The American Revolution required patriot leaders to establish a coalition in favor of independence, to gain foreign recognition, and to ensure the survival of the army by avoiding decisive battle loses at the hands of the British army.
II. Toward War
A. Battles of Lexington and Concord
General Thomas Gage moved to confiscate weapons the patriots held. Militiamen awaiting the British at Lexington and Concord drove the troops back to Boston with heavy losses.
B. The Siege of Boston
Approximately 20,000 American militiamen gathered around Boston, effectively containing Gage’s forces within the town. For nearly a year the two armies stared at each other across battlements. The only confrontation occurred on June 17th when the British drove the American’s from their trenches atop Breed’s Hill. Despite the military loss, the Americans gained a moral victory as they lost half as many men as the British.
C. First Year of War
Both sides used a year-long lull in the fighting to plan their future strategies.
British leaders assumed, erroneously, that the Americans would not stand up to professional troops, that the English could fight a conventional war, and that military victory would achieve the goal of retaining the colonies’ allegiance.
D. Second Continental Congress
The Second Continental Congress quickly moved to establish a viable government. One of its most important decisions resulted in the creation of the Continental Army and the subsequent appointment of its generals.
The Congress unanimously chose George Washington as commander-in-chief of the army.
E. George Washington
George Washington, commander-in-chief of the army, had attributes essential to an American victory: moral integrity, physical stamina, and intense patriotism.
The arrival of American cannon from Ticonderoga in March 1776 convinced Sir William Howe to evacuate Boston.
III. Forging an Independent Government
A. Varieties of Republicanism
Three definitions of republicanism emerged in the United States: one based on classical political thinking, one that emphasized individuals’ pursuit of rational self-interest, and one that called for broad popular political participation.
B. Common Sense
Thomas Paine stridently attacked English mistreatment of the colonies, and he unequivocally advocated creation of an independent republic. His popular pamphlet helped many Americans accept separation from Britain.
Congress began debate on Richard Henry Lee’s resolution calling for independence from England and directed a five-man committee to draft a declaration of independence. The committee assigned the task of writing the declaration to Thomas Jefferson.
C. Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence
Congress approved Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, which contained a list of grievances against King George III and a stirring statement of American political ideals.
D. Colonies to States
Shortly before adopting the Declaration, Congress encouraged individual provinces to replace their colonial charters with state constitutions. Reflecting their colonial experience, writers of state constitutions were primarily concerned with the distribution of and limitations on government power.
Most state constitutions limited the power of the governor and expanded the power of the legislature. In addition, most state constitutions broadened the base of American government by lowering property qualifications for voting
E. Limiting State Governments
Framers of state constitutions put deliberate and clear limits on the powers of government, with some having formal bills of rights. More emphasis was placed on preventing tyranny than on making state governments effective wielders of political authority.
F. Articles of Confederation
The Articles of Confederation established a weak, unwieldy, sometimes inefficient national government.
G. Funding a Revolution
The British were able to fund their war efforts with a well-developed fiscal-military state. The newly created United States had no such state, and finances posed a constant problem. Congress borrowed from the Dutch, Spanish, and French and eventually printed paper money, or Continentals, which ultimately proved worthless.
H. Symbolizing a Nation
Congress devised an array of symbols and ceremonies to embody the new nation, as promoting a sense of “we” in the everyday interactions of ordinary citizens was one of Congress’ most crucial tasks.
IV. Choosing Sides
Those who became active revolutionaries constituted about forty percent of the population and came primarily from those who had dominated colonial society.
About twenty percent of Americans recognized dangers in resistance and remained loyal to England. One thing that loyalists had in common was their opposition to men who became patriot leaders.
Another forty percent chose to be neutral and, along with loyalists, suffered persecution at the hands of the patriots.
E. Native Americans
The British victory over France in 1763 destroyed the Indians’ most effective means of maintaining their independence: playing one side off the other. In new times Indians found it difficult to develop new methods, and while the Colonists courted them, most native villages either remained neutral or aligned themselves with the British due to longstanding grievances with American colonists flooding the backcountry.
F. African Americans
Colonies with the highest percentages of African Americans expressed the lowest support for the revolution.
Slaves generally sought to escape their bondage by supporting the English. Lord Dunmore’s Proclamation offered freedom to slaves and indentured servants who left their patriot masters and joined the British forces.
V. The Struggle in the North
A. New York and New Jersey
The Americans faced potential disaster in defending New York. Although Washington deserted the city, he managed to hold the core of the army together.
British plundering of New Jersey rallied many reluctant Americans to the patriot cause and convinced Washington to strike. Victories at Trenton and Princeton cheered American spirits as the army settled in for the winter.
B. Campaign of 1777
General John Burgoyne planned a three-pronged invasion of New York that required close cooperation between all commanders but gave Burgoyne the glory.
Ignoring Burgoyne's plan and operating independently, Howe moved against Philadelphia in 1777, but logistical delays and American resistance prevented him from gaining any real advantage when he captured the city in September.
C. Iroquois Confederacy Splinters
The Battle of Oriskany on August 6, 1777, revealed a split in the three-hundred-year-old Iroquois Confederacy. Despite pledges of neutrality, several tribes supported the British; others fought for the Americans.
D. Burgoyne’s Surrender
General John Burgoyne suffered a disastrous defeat in 1777. He hoped to divide the colonies by marching through New York, but he was forced to surrender with six thousand men near Saratoga on October 17.
E. Franco-American Alliance of 1778
The victory at Saratoga led to French recognition of American independence, and a Treaty of Alliance brought France into the war in support of the new nation.
VI. Battlefield and Home Front
A. Militia Units
“Citizen soldiers” manned the revolutionary army in the first few months of the war only, as they shortly returned home to their farms. They then re-enlisted only if the contending armies neared their farms and towns.
B. Continental Army
The Continental Army was made up primarily of young, single, and propertyless men who signed up for long periods or for the duration of the war. The army also included immigrants and, after Lord Dunmore’s proclamation, Congress decided to allow the enlistment of African Americans.
Women worked as cooks, nurses, and launderers for which they received rations and low wages.
C. Officer Corps
Officers developed a powerful sense of pride and commitment to their cause.
D. Hardship and Disease
Life in the American army was difficult for everyone, but enlisted men suffered more hardships than officers.
Diseases often spread thorough the army. In 1777, Washington ordered that the entire regular army and all new recruits be inoculated for smallpox.
E. Home Front
Women had to assume additional responsibilities to keep farms running during the war.
Americans had to endure shortages of necessities as well as severe inflation.
VII. The War Moves South
A. South Carolina and the Caribbean
Charleston fell in May 1780, but the English never really established control over South Carolina, and they remained vulnerable to the French navy. After 1778, the French navy picked off British Caribbean islands one by one.
B. Greene and the Southern Campaign
Nathanael Greene assumed command of American forces in South Carolina, and he instituted effective policies toward the British, loyalists, and Indians.
C. Surrender at Yorktown
Lord Cornwallis led his troops into Virginia and encamped at Yorktown, where American and French operations forced him to surrender.
As a result of Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown, the North ministry fell from power and Parliament voted to cease offensive operations and to authorize peace negotiations.
Washington defused the “Newburgh Conspiracy” and at war’s end formally resigned his commission as commander-in-chief. As a result of such actions, Washington established the precedent of civilian control of the American military.
Over 25,000 American men lost their lives in the war, the South’s economy was shattered, and indebtedness soared.
VIII. Uncertain Victories
With the American victory the British turned their attention to their most prized American possession: Jamaica. Jamaica produced two-fifths of Britain’s sugar and nine-tenths of its rum. With the British distracted at Yorktown, the French sought to renew its influence in the Caribbean, but the British proved victorious at the Battle of the Saintes in April 1872.
Treaty of Paris
The war ended with a treaty signed on September 3, 1783. England recognized American independence; accepted the Atlantic Ocean, the Mississippi River, Canada, and Florida as the American boundaries; and gave up fishing rights off of Newfoundland.