By the middle of the 18th cent., differences in life, thought, and interests had developed between the mother country and the growing colonies. Local political institutions and practice diverged significantly from English ways, while social customs, religious beliefs, and economic interests added to the potential sources of conflict. The British government, like other imperial powers in the 18th cent., favored a policy of mercantilism; the Navigation Acts were intended to regulate commerce in the British interest. These were only loosely enforced, however, and the colonies were by and large allowed to develop freely with little interference from England.
Conditions changed abruptly in 1763. The Treaty of Paris in that year ended the French and Indian Wars and removed a long-standing threat to the colonies. At the same time the ministry (1763-65) of George Grenville in Great Britain undertook a new colonial policy intended to tighten political control over the colonies and to make them pay for their defense and return revenue to the mother country. The tax levied on molasses and sugar in 1764 caused some consternation among New England merchants and makers of rum; the tax itself was smaller than the one already on the books, but the promise of stringent enforcement was novel and ominous.
It was the Stamp Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1765, with its direct demand for revenue that roused a violent colonial outcry, which was spearheaded by the Northern merchants, lawyers, and newspaper publishers who were directly affected. Everywhere leaders such as James Otis, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry denounced the act with eloquence, societies called the Sons of Liberty were formed, and the Stamp Act Congress was called to protest that Parliament was violating the rights of trueborn Englishmen in taxing the colonials, who were not directly represented in the supreme legislature. The threat of boycott and refusal to import English goods supported the colonial clamor. Parliament repealed (1766) the Stamp Act but passed an act formally declaring its right to tax the colonies.
The incident was closed, but a barb remained to wound American feelings. Colonial political theorists—not only radicals such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Josiah Quincy (1744-75), and Alexander McDougall but also moderates such as John Dickinson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—asserted that taxation without representation was tyranny. The teachings of 18th-century French philosophers and continental writers on law, such as Emmerich de Vattel, as well as the theories of John Locke, were implicit in the colonial arguments based on the theory of natural rights. The colonials claimed that Parliament had the sovereign power to legislate in the interest of the entire British Empire, but that it could only tax those actually represented in Parliament.
Trouble flared when the Chatham ministry adopted (1767) the Townshend Acts, which taxed numerous imports; care was taken to levy only an "external" or indirect tax in the hope that the colonials would accept this. But this indirect tax was challenged too, and although the duties were not heavy, the principle was attacked. Incidents came in interrupted sequence to make feeling run higher and higher: the seizure of a ship belonging to John Hancock in 1768; the bloodshed of the Boston Massacre in 1770; the burning of H. M. S. Gaspee in 1772.
The repeal of the Townshend Acts in 1770 did no more than temporarily quiet the turmoil, for the tax on tea was kept as a sort of token of Parliament's supremacy. Indignation in New England at the monopoly granted to the East India Company led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Despite the earnest pleas of William Pitt the elder (see Chatham, William Pitt, 1st earl of) and Edmund Burke, Parliament replied with coercive measures.
These (and the Quebec Act) the colonials called the Intolerable Acts, and resistance was prompt. The Sons of Liberty and individual colonials were already distributing statements of the colonial cause to win over merchant and farmer, worker and sailor. Committees of correspondence had been formed to exchange information and ideas and to build colonial unity, and in 1774 these committees prepared the way for the Continental Congress.
The representatives at this First Continental Congress, except for a few radicals, had not met to consider independence, but wished only to persuade the British government to recognize their rights. A plan of reconciliation offered by Joseph Galloway was rejected. It was agreed that the colonies would refuse to import British goods until colonial grievances were righted; those grievances were listed in petitions to the king; and the congress adjourned.
Before Congress met again the situation had changed. On the morning of Apr. 19, 1775, shots had been exchanged by colonials and British soldiers, men had been killed, and a revolution had begun (see Lexington and Concord, battles of). On the very day (May 10, 1775) that the Second Continental Congress met, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, together with a force under Benedict Arnold, took Fort Ticonderoga from the British, and two days later Seth Warner captured Crown Point. Boston was under British siege, and before that siege was climaxed by the costly British victory usually called the battle of Bunker Hill (June 17, 1775) the Congress had chosen (June 15, 1775) George Washington as commander in chief of the Continental armed forces.
The war was on in earnest. Some delegates had come to the Congress already committed to declaring the colonies independent of Great Britain, but even many stalwart upholders of the colonial cause were not ready to take such a step. The lines were being more clearly drawn between the pro-British Loyalists and colonial revolutionists. The time was one of indecision, and the division of the people was symbolized by the split between Benjamin Franklin and his Loyalist son, William Franklin.
Loyalists were numerous and included small farmers as well as large landowners, royal officeholders, and members of the professions; they were to be found in varying strength in every colony. A large part of the population was more or less neutral, swaying to this side or that or else remaining inert in the struggle, which was to some extent a civil war. So it was to remain to the end.
Civil government and administration had fallen apart and had to be patched together locally. In some places the result was bloody strife, as in the partisan raids in the Carolinas and Georgia and the Mohawk valley massacre in New York. Elsewhere hostility did not produce open struggles.
In Jan., 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet, Common Sense, which urged the colonial cause. Its influence was tremendous, and it was read everywhere with enthusiastic acclaim. Militarily, however, the cause did not prosper greatly. Delegations to the Canadians had been unsuccessful, and the Quebec campaign (1775-76) ended in disaster. The British gave up Boston in Mar., 1776, but the prospects were still not good for the ill-trained, poorly armed volunteer soldiers of the Continental army when the Congress decided finally to declare the independence of the Thirteen Colonies.
The Declaration of Independence is conventionally dated July 4, 1776. Drawn up by Thomas Jefferson (with slight emendations), it was to be one of the great historical documents of all time. It did not, however, have any immediate positive effect.
The British under Gen. William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, came to New York harbor. After vain attempts to negotiate a peace, the British forces struck. Washington lost Brooklyn Heights (see Long Island, battle of), retreated northward, was defeated at Harlem Heights in Manhattan and at White Plains, and took part of his dwindling army into New Jersey. Thomas Paine in a new pamphlet, The Crisis, exhorted the revolutionists to courage in desperate days, and Washington showed his increasing military skill and helped to restore colonial spirits in the winter of 1776-77 by crossing the ice-ridden Delaware and winning small victories over forces made up mostly of Hessian mercenaries at Trenton (Dec. 26) and Princeton (Jan. 3).
In 1777 the British attempted to wipe out the flickering revolt by a concerted plan to split the colonies with converging expeditions concentrated upon the Hudson valley. Gen. William Howe, instead of taking part in it, moved into Pennsylvania, defeated Washington in the battle of Brandywine (Sept. 11), took Philadelphia, and beat off (Oct. 4) Washington's attack on Germantown. Meanwhile the British columns under Gen. John Burgoyne and Gen. Barry St. Leger had failed (see Saratoga campaign), and Burgoyne on Oct. 17, 1777, ended the battle of Saratoga by surrender to Gen. Horatio Gates. The victory is commonly regarded as the decisive battle of the war, but its good effects again were not immediate.
The Continental army still had to endure the hardships of the cruel winter at Valley Forge, when only loyalty to Washington and the cause of liberty held the half-frozen, half-starved men together. Among them were three of the foreign idealists who had come to aid the colonials in their struggle—Johann Kalb, Baron von Steuben, and the marquis de Lafayette. At Valley Forge, Steuben trained the still-raw troops, who came away a disciplined fighting force giving a good account of themselves in 1778. Sir Henry Clinton, who had succeeded Howe in command, decided to abandon Philadelphia for New York, and Washington's attack upon the British in the battle of Monmouth (see Monmouth, battle of) was cheated of success mainly by the equivocal actions of Gen. Charles Lee.
The warfare in the Middle Atlantic region settled almost to stagnation, but foreign aid was finally arriving. Agents of the new nation—notably Benjamin Franklin, Arthur Lee, Silas Deane, and later John Adams—were striving to get help, and in 1777 Pierre de Beaumarchais had succeeded in getting arms and supplies sent to the colonials in time to help win the battle of Saratoga. That victory made it easier for France to enter upon an alliance with the United States, for which Franklin and the comte de Vergennes (the French foreign minister) signed (1778) a treaty. Spain entered the war against Great Britain in 1779, but Spanish help did little for the United States, while French soldiers and sailors and especially French supplies and money were of crucial importance.
The warfare had meanwhile shifted from the quiescent North to other theaters. George Rogers Clark by his daring exploits (1778-79) in the West, climaxed by the second capture of Vincennes, established the revolutionists' prestige on the frontier. Gen. John Sullivan led an expedition (1779) against the British and Native Americans in upper New York.
The chief fighting, however, was now in the South. The British had taken Savannah in 1778. In 1780, Sir Henry Clinton attacked and took Charleston (which had resisted attacks in 1776 and 1779) and sent Gen. Charles Cornwallis off on the Carolina campaign. Cornwallis swept forward to beat Horatio Gates soundly at Camden (Aug., 1780), and only guerrilla bands under Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter continued to oppose the British S of Virginia.
Another low point had been reached in American fortunes. Bitter complaints of the inefficiency of the Congress, political conniving, lack of funds and food, and the strains of long-continued war had engendered widespread apathy and disaffection, and the British tried to take advantage of the division among the people. In 1780 occurred the most celebrated of the disaffections, the treason of Benedict Arnold. Lack of pay and shortages of clothing and food drove some Continental regiments into a mutiny of protest in Jan., 1781.
The dark, however, was already lifting. A crowd of frontiersmen with their rifles defeated a British force at Kings Mt. in Oct., 1780, and Nathanael Greene, who had replaced Gates as commander in the Carolina campaign, and his able assistant, Daniel Morgan, together with Thaddeus Kosciusko and others, ultimately forced Cornwallis into Virginia. The stage was set for the Yorktown campaign.
Now the French aid counted greatly, for Lafayette with colonial troops held the British in check, and it was a Franco-American force that Washington and the comte de Rochambeau led from New York S to Virginia. The French fleet under Admiral de Grasse played the decisive part.
Previously naval forces had been of little consequence in the Revolution. State navies and a somewhat irregular national navy had been of less importance than Revolutionary privateers. Esek Hopkins had led a raid in the Bahamas in 1776, John Barry won a name as a gallant commander, and John Paul Jones was one of the most celebrated commanders in all U.S. naval history, but their exploits were isolated incidents.
It was the French fleet—ironically, the same one defeated by the British under Admiral Rodney the next year in the West Indies—that bottled up Cornwallis at Yorktown. Outnumbered and surrounded, the British commander surrendered (Oct. 19, 1781), and the fighting was over. The rebels had won the American Revolution.
The Treaty of Paris (see Paris, Treaty of) formally recognized the new nation in 1783, although many questions were left unsettled. The United States was floundering through a postwar depression and seeking not too successfully to meet its administrative problems under the Articles of Confederation (see Confederation, Articles of).
The leaders in the new country were those prominent either in the council halls or on the fields of the Revolution, and the first three Presidents after the Constitution of the United States was adopted were Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Some of the more radical Revolutionary leaders were disappointed in the turn toward conservatism when the Revolution was over, but liberty and democracy had been fixed as the highest ideals of the United States.
The American Revolution had a great influence on liberal thought throughout Europe. The struggles and successes of the youthful democracy were much in the minds of those who brought about the French Revolution, and most assuredly later helped to inspire revolutionists in Spain's American colonies.
The stirring events of the country's birth have been often represented in U.S. literature. It has given dramatic material to playwrights from William Dunlap to Maxwell Anderson, to novelists from James Fenimore Cooper and William G. Simms to S. Weir Mitchell, Paul Leicester Ford, Kenneth Roberts, and Howard Fast. Older histories, still read for their literary value, are those of George Bancroft, John Fiske, and G. O. Trevelyan.
Countless excellent studies have been made of particular aspects and incidents; some examples are H. E. Wildes, Valley Forge (1938); R. B. Morris, ed., The Era of the American Revolution (1939); C. Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (1941); L. Montross, Rag, Tag and Bobtail: The Story of the Continental Army (1952); C. Berger, Broadsides and Bayonets: The Propaganda War of the American Revolution (1961); A. Heimert, Religion and the American Mind (1966).
For works of more general interest, see C. H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (1923, repr. 1973); J. F. Jameson, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (1926, new ed. 1961); J. C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution (1943, new ed. 1959); C. R. Ritcheson, British Politics and the American Revolution (1954); L. H. Gipson, The Coming of the Revolution ("New American Nation" series, 1954); E. S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763-89 (1956); H. S. Commager and R. B. Morris, ed., Spirit of 'Seventy-Six (1958); S. F. Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (rev. ed. 1957); H. Peckham, The War for Independence (1958); R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution (1959); B. Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967); R. Morris, The American Revolution Reconsidered (1967); J. P. Greene, ed. The Reinterpretation of the American Revolution (1968); M. Jensen, The Founding of a Nation (1968); J. R. Alden, A History of the American Revolution (1969); G. S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (1969); D. Higginbotham, The War of American Independence (1971); R. Morris, ed., The American Revolution, 1763-1783 (1971); P. Maier, From Resistance to Revolution (1972); S. G. Kurtz and J. H. Hutson, Essay on the American Revolution (1973); T. Draper, A Struggle for Power: The American Revolution (1995); J. J. Ellis, Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation (2000) and American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic (2007); J. Rhodehamel, ed., The American Revolution: Writing from the War of Independence (2001); D. H. Fischer, Washington's Crossing (2005); D. McCullough, 1776 (2005); S. Weintraub, Iron Tears: America's Battle for Freedom, Britain's Quagmire, 1775-1783 (2005).
See also bibliographies by T. R. Adams (2 vol., 1980) and R. L. Blanco (1983).
The American Revolution refers to the political upheaval during the last half of the 18th century in which the Thirteen Colonies of North America overthrew the governance of the British Empire and collectively became the nation of the United States of America. In this period, the colonies broke away to form self-governing independent states and then united to defend that seperation in the armed conflict known as the American Revolutionary War (or the "American War of Independence"), between 1775 and 1783. This resulted in the states' Declaration of Independence in 1776, and victory on the battlefield in October 1781.
The revolutionary era began in 1763, when the French military threat to British North American colonies ended. Adopting the policy that the colonies should pay an increased proportion of the costs associated with keeping them in the Empire, Britain imposed a series of taxes followed by other laws that proved extremely unpopular. Because the colonies lacked elected representation in the governing British Parliament many colonists considered the laws to be illegitimate and a violation of their rights as Englishmen. Beginning in 1772, Patriot groups began to create committees of correspondence, which would lead to their own Provincial Congress in each of most of the colonies. In the course of two years, the Provincial Congresses or their equivalents effectively replaced the British ruling apparatus in the former colonies, culminating in 1774 with the unifying Continental Congress.
After Patriot protests in Boston over British attempts to assert authority, the British sent combat troops, the states mobilized their militias, and fighting broke out in 1775. Although Loyalists were estimated to comprise 15-20% of the population, throughout the war the Patriots generally controlled 80-90% of the territory; the British could hold only a few coastal cities for any extended period of time. In 1776, representatives from each of the original thirteen independent states voted unanimously to adopt a Declaration of Independence, by which they established the United States. The Americans formed an alliance with France in 1778 that evened the military and naval strengths, later bringing Spain and the Dutch Republic into the conflict by their own alliance with France. Two main British armies were captured by the Continental Army, at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781, leading to peace with the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
The American 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 colonies, sharp political debates broke out over the role of democracy in government, with a number of even the most liberal Founding Fathers fearing mob rule. 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 American Revolution was predicated by a number of ideas and events that, combined, led to a political and social separation of colonial possessions from the home nation and a coalescing of those former individual colonies into an independent nation.
A motivating force behind the revolution was the American embrace of a political ideology called "republicanism", which was dominant in many of the colonies by 1775. The "country party" in Britain, whose critique of British government emphasized that corruption was to be feared, influenced American politicians. The colonists associated the "court" with luxury and inherited aristocracy, which many British 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, 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.
However, the mass of American Patriots had never heard of John Locke or other Enlightenment thinkers, nor of republican political theory. “When one farmer who had fought at Concord Bridge was asked … whether he was defending the ideas of such liberal writers, he declared for his part he had never heard of Locke or Sidney, his reading having been limited to the Bible, the Catechism, Watt’s Psalms and Hymns and the Almanac.”
Dissenting (i.e. Protestant non-Church of England) churches were the “school of democracy.” Puritans and Presbyterians, and other Protestant denominations, based their democratic principles and willingness to rebel against tyrants on their reading of the Hebrew Bible. The stories that influenced their political thinking the most were Genesis, which taught all men were created equal, Exodus, with its story of the ancient Israelites defying Pharaoh and escaping to freedom, and the Book of Judges, which taught there is no divine right of kings. "Founding Fathers" such as Benjamin Franklin, Samuel and John Adams, were raised as Puritans, reading the Geneva Bible which had marginal notes throughout what they called the "Old Testament", which preached against kings as tyrants, church hierarchy, or obeying wicked laws. James Madison stayed an extra year at Princeton University to study Hebrew and Scriptures under the famous pro-democratic Presbyterian theologian, President John Witherspoon. Witherspoon, one of the most educated men in America, was the most influential academic in American history, according to Michael Novak. His sermons linking the American Revolution to the teachings of the Hebrew Bible influenced an entire generation, including twelve members of the Continental Congress, five delegates to the Constitutional Convention, and scores of officers in the Continental Army. One famous sermon on the Israelites rebelling against Pharaoh was distributed to 500 Presbyterian churches seven weeks before the Declaration of Independence, preparing people's consciences to accept this revolutionary act. Throughout the colonies, ministers preached Revolutionary themes in their sermons, and organized their congregations as the basic unit of Revolutionary War politics. This religious motivation for Independence was not limited to an intellectual elite, as was Enlightenment thinking. It included rich and poor, men and women, frontiersmen and townsmen, farmers and merchants.
In 1762, Patrick Henry argued the Parson's Cause in Virginia, where the legislature had passed a law and it was vetoed by the King. Henry argued, "that a King, by disallowing Acts of this salutary nature, from being the father of his people, degenerated into a Tyrant and forfeits all right to his subjects' obedience."
The Proclamation of 1763 restricted colonization across the Appalachian Mountains as this was to be Indian Reserve. Regardless, groups of settlers continued to move west and lay claim to these lands. The proclamation was soon modified and was no longer a hindrance to settlement, but its promulgation and the fact that it had been written without consulting Americans angered the colonists. The Quebec Act of 1774 extended Quebec's boundaries to the Ohio River, shutting out the claims of the thirteen colonies. By then, however, the Americans had little regard for new laws from London; they were drilling militia and organizing for war.
The British did not expect the colonies to contribute to the interest or the retirement of debt incurred during the French and Indian War, but they did expect a portion of the expenses for colonial defense to be paid by the Americans. Estimating the expenses of defending the continental colonies and the West Indies to be approximately £200,000 annually, the British goal after the end of this war was that the colonies would be taxed for £78,000 of this needed amount. The issues with the colonists were both that the taxes were high and that the colonies had no representation in the Parliament which passed the taxes. Lord North in 1775 argued for the British position that Englishmen paid on average twenty-five shillings annually in taxes whereas Americans paid only sixpence (the average Englishman, however, also earned quite a bit more while receiving more services directly from the government). Colonists, however, as early as 1764, with respect to the Sugar Act, indicated that “the margin of profit in rum was so small that molasses could bear no duty whatever.”
The phrase "No taxation without representation" became popular in 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 1765 the Stamp Act was the first direct tax ever levied by Parliament on the colonies. All newspapers, almanacs, pamphlets, and official documents—even decks of playing cards—were required to have the stamps. All 13 colonies protested vehemently, as popular leaders such as Patrick Henry in Virginia and James Otis in Massachusetts, rallied the people in opposition. A secret group, the "Sons of Liberty" formed in many towns and threatened violence if anyone sold the stamps, and no one did . In Boston, the Sons of Liberty burned the records of the vice-admiralty court and looted the elegant home of the chief justice, Thomas Hutchinson. Several legislatures called for united action, and nine colonies sent delegates to the Stamp Act Congress in New York City in October 1765. Moderates led by John Dickinson drew up a "Declaration of Rights and Grievances" stating that taxes passed without representation violated their Rights of Englishmen. Lending weight to the argument was an economic boycott of British merchandise, as imports into the colonies fell from £2,250,000 in 1764 to £1,944,000 in 1765. In London, the Rockingham government came to power and Parliament debated whether to repeal the stamp tax or send an army to enforce it. Benjamin Franklin eloquently made the American case, explaining the colonies had spent heavily in manpower, money, and blood in defense of the empire in a series of wars against the French and Indians, and that further taxes to pay for those wars were unjust and might bring about a rebellion. Parliament agreed and repealed the tax, but in a "Declaratory Act" of March 1766 insisted that parliament retained full power to make laws for the colonies "in all cases whatsoever".
In June 1772, in what became known as the Gaspée Affair, a British warship that had been vigorously enforcing unpopular trade regulations was burned by American patriots. Soon afterwards, Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts reported that he and the royal judges would be paid directly from London, thus bypassing the colonial legislature.
On December 16, 1773, a group of men, led by Samuel Adams and dressed to evoke American Indians, boarded the ships of the government-favored British East India Company and dumped an estimated £10,000 worth of tea on board (approximately £636,000 in 2008) into the harbor. This event became known as the Boston Tea Party and remains a significant part of American patriotic lore.
The British government responded by passing several Acts which came to be known as the Intolerable Acts, which further darkened colonial opinion towards the British. They consisted of four laws enacted by the British parliament. The first was the Massachusetts Government Act, which altered the Massachusetts charter and restricted town meetings. The second Act, the Administration of Justice Act, ordered that all British soldiers to be tried were to be arraigned in Britain, not in the colonies. The third Act was the Boston Port Act, which closed the port of Boston until the British had been compensated for the tea lost in the Boston Tea Party (the British never received such a payment). The fourth Act was the Quartering Act of 1774, which allowed royal governors to house British troops in the homes of citizens without requiring permission of the owner. The First Continental Congress endorsed the Suffolk Resolves, which declared the Intolerable Acts to be unconstitutional, called for the people to form militias, and called for Massachusetts to form a Patriot government.
American political opposition was initially through the colonial assemblies such as the Stamp Act Congress, which included representatives from all thirteen colonies. In 1765, the Sons of Liberty were formed which used public demonstrations, violence and threats of violence to ensure that the British tax laws were unenforceable. In late 1772, after the Gaspée Affair, Samuel Adams set about creating new Committees of Correspondence, which linked Patriots in all thirteen colonies and eventually provided the framework for a rebel government. In early 1773 Virginia, the largest colony, set up its Committee of Correspondence, on which Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson served.
In response to the Massachusetts Government Act, Massachusetts Bay and then other colonies formed provisional governments called Provincial Congresses. In 1774, the Continental Congress was formed, made up of representatives from each of the Provincial Congresses or their equivalents, to serve as a provisional national government. Standing Committees of Safety were created in each colony for the enforcement of the resolutions by the Committee of Correspondence, Provincial Congress, and the Continental Congress.
At the time, revolutionaries were called 'Patriots', 'Whigs', 'Congress-men', or 'Americans'. They included a full range of social and economic classes, but a unanimity regarding the need to defend the rights of Americans. After the war, Patriots such as George Washington, James Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay were deeply devoted to republicanism while also eager to build a rich and powerful nation, while Patriots such as Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson represented democratic impulses and the agrarian plantation element that wanted a localized society with greater political equality.
The word "patriot" refers to a person in the colonies who sided with the American Revolution. Calling the revolutionaries "patriots" is a long-standing historical convention, which began prior to the war. For example, the term “Patriot” was in use by American colonists prior to the war during the 1760s, referring to the American Patriot Party. Members of the American Patriot Party also called themselves Whigs after 1768, identifying with members of the British Whig Party, i.e., Radical Whigs and Patriot Whigs, who favored similar colonial policies.
The terminology "Patriot party" was used in Virginia and Massachusetts early in colonial history during the 1600’s, with regard to groups asserting colonial rights and resistance to the King. A Loyalist history published in Canada describes the colonial Patriot Party in 1683 in Massachusetts: “The announcement of this decisive act [writ of quo warranto] on the part of the King produced sensation throughout the colony, and gave rise to the question, “What shall Massachusetts do?” One part of the colony advocated submission; another party advocated resistance. The former were called the “Moderate party,” the latter the “Patriot party” – the commencement of the two parties which were afterwards known as United Empire Loyalists and Revolutionists.” Similarly, the "Patriot party" was known in Virginia in early colonial history during 1618: “By this time  there were two distinct parties, not only in the Virginia Company, but in the Virginia Colony, the one being known as the “Court party,” the other as the “Patriot party…In 1619 the Patriot party secured the right for the settlers in Virginia to elect a Representative Assembly…This was the first representative body ever assembled on the American continent. From the first the representatives began to assert their rights.”
Generally speaking, during the enlightenment era, the word "patriot" was not used interchangeably with "nationalist", as it is today. Rather, the concept of patriotism was linked to enlightenment values concerning a common good, which transcended national and social boundaries. Patriotism, thus, did not require you to stand behind your country at all costs, and there wouldn't necessarily be a contradiction between being a patriot and revolting against king and country.
While there is no way of knowing the actual numbers, historians have estimated that about 15-20% of the population remained loyal to the British Crown; these were known at the time as 'Loyalists', 'Tories', or 'King's men'. Perhaps 40-45% were known as Rebels or Patriots depending on whose side one was on and the others remained neutral. Loyalists were typically older, less willing to break with old loyalties, often connected to the Church of England, and included many established merchants with business connections across the Empire, for example, Thomas Hutchinson of Boston. The revolution also divided families, such as the Franklins. William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin and Governor of New Jersey remained Loyal to the Crown throughout the war and never spoke to his father again. Recent immigrants who had not been fully Americanized were also inclined to support the King, such as recent Scottish settlers in the back country; among the more striking examples of this, see Flora MacDonald.
Some Native Americans rejected pleas that they remain neutral. There were also incentives provided by both sides that helped to secure the affiliations of regional peoples and leaders, and the tribes that depended most heavily upon colonial trade tended to side with the revolutionaries, though political factors were important as well.
Another poorly-documented group that joined the Loyalist cause were African-American slaves, who were actively recruited into the British forces in return for manumission, protection for their families, and the (often broken) promise of land grants. Following the war, many of these "Black Loyalists" settled in Nova Scotia, Upper and Lower Canada, and other parts of the British Empire, where the descendants of some remain today.
A minority of uncertain size tried to stay neutral in the war. Most kept a low profile. However, the Quakers, especially in Pennsylvania, were the most important group that was outspoken for neutrality. As patriots declared independence, the Quakers, who continued to do business with the British, were attacked as supporters of British rule, "contrivers and authors of seditious publications" critical of the revolutionary cause.
After the war, the great majority of Loyalists remained in America and resumed normal lives. Some, such as Samuel Seabury, became prominent American leaders. 62,000 Loyalists (of the total estimated number of 450-500,000) relocated to Canada (46,000 according to the Canadian book on Loyalists, True Blue), Britain (7,000) or to Florida ([number missing]) or the West Indies (9,000), making it one of the largest mass migrations in history. This made up approximately 2% of the total population of the colonies. When the Loyalists left the South in 1783, they took thousands of their slaves with them to the British West Indies, where their descendants would become free men 26 years earlier than their United States counterparts.
Several types of women contributed to the American Revolution in multiple ways. Like men, women participated on both sides of the war. Among women, Anglo-Americans, African Americans, and Native Americans also divided between the Patriot and Loyalist causes.
While formal Revolutionary politics did not include women, ordinary domestic behaviors became charged with political significance as Whig women confronted a war that permeated all aspects of political, civil, and domestic life. Patriot women participated by boycotting British goods, spying on the British, following armies as they marched, washing, cooking, and tending for soldiers, delivering secret messages, and fighting disguised as men. Above all, they continued the agricultural work at home to feed the armies and their families.
The boycott of British goods involved the willing participation of American women; the boycotted items were largely household items such as tea and cloth. Women had to return to spinning and weaving—skills that had fallen into disuse. In 1769, the women of Boston produced 40,000 skeins of yarn, and 180 women in Middletown, Massachusetts, wove of cloth.
A crisis of political loyalties could also disrupt the fabric of colonial America women’s social worlds: whether a man did or did not renounce his allegiance to the king could dissolve ties of class, family, and friendship, isolating women from former connections. A woman’s loyalty to her husband, once a private commitment, could become a political act, especially for women in America committed to men who remained loyal to Great Britain.
African Americans, both men and women, understood Revolutionary rhetoric as promising freedom and equality. These hopes were not realized. Although both British and American governments made promises of freedom for service throughout the war and many slaves attempted to better their lives by fighting in or assisting the armies, the war ultimately brought few changes for African American women both slave and free. After the Revolution, gradual abolition occurred in the North, but slavery expanded in the South and racial prejudice was near universal in the new nation.
For Native Americans, the American Revolution was not a war of patriotism or independence. Many Native Americans wished to remain neutral, seeing little value in participating yet again in a European conflict, but most were forced to take sides. During the war, Native American towns were often among the first to be attacked by patriot militias, sometimes without regard to which side the inhabitants espoused. One of the most fundamental effects of the war on Native American women was the disruption of home, family, and agricultural life.
In the 1770s there were thousands of slaves held in England worth, in today’s money $110,000,000 and Great Britain “still led the world in its dominance of the African slave trade”. [i.e., The British Trade of Africans for Enslavement, the Africans were the victims not the purveyors, merchants or entrepreneurs doing business as: slave traders] In 1772 a court case was heard in London concerning James Somerset - a runaway slave whose Virginian master was trying to recover him through the courts. Prior to the publicity surrounding this case, the British thought of slavery “as existing only on the other side of the Atlantic.” The ruling by Lord Chief Justice Mansfield, confirming a previous earlier ruling, was that slavery had never existed as an institution under British Law and therefore Somerset was free. Mansfield tried to downplay the significance of the case, but its underlying result was to effectively ban slavery in Great Britain, meaning any slave who went there was free. When word of the decision reached the American colonies, antislavery protests occurred in Massachusetts and some slaves, according to a newspaper report, attempted to stow away on ship to England where they believed they would be free.
During the Revolution, efforts were made by the British to turn slavery against the Americans, but historian David Brion Davis explains the difficulties with a policy of wholesale arming of the slaves:
Davis further wrote that “Britain, when confronted by the rebellious American colonists, hoped to exploit their fear of slave revolts while also reassuring the large number of slaveholding Loyalists and wealth Caribbean planters and merchants that their slave property would be secure".
The colonists did subsequently accuse the British of encouraging slave revolts.
American advocates of independence were commonly lampooned in Britain for their hypocritical calls for human rights, while many of their leaders were slave-holders. Samuel Johnson observed "how is it we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the [slave] drivers of the negroes? Benjamin Franklin countered by criticizing the British self-congratulation about "the freeing of one negro" (Somersert) while they continued to permit the Slave Trade.
In the North, slavery was first abolished in the state constitution of Vermont in 1777, in Massachusetts in 1780, and New Hampshire in 1784. Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Rhode Island adopted systems of gradual emancipation during these years, freeing the children of slaves at birth.
During the era of the Revolution, a small group of African American writers rose to prominence. Benjamin Banneker, born free in Maryland, where he received an education, became one of the most accomplished mathematicians and astronomers of the late eighteenth-century America. In the 1790s, he published a popular almanac that both white and black Americans consulted. Jupiter Hammon, a New York slave, took up contemporary issues in his poems and essays, one of the most important of which was Address to the Negroes of the State of New York, published in 1787. But the most famous African American writer was Phyllis Wheatley, who came to public attention when her Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral appeared in London in 1773, while she was still a domestic slave in Boston. Kidnapped in Africa as young girl and converted to Christianity during the Great Awakening, Wheatley wrote poems combining piety and a concern for African Americans.
The Battle of Lexington and Concord took place April 19, 1775, when the British sent a force of roughly 1000 troops to confiscate arms and arrest revolutionaries in Concord. They clashed with the local militia, marking the first fighting of the American Revolutionary War. The news aroused the 13 colonies to call out their militias and send troops to besiege Boston. The Battle of Bunker Hill followed on June 17, 1775. While a British victory, it was made a victory by heavy losses on the British side or about 1,500 of 2,000 British troops over very few American casualties.
The Second Continental Congress convened in 1775, after the war had started. The Congress created the Continental Army and extended the Olive Branch Petition to the crown as an attempt at reconciliation. King George III refused to receive it, issuing instead the Proclamation of Rebellion, requiring action against the "traitors."
In March 1776, with George Washington as commander, the Continental Army forced the British to evacuate Boston, withdrawing their garrison to Halifax, Nova Scotia. The revolutionaries were in control of governments throughout the 13 colonies and were ready to declare independence. While there still were many Loyalists, they were no longer in control anywhere by July 1776, and all of the Royal officials had fled.
On January 5, 1776, New Hampshire ratified the first state constitution, six months before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Then, in May 1776, Congress voted to suppress all forms of crown authority, to be replaced by locally created authority. Virginia, South Carolina, and New Jersey created their constitutions before July 4. Rhode Island and Connecticut simply took their existing royal charters and deleted all references to the crown.
The new states had to decide not only what form of government to create, they first had to decide how to select those who would craft the constitutions and how the resulting document would be ratified. In states where the wealthy exerted firm control over the process, such as Maryland, Virginia, Delaware, New York and Massachusetts, the results were constitutions that featured:
In states where the less affluent had organized sufficiently to have significant power—especially Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New Hampshire—the resulting constitutions embodied
Whether conservatives or radicals held sway in a state did not mean that the side with less power accepted the result quietly. The radical provisions of Pennsylvania's constitution lasted only fourteen years. In 1790, conservatives gained power in the state legislature, called a new constitutional convention, and rewrote the constitution. The new constitution substantially reduced universal white-male suffrage, gave the governor veto power and patronage appointment authority, and added an upper house with substantial wealth qualifications to the unicameral legislature. Thomas Paine called it a constitution unworthy of America.
On January 10, 1776, Thomas Paine published a political pamphlet entitled Common Sense arguing that the only solution to the problems with Britain was republicanism and independence from Great Britain. In the ensuing months, before the United States as a political unit declared its independence, several states individually declared their independence. Virginia, for instance, declared its independence from Great Britain on May 15.
On July 2, 1776, Congress declared the independence of the United States; two days later, on July 4, it adopted the Declaration of Independence, which date is now celebrated as the US independence day. Although the bulk of delegates signed the Declaration on that date, signing continued over the next several months because many members weren't immediately available. The war began in April 1775, while the declaration was issued in July 1776. Until this point, the colonies had sought favorable peace terms; now all the states called for independence. Except for a failed British attempt on September 11, 1776 to secure after the Battle of Long Island, from a Congressional delegation including John Adams and Benjamin Franklin on Staten Island, a revocation of the Declaration of Independence, there would be no negotiations until 1783.
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, though they were not formally ratified until March 1, 1781. On that date the Continental Congress was dissolved and the new government of the United States in Congress Assembled was formed.
The British returned in force in August 1776, landing in New York and engaging the fledgling Continental Army at the Battle of Brooklyn in one of the largest engagements of the war. They eventually seized New York City and nearly captured General Washington. The British made the city their main political and military base of operations in North America, holding it until 1783, when they relinquished it under the terms of the Treaty of Paris. Patriot evacuation and British military occupation made the city the destination for Loyalist refugees, and a focal point of Washington's intelligence network. The British also took New Jersey, but in a surprise attack, Washington crossed the Delaware into New Jersey and defeated British armies at Trenton and Princeton, thereby regaining New Jersey. While the victories involved small numbers, they gave an important boost to pro-independence supporters at a time when morale was flagging, and have become iconic images of the war.
In 1777, as part of a grand strategy to end the war, the British launched two uncoordinated attacks. The army based in New York City defeated Washington and captured the rebel capital at Philadelphia. Simultaneously a second army invaded from Canada with the goal of cutting off New England. It was trapped and captured during the Battle of Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. The British army had agreed to surrender only on condition of being a Convention Army with repatriation to Britain. Realizing that their cause would be adversely affected if the captured troops could be switched with other British troops who would be brought out to America, Congress repudiated these terms, and imprisoned them instead. This was poorly received in Britain, as a violation of the rules of war, and contributed further to the drift apart.
Saratoga encouraged the French to formally enter the war, as Benjamin Franklin negotiated a permanent military alliance in early 1778, significantly becoming the first country to officially recognise the declaration of independence. William Pitt spoke out in parliament for Britain to make peace in America, and unite against France, while other British politicians who had previously supported independence now turned against the American rebels for allying with the old mutual enemy. The French alliance was not a universally popular move in America. It angered Loyalists, while some members in the Continental Army had fought the French in the French and Indian War, and many still harboured resentment. The French alliance has been acknowledged as a factor in the defection of Benedict Arnold to the British. Others objected on ideological grounds because France was an absolute monarchy.
Later Spain (in 1779) and the Dutch (1780) became allies of the French leaving Britain to fight a global war alone without major allies and trying to slip through a combined blockade of the Atlantic. The American theatre thus became only one front in Britain's war. The British were forced to withdraw troops from continental America to reinforce the sugar-producing Caribbean islands, which were considered more valuable.
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 north. After an inconclusive engagement, the British successfully retreated to New York City. The northern war subsequently became a stalemate, as the focus of attention shifted to the smaller southern theatre.
The British strategy in America now concentrated on a campaign in the southern colonies. With fewer regular troops at their disposal, the British commanders saw the Southern Strategy as a more viable plan, as the south was perceived as being more strongly Loyalist, with a large population of poorer recent immigrants as well as large numbers of African Americans, both groups who tended to favour them.
In late December 1778, the British had captured Savannah. In 1780 they launched a fresh invasion and took Charleston as well. A significant victory at the Battle of Camden meant that government forces soon controlled most of Georgia and South Carolina. The British set up a network of forts inland, hoping the Loyalists would rally to the flag. Despite the disaster at Saratoga, they once again appeared to have gained the upper hand. There was even a consideration of ten state independence (with the three southernmost colonies remaining British).
Not enough Loyalists turned out, however, and the British had to fight their way north into North Carolina and Virginia, with a severely weakened army. Behind them much of the territory they had already captured dissolved into a chaotic guerrilla war, fought predominantly between bands of Loyalist and rebel Americans, which negated many of the gains the British had previously made.
The southern British army marched to Yorktown, Virginia where they expected to be rescued by a British fleet which would take them back to New York. When that fleet was defeated by a French fleet, however, they became trapped in Yorktown. In October 1781 under a combined siege by the French and Continental armies, the British under the command of General Cornwallis, surrendered. However, Cornwallis was so embarrassed at his defeat that he had to send his second in command to surrender for him. News of the defeat effectively ended major offensive operations in America. Support for the conflict had never been strong in Britain, where many sympathised with the rebels, but now it reached a new low.
Although King George III personally wanted to fight on, his supporters lost control of Parliament, and no further major land offensives were launched in the American Theatre. A final naval battle was fought by Captain John Barry and his crew of the Alliance as three British warships led by the HMS Sybil tried to take the payroll of the Continental Army on March 10, 1783 off the coast of Cape Canaveral.
In August 1775, the King declared Americans in arms against royal authority to be traitors to the Crown. The British government at first started treating captured rebel combatants as common criminals and preparations were made to bring them to trial for treason. American Secretary Lord Germain and First Lord of the Admiralty Lord Sandwich were especially eager to do so, with a particular emphasis on those who had previously served in British units (and thereby sworn an oath of allegiance to the crown).
Many of the prisoners taken by the British at Bunker Hill apparently expected to be hanged. But the government declined to take the next step: treason trials and executions. There were tens of thousands of Loyalists under American control who would have been at risk for treason trials of their own (by the Americans), and the British built much of their strategy around using these Loyalists. After the surrender at Saratoga in 1777, there were thousands of British prisoners in American hands who were effectively hostages.
Therefore no American prisoners were put on trial for treason, and although most were badly treated and many died nonetheless, eventually they were technically 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 surviving prisoners.
In 1777, Morocco was the first state to recognize the independence of the United States of America. The two countries signed the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship ten years later. Friesland, one of the seven United Provinces of the Dutch Republic, was the next to recognize American independence (February 26, 1782), followed by the Staten-Generaal of the Dutch Republic on April 19, 1782). John Adams became the first US Ambassador in The Hague. 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, along with the Dutch Revolt (end of the 16th century) and the English Civil War (in the 17th century), was one of the first lessons in overthrowing an old regime for many Europeans who later were active during the era of the French Revolution, such as Marquis de Lafayette. The American Declaration of Independence had some impact on the French Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789.
The North American states' newly-won independence from the British Empire resulted in the abolishment of slavery in some Northern states 51 years before it would be banned in the British colonies, and allowed slavery to continue in the Southern states until 1865, 32 years after it was banned in all British colonies.
The national debt after the American Revolution fell into three categories. The first was the $11 million owed to foreigners—mostly debts to France during the American Revolution. The second and third—roughly $24 million each—were debts owed by the national and state governments to Americans who had sold food, horses, and supplies to the revolutionary forces. Congress agreed that the power and the authority of the new government would pay for the foreign debts. There were also other debts that consisted of promissory notes issued during the Revolutionary War to soldiers, merchants, and farmers who accepted these payments on the premise that the new Constitution would create a government that would pay these debts eventually. The war expenses of the individual states added up to $114,000,000, compared to $37 million by the central government. In 1790, at the recommendation of first Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton, Congress combined the state debts with the foreign and domestic debts into one national debt totaling $80 million. Everyone received face value for wartime certificates, so that the national honor would be sustained and the national credit established.