rebel forces and the peculiar difficulties facing the British fighting a war several thousand miles away proved conclusive. The military campaign was costly for them, in addition to control of a worldwide empire.


On July 2, 1776, the same day Congress voted for Independence,  British Commander, General William Howe, with his brother Admiral Richard, Lord Howe, landed at Staten Island with 32,000 men, the largest army Britain ever mustered in the eighteenth century.  George Washington was able to muster only 18,000 men, and could not defend New York, plus he was still learning the responsibilities of generalship.  Washington’s forces would have been overrun were it not for Howe’s over cautiousness and a fortuitous rainstorm that kept the British fleet out of the East River. He was barely able to escape.


 Thomas Paine the author of Common Sense, marched with Washington, and while at Newark,  composed The American Crisis”  Some of most stirring words in American History:


            “These are the times that try men’s souls.  The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it NOW deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.  Tyranny, like Hell, is not easily conquered.  Yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”


            Consider Paine’s words in light of War on Terrorism.


            Gen Howe settled in to New York to wait out the winter.  In the meantime, Gen. Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Eve and surprised a garrison of Hessian troops, many still under the influence of holiday rum, and routed them.  Later, he defeated three British regiments at Princeton.  Only 500 of the Hessians escaped unharmed, whereas only six of Washington’s men were wounded, one of whom was James Madison, the future President of the United States.


American Society at War


Opinion about the war divided three ways:



Loyalists typically were governors, judges, and other royal officials as well as Anglican ministers.  Merchants might fall into either the Loyalist or Patriot camp, dependant on how well they had profited under British mercantilism.  Planter aristocrats were typically Whig Patriots. Backcountry farmers were typically Tories.


British war strategy had called for reliance on a Tory presence to assist; however there were never enough to be decisive.  Tory forces tended to collapse quickly.  Additionally, the conduct of regular soldiers inhibited the war effort.  Both British and Hessian regulars treated civilians with contempt, which strengthened sentiment for the Patriots.


The British often left areas conquered to the Loyalists to defend, which was difficult for them to do; they either had to join sides with the Patriots or abandon the area to the Patriots. Also, the British offered slaves freedom and arms to fight against the Patriots. This actually served to alienate many Loyalists, who were planters and slave owners.


The Black Masonic Lodge was formed by slaves freed by British soldiers in the Revolutionary War.  White Masonic lodges still don’t recognize them.


American militia served two purposes:


·         The home guard, defending their own territory, and supporting the Continental Army.  They wore hunting shirts and were armed with muskets, and preferred to fight by ambush rather than in formation. They tended to kill unnecessarily and to torture prisoners.  When the fighting was over, they went back home to tend to chores there.  Said Washington of them in dismay, “”they come in you cannot tell how, go you cannot tell when, and act you cannot tell where, consume your provisions, exhaust your stores, and leave you at  last at a critical moment.” 


·         The Continental Army was composed of men who were not professional soldiers.  Most of them were poor native-born Americans, or former Indentured Servants, but they were more well trained than the home guard.  Many were horrified at camp life and the horrors of war.  Said Gen. Nathaniel Greene: “they were hard pressed to “stand the shocking scenes of war, to march over dead men, to hear without concern the groans of the wounded.” 


Funding the war was problem for Congress, as none of the states paid its fair share for the war effort.  Congress issued certificates of “future payment” to farmers when army agents seized supplies from them; also seized abandoned estates of loyalists, but in the end, both Congress and the states had to print paper money to cover the shortage. Munitions came either from captured supplies, or were supplied by French  who were anxious to see the British defeated. 


During the winter of 1776-77, desertion was rampant, and troops whose enlistment expired left, leaving Washington’s army in shambles.  It was rebuilt in the spring when recruits came in response to a bounty offered by Congress of $20 and 100 acres of land to anyone who enlisted for three years or the duration of the war, whichever came less.


      In 1777. The British captured Philadelphia, and Washington withdrew to Valley Forge to spend the winter.  Washington attacked the British at Germantown, but reinforcements under General Charles Lord Cornwallis pushed him back.  Gen. Howe spent the winter in relative comfort at Philadelphia.


Saratoga: In October, 1777, General Horatio Gates, newly appointed American commander in New England defeated Gen. Burgoyne (Commonly called “Gentleman Johnny” for his vainglorious attitude and lavish lifestyle) at Battle of Saratoga. Burgoyne, dressed in scarlet and gold, was forced to surrender to Gates who was wearing a plain blue coat. Most of Burgoyne’s soldiers were imprisoned, but Burgoyne was allowed to go home, where he received a cool reception.

After the Battle, Gates wrote his wife:  “If old England is not by this lesson taught humility, then she is an obstinate old slut, bent upon her ruin.



  Saratoga was an important turning point in the war. It offered the first evidence that the Americans could win. News of the victory was celebrated in Paris as if it were a French victory 


Word of the American victory at Saratoga, led to two treaties with France:


A.                A Treaty of Amity and Commerce, in which France recognized the United States and offered trade concessions, and


B.                A Treaty of Alliance under the terms of which it was agreed:


·         Each would fight until American independence was won.

·         Neither would conclude a treaty of peace without the other.

·         Each guaranteed the other’s possessions in North America, “from the present time and forever against all other powers.”  Also, France agreed it would not seek Canada or other British possessions in mainland North America.


In 1779 Spain allied with the  French against the British,  but not Americans  In 1780, Britain declared war on Dutch, who had traded with both the French and the Americans.  Suddenly the American Revolution had become a world war.


            Lord North knew the war was unwinnable after Saratoga, but King George refused to allow him to either make peace or resign.  On March 16, 1778, the House of Commons adopted legislation which met almost all American demands prior to the war.  The Townshend Acts were repealed, the acts closing the colonies to commerce were also repealed and a peace delegation was sent to Philadelphia.  Congress, however, refused to negotiate unless Britain recognized American independence or withdrew forces from America.  The effort was too far gone at this point for reconciliation.


            British troops had already been withdrawn from Philadelphia (without the knowledge of the Peace commissioners) which substantially weakened the war effort.  In the meantime, the winter of 1777-78 was exceptionally severe for Washington’s troops at Valley Forge, where they had few supplies.  Many deserted or resigned their commissions, so much so that Washington notified the Congress that unless relief was sent, the army “must inevitably be reduced to one or other of three things: starve, dissolve, or disperse.” There was widespread disagreement in Congress, even an effort to blame Washington for the problem, but no serious effort to replace him took root.


            Washington ordered his men to forage the countryside for supplies, and issue receipts for seized materials, which receipts were to be honored by the Continental Congress.  They confiscated cattle, horses, and other livestock and the army was soon re-provisioned.  Although their health had improved, they were still untrained and undisciplined.  Washington relied on a Prussian mercenary, Frederick William Augustus Henry Ferdinand, baron von Stuben to train his troops.  Von Stuben used an interpreter and liberal profanity to whip the troops into shape, but succeeded in doing so. 


            The War in the South:  The British considered the Southern colonies more strategically important, because of the staple crops and naval stores produced there. They had relied on Loyalist strength there, but the brutality of General Tarleton caused many Loyalists to change sides.  They were able to capture Savannah and Charleston which was then used as a port of entry for more British troops.


Notable battles:


·         Kings Mountain, where Gen Patrick Ferguson was defeated by Nathaniel Greene’s forces.  Ferguson was killed at Kings Mountain, and is buried there. Kings Mountain was the turning point of the war in the South.


·         Cowpens, where Gen Daniel Morgan defeated General Tarleton.


·         Camden, where Cornwallis surprised Horatio Gates’ forces and defeated him.  Gates was shortly thereafter implicated in a presumed plot to replace Washington and was himself replaced.


Benedict Arnold: Arnold ha played a gallant part in the American revolution and became a major general in 1777. His wife had died in 1775. Early in 1779 he married Margaret Shippen, by whom he had four sons and one daughter. Arnold lived lavishly and soon found himself badly pressed for money. He then began his treasonable activities. Most historians agree that Arnold did so for money, though he may also have resented lack of further promotion. He had been twice wounded, and later remarked that he wished he had been killed at Saratoga rather than merely wounded.  Washington soon came to agree. Whatever his motive, he regularly sent vital military information to the British and was well paid for it.


Arnold was the American commander at West Point. He had nursed a grudge against Washington because of a reprimand for extravagant spending in Philadelphia.  Arnold’s second wife had had cozy relations with the British commander there, and the groundwork was laid for his treason.  He planned to sell out the garrison at West Point, and even suggested that Washington himself might be captured.  Plans for the attack on West Point were delivered to Major John André, who hid them in his boots.  André was captured and hanged as a spy, but Arnold escaped and joined the British forces in New York.  Upon receiving word of Arnold’s treason, a stunned  Washington said to Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette, “Arnold has betrayed us; whom can we trust now?”

Yorktown: The French navy was instrumental in stopping the British navy from landing additional troops and supplies.  The decisive battle of the war was finally engaged at Yorktown, Virginia on September 28, 1781, in which American and French forces attacked the army of Gen. Charles Lord Cornwallis. 


During the battle, Washington and his staff came under fire, which prompted an aide to suggest to Washington that he might ‘step back a little.”  Washington replied rather tersely: “Colonel Cobb, if you are afraid, you have the liberty to step back.”


American forces prevailed, and Cornwallis surrendered on October 19, 1781. The British band allowed only to play a nursery rhyme:  “The World Turned Upside Down.” Cornwallis claimed to be too ill to attend the surrender ceremony; and sent his second in command.  The second tried to surrender his sword to the French General, Rochambeau,  who replied, non, Monsieur La, gesturing towards Washington.  Washington returned Cornwallis’ insult, and refused to accept the sword, he made the second surrender it to his second in command, General Benjamin Lincoln. 


In his letter of notification to Gen. Henry Clinton, his superior, Cornwallis wrote:


Sir, I have the mortification to inform your excellency, that I have been forced to give up the posts of York and Gloucester, and to surrender the troops under my command, by capitulation on the 19th instant, as prisoners of war to the combined forces of America and France. . .I. thought it would have been wanton and inhuman to the last degree to sacrifice the lives of this small body of gallant soldiers, who had ever behaved with so much fidelity and courage, by exposing them to an assault, which, from the numbers and precaution of the enemy, could not fail to succeed. I therefore proposed to capitulate, and I have the honour to inclose to your excellency the copy of the correspondence between General Washington and me on that subject, and the terms of the capitulation agreed upon. I sincerely lament that better could not be obtained; but I have neglected nothing in my power to alleviate the misfortune and distress of both officers and soldiers.


Upon receiving word of Cornwallis’ surrender, Lord North exclaimed, “Oh, God, it’s all over. On February 227, 2783, the House of Commons voted against continuing the war, and on March 5, authorized the crown to make peace; Lord North resigned on March 20.


The Treaty  of Paris (1783) was negotiated primarily by John Jay, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams.  Negotiations were complicated by promises made to the French, and agreements between the French and Spanish.  The Americans ultimately negotiated separately with the British which violated the spirit of the agreement between the Americans and French, but not the literal letter of the agreement.  The Treaty was signed on September 3, 1783.


·         America granted independence; Western Border was Mississippi River. The Northern and Southern boundaries were ambiguous.

·         Florida was returned to Spain.

·         Americans promised to honor debts owed to British creditors.


Last troops pulled out of New York on December 4; Washington resigned his commission on December 23, and returned to Mt. Vernon, planning to retire from public life.