The Revolutionary Period
VUS.4 ~ What were the political differences among the colonists concerning separation from Britain?
What factors contributed to colonial victory in the Revolutionary War?
In 1607, the Virginia Company of London founded Jamestown, the first permanent English settlement in North America. During the rest of the seventeenth century and the early eighteenth century, England proceeded to establish a total of thirteen colonies in North America. In 1608, Samuel de Champlain established a permanent French settlement Quebec on cliffs overlooking the St. Lawrence River in present-day Canada. Quebec became the heart of France’s fur-trading colonial empire in North America.
During the 18th century, rivalry developed in North America between England and France. This rivalry led to the French and Indian War (1754-1760), which was known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). The British won the French and Indian War and drove the French out of both Canada and the territories west of the Appalachian Mountains. After this war, England took several actions that angered the American colonies and led to the American Revolution. First, Britain issued the Proclamation of 1763, which prohibited the colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains. The British hoped this proclamation would: 1) Protect the Indians who had helped the English in their war against France, 2) Reduce conflict between the Indians and the American colonists; 3) Make it less expensive for the British army to protect the western region.
Furthermore, in order to win the war against France, the British government had gone greatly in debt. When the war ended in 1763, this debt amounted to £123 million and required annual interest payments of nearly £5 million. In addition, the British government had to pay the costs of the British troops, which it stationed in North America to protect the American colonists. For these two reasons Parliament, the British lawmaking body, passed a series of taxes on the American colonies. In 1764, Parliament passed the Sugar Act to offset part of Britain’s North American military expenses. The Sugar Act placed a customs duty or tariff on French molasses imported into the American colonies. A tariff is a tax on imported goods. The Stamp Act (1765) required Americans to purchase and use specially marked or stamped paper for newspapers, customs documents, wills, contracts, and other public legal documents. In short, the Stamp Act taxed all legal papers issued in the colonies. The Americans quickly opposed both of these taxes, but they particularly opposed the Stamp Act. The colonists argued that only a colony’s elected assembly could lay taxes on that colony. The phrase “no taxation without representation” became a popular slogan among Americans. Colonial resistance to the Stamp Act mounted to such an extent that Parliament repealed (did away with) the Stamp Act.
In 1767, Parliament tried once again to raise revenue (tax money) in the American colonies by passing the Townshend Acts. These laws placed duties or tariffs on glass, paper, paint, lead, and tea. American leaders vigorously opposed these new taxes. They again claimed Parliament had no right to tax the colonists, because Americans lacked representation in the English legislative (lawmaking) body. Parliament responded in 1770 by repealing all the Townshend duties except the tax on tea. At approximately the same time, the Boston Massacre took place, when British troops fired on anti-British demonstrators. The Boston Massacre was a clash in 1770 between British troops and a group of Bostonians in which five colonists were killed. The most radical Americans demanded that the British soldiers involved be charged with murder.
In 1773, Parliament passed the Tea Act, by which they tried to give a monopoly (complete control) over the American tea trade to the financially struggling British East India Company. The British hoped increased tea sales in the American colonies would save this company from bankruptcy. However, the American tea merchants and other colonial leaders believed the Tea Act was a British attempt to trick the colonists into paying the remaining Townshend duty on tea. As a result, in December 1773, a group of Bostonians disguised themselves as Indians, boarded vessels of the East India Company, and threw the tea cargo into Boston Harbor. This action was called the Boston Tea Party. Parliament was furious at this deliberate destruction of private property and passed laws to punish the people of Boston and the colony of Massachusetts.
Colonial leaders, who sympathized with Boston’s situation, called for delegates from all the colonies to gather in Philadelphia. In September 1774, the First Continental Congress met to discuss opposition to British policies. All thirteen colonies except Georgia sent representatives to this meeting, and it was the first time most of the colonies had acted together. Resistance to British rule in the American colonies mounted, leading to war. The Revolutionary War began in April 1775, when the “Minutemen” (members of New England’s militia) fought a brief skirmish with British troops at both Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts.
In June 1776, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee to draft a Declaration of Independence. Thomas Jefferson from Virginia, the youngest member of this committee, was given the task of writing this Declaration. On 4 July 1776, Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, which declared the thirteen American colonies to be independent states. In Jefferson’s words the Declaration declared, “That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States…that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved….”
Despite Jefferson’s inspiring words in the Declaration of Independence, the American colonists remained divided throughout the American Revolution. Generally, colonists fell into one of three groups concerning the issue of separation from Britain. First, the Patriots believed in complete independence from England. They were influenced by the ideas of such colonial leaders as the Virginian Patrick Henry, who once challenged the British by saying, “Give me liberty, or give me death!” The Patriots provided the troops for the American or Continental army, which was led by another Virginian George Washington. Second, the Loyalists, also known as Tories, remained loyal to Great Britain. They held this belief, because they wanted to continue the close cultural and economic ties between Britain and the American colonies. The Tories also believed that Parliament’s taxation of the colonies was justified to pay for British troops to protect American settlers from Indian attacks. The third group of Americans tried to stay as uninvolved in the Revolutionary War as possible. One can call this group the Neutrals. The Neutrals did not care which side won the war, as long as their families remained safe and their property secure.
The American Revolution dragged on until 1781. The American rebels ultimately won their independence, because the British government grew tired of the struggle soon after the French agreed to help the Americans. The Battle of Saratoga was the military turning point in the American Revolution. In 1777 at the Battle of Saratoga in the state of New York, the Americans won a major victory over the British. After this victory, Benjamin Franklin in 1778 successfully negotiated a Treaty of Alliance between the United States and France. (A treaty is a formal agreement between two or more countries, while an alliance is a treaty of friendship. Treaties and alliances are part of diplomacy or a nation’s dealings with foreign countries.) Later in 1778, France declared war on Great Britain. The War for American Independence, as it was known in England, grew increasingly unpopular among the British people. As the war dragged on, it simply lost popular support in Great Britain. As commander-in-chief of the Continental army, General George Washington avoided any situation that threatened the destruction of his army. In addition, Washington’s leadership had kept the army together when defeat seemed inevitable during the early years of the war. After 1778, French assistance greatly helped the American cause. The Americans especially benefited from the presence of the French army and navy at the Battle of Yorktown in October 1781. General Washington’s victory over the British army under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia ended the military phase of the war and firmly established the independence of the United States. Both diplomatic and military factors had contributed to the American victory in the fight for independence from Great Britain.
VA/US History Narrative 2