Forging the republic: revolution and the new nation

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Slide 1

Text: Forging the Republic: Revolution & the New Nation (1754-1820s)

[Image of colonial tapestry]

Audio: In this lecture, I'm going to cover the major military and political challenges from the late colonial period on through the early years of the republic.

Slide 2

Text: French & Indian War (1754-1763)

[Map of Prewar Boundaries, 1754, and Postwar Boundaries, 1763, of North American colonies)

Audio: During the 17th and 18th Century, there were several wars that began in Europe and naturally spilled over into the colonies of those powers in the western hemisphere. And I'm going to cover the last and most significance of them which was the French and Indian War which turned out to be a subset of the broader Seven Years War was which was actually a global conflict. To some extent you could legitimately call it the first world war. In any case, as shown on the map on the left-hand side here from 1754, the 13 Colonies under British rule had been developing with their western and northern boundaries constrained by the French Colonial Empire. And it was not uncommon for the French to cultivate friendships with nearby Native American tribes to harass these British Colonies. This was always a source of tension and in 1754 a major war was about to breakout and I want to say a little bit about how it started, how it was fought, and ultimately its consequences in building us towards the American Revolution that will break out in the 1770s. Ironically, it was none other than George Washington who would play a central role in the outbreak of the French and Indian War. At the time he was what was called a provincial officer meaning rather than being a regularly commission British officer he wore a British uniform as an officer for the Virginia Colony. And at the time, you see here on the map at the left the area with the diagonal hash marks including the Ohio River Valley, this was territory disputed between Great Britain and France, and George Washington was tasked by the governor of Virginia with leading an expedition into the Ohio River Valley, not to look for trouble, certainly not to start a war, but to signal England's presence, to signal England's interest in that area. Actually, to some extent it was more the interest of the Virginia's governor and investors who were looking to expand into that territory and make a profit. The British Government was actually, really very reluctant to pick a fight with the French. But anyway Washington was tasked with what was essentially a diplomatic mission, to find any French forces that might be in the area and just to tactfully but firmly indicate both Virginia and England's interest in that part of the world. What ended up happening, to make a long story short, was that there was an incident in the spring of 1754 where Washington and his Indian allies ended up engaging a French expedition in a brief skirmish in which Washington took the French force prisoner and Washington's Indian allies ended up slaughtering wounded French prisoners and Washington really lost control of the situation temporarily which did not reflect well on his leadership. The surviving French prisoners were allowed to return to their authorities and as this story got out it ended up being the flashpoint for the French and Indian War which helped then to bring on war in Europe and a global conflict. Now in fairness to George Washington, a major war was about to break out one way or another. Major alliances were being formed in Europe. The whole process was gradually in motion, so if it wasn't this incidence there would have been some other flashpoint that would have cropped up shortly thereafter. But I do bring this up because George Washington, while certainly nobody questioned his bravery but there was some concern among British authorities over how he'd handle this situation out in the Ohio River Valley at a place that was called Jumonville's Glen named after the French officer who was slaughtered by Washington's Indian allies. Today, it sits in Western Pennsylvania. So the French and Indian War gets underway and in its earliest stages, at least in North America, it goes rather well for the French. The British are a bit slow to adapt to a frontier style of fighting. As a matter of fact, to take us back to George Washington for a moment, eventually after Washington's expedition and into the Ohio River Valley, he ended up as a staff officer for a major British force that had been sent over from Europe to try to capture a French Fort in the vicinity of what is today, Pittsburgh. So it was heading back into the same disputed territory in the Ohio River Valley. And this force under the command of a British General Braddock ended up being ambushed by French and Indian forces. And although it was a British defeat, George Washington helped to keep it from being a complete rout. While having several horses shout out from underneath him in the midst of battle, Washington was able to organize British defenses after their commanding officer was killed and basically, make an orderly enough retreat that the entire British force was not slaughtered. But again, this is somewhat akin, if you're a baseball fan, to hitting 300 hundred on a team that finishes in the basement of your division. When you're performing well in a losing effort you're not going to get quite the same level of respect for it. But Washington will continue to serve in the Virginia militia during the war and gradually the war will go better for the British, in large part because the success of the Royal Navy makes it very difficult for the French to continue to bring troops and reinforcements across the Atlantic. So eventually, British forces with their Colonial American allies, fighting in their own units under overall British command, eventually this Anglo American partnership of British regulars and Colonial forces will ultimately win this war. One of the high points was the capture of Quebec shown there along the St. Lawrence River, one of the last major strongholds of the French. But this victory, in the French and Indian war, in many ways is actually going to complicate and ultimately poison relations between England and her 13 Colonies so it is going to be a bittersweet triumph. But just to finish covering the French and Indian war itself, by the time the conflict comes to an end in 1763 and a peace treaty is arranged to cover the entire Seven Years War on a global scale, what ends up happening as shown in the map on your right is that the French are essentially kicked off the mainland of the North American continent. Other than some fishing rights off of eastern Canada, the French have no more colonial possessions on the mainland of North America. So it is of course, at the face of it a huge victory for the British Empire and certainly by extension it would seem to be a real benefit for the 13 colonies because they no longer have that French threat on their western and northern frontiers. But as I am about to cover, it is not quite that simple. And I should also mention in its relevance to this lecture on U.S. history that George Washington emerged from the French and Indian war, at the time he was Colonel Washington, but he emerged from the war rather frustrated because he never got the regular commission in the British Army that he wanted. That would definitely have been a step up from being a provincial or colonial officer. And he was never allowed into that rather aristocratic elite and that's something that would definitely chafe on him. And as a matter of fact, some historians say that as you look at all of the circumstances that gradually moved the colonies towards rebellion against England, if George Washington had gotten that commission that he wanted and had gone on to be a career officer in the British Army, it is certainly possible that he never would have become a patriot when the revolution broke out. In fact he might have been a loyalist and actually fought against the rebellion. Now there are many factors to consider there and I don't want to get off onto a tangent but I just throw that out there for some food for thought.

Slide 3

Text: Consequences of French & Indian War

  • No French threat on the frontier to create a common enemy for colonists and British Empire

  • Possibility of enhanced westward expansion for colonist – not welcomed in London

  • Weakened relations between the Crown and the Thirteen Colonies thanks to a “culture clash” from military partnership

Audio: So let me turn to the significance of the French and Indian war as a factor moving this land down the road towards a rebellion against British authority. First of all to some extent, having a common enemy had given American colonists and British authorities a common cause, something to bind them together even if there were tensions on other levels. And now this overwhelming defeat of the French had to some extent removed the self-interest for these two groups to continue to cooperate with one another to at least the same degree as they had previously. And one of the issues that very quickly becomes a problem between many colonists and the British government is that with the 13 colonies growing so rapidly there was naturally a tremendous push for westward expansion. And there was a feeling that victory over the French now made that possible. As I'm going to be covering a little bit more in a moment, British politicians, the British crown generally had a different view on this subject. Because England had various trade agreements they were forming with Native American tribes on the frontier. Tribes that of course were not looking to have large numbers of white settlers pouring onto their lands. The British governments feeling that it was better to curb the expansion of the 13 colonies, keep things peaceful on the frontier so that you could continue to have commercial arrangements with Native American tribes and also quite frankly, so that these 13 colonies would not grow so powerful that there would be more of an impulse towards independence. The colonies would be more controllable if they were not allowed to have this breakneck expansion. So this is one issue that's going to represent a real collision between colonial interests and those of the mother country. And for the final consequence of the French and Indian war, I'd like to return to the subject of the military culture of the 18th century and how it affected Anglo American relations during the French and Indian war. In European armies the officer corps was almost entirely composed of aristocrats. And in case that's not a term you deal with regularly, an aristocrat is just someone who holds a formal title bestowed upon him by a monarch. And there are various levels of aristocrats, barons, dukes, counts, etc. and I don't pretend to know the exact hierarchy there. But again, you look at European armies of the 18th century and their officer class is almost entirely made up of aristocrats. And not only were these officers aristocrats but they tended towards the higher levels of the upper class. And promotions in these armies typically had to be purchased which added to the sense of a class barrier in how European army structured themselves. And needless to say this was not a meritocratic arrangement. It often times was not so much about your actual performance that got you ahead but about having connections and having the appropriate funds to buy your next rank. Now the British were not quite as extreme in these practices as other nations but the trend hold in their case. So meanwhile let's go back to a provincial officer such as George Washington. Now someone like Washington represented the upper crust of colonial society to the extent that you could really say it had an upper crust. In colonial America those who were the elites were non as the gentry class. They did not have formal titles by and large because the few British aristocrats who came to the 13 colonies tended not to survive its harsher conditions. But the gentry class of colonial America aspired to emulate their British counterparts. But even your wealthiest colonials such as John Hancock of Massachusetts or George Washington of Virginia were equivalent in resources to only the very lowest level of the British aristocracy. They paled in comparison and frankly they knew it. They often felt as though they were treated as yokels or rubes by British regular officers of the more elite background. So you can add to what you know about Washington here, a certain feeling of inadequacy that the colonial gentry class just did not measure up to its British counterparts. Now meanwhile, if we shift to the other half of the army, if you will, if we shift to the lower ranks, I mean today we call them the enlisted ranks but since European militaries relied heavily on forcing its citizens into the army, I can't really call their lower ranks enlisted. I mean, some did volunteer but in many cases it was a coerced arrangement. So if we look at the lower ranks of the British army and its colonial counterparts, the situation was almost completely reversed. In the case of European militaries it was common to both higher mercenaries and scape of the dregs of your own society to fill your manpower needs. So prisoners and men passed out in taverns and brothels might well find themselves conscripted into their nation's army or navy. In the case of the British, again there were free and respectable commoners who enlisted in the military with a sense of nationalism but I would like you appreciate the significant extent to which the other dynamics were at work. Those coerced individuals from the dregs of society. But conversely when you looked at the lower ranks in colonial units they were staffed by and large by individuals who were law abiding and modestly successful. So these colonials tended to be shocked by the behavior of British regulars and the discipline necessary to keep that group in line. The Red Coats as the British regulars were often called were known for disrespecting the Sabbath and curing at the drop of a hat, gambling incessantly and looking for opportunities to take advantage of colonial civilians. With this sort of element at work it was common for soldiers to be flogged and disciplined in other severe ways. So if British officers looked down upon their colonial counterparts, so too did colonial or provincial soldiers regard the average Red Coat as a heathen. So what I've summarized this as here on your slide is that there was a culture clash operating at both levels of the military chain of command. And that this culture clash even amidst an Anglo American victory in the French and Indian war, this culture class for those who served in these military units, it helped to heighten their sense that they did not have as much in common with each other as they thought. So a colonial veteran of this war may not feel quite the same affinity of the mother country by the time that his military experience was over.

Slide 4

Text: Prelude to Revolution

[Image of Boston Masacre]

Audio: With the next few slides, I'm going to try to summarize the causes of the American Revolution by looking at some key episodes that helped to move colonial Americans along a collision course with the British Empire. What you're looking at here in this slide is one of the more famous illustrations form the pre-revolutionary era. It was a woodcutting actually done by Paul Revere, a Boston silversmith, who also became a member of the Sons of Liberty. This was a patriotic society. It's Boston chapter was the most radical of the various Sons of Liberty chapters, and Paul Revere, of course, would make a famous ride to warn the Massachusetts countryside of the approach of British soldiers. He didn't make the longest or most significant ride in 1775, but he does end up being the most remembered of the individuals who performed that mission. So he occupies this special place, but what is depicted here is what patriots increasingly began to call the Boston Massacre, and today that label has really stuck. In many ways it does not qualify as a massacre, and I do want to talk about this event briefly because it is part of some of the folklore of US History. To set the stage a little bit, by the year 1770--so we're now about 7 years after the end of the French and Indian War--by 1770, the number of British troops in the Massachusetts city of Boston had risen to about 20% of the entire city's population, and this was in large part because Boston was rapidly getting the reputation for being the community where there was the most hostility to British rule, and, in fact, since Redcoats didn't make much money from their army pay, many of them were actually moonlighting by taking jobs to the local economy much to the consternation of native Bostonians, and tensions would come to a head in an incident in March, 1770 that some have called the Boston Massacre. On March 5 of that year while it was still quite frigid in Boston with plenty of snow and ice on the ground the crowd or mob-you call it a mob if you're kind of taking the British point of view on this extent. You call it a crowd if you're taking the patriot view, but a mob or crowd had gathered outside of Customs House guarded by Redcoats, and this crowd or mob was angry and sort of looking for an opportunity to vent its frustration against the British. So there were verbal taunts being issued at the soldiers, and eventually snowballs were thrown, and the sentries called for reinforcements, so a somewhat larger body of troops arrived-not a huge number-but reinforcements arrived, and somebody rang the town fire bell to gather more Bostonians. So now the situation was beginning to escalate, and some of the snowballs that were being thrown at British soldiers contained rocks, which were beginning to injure the Redcoats. Now to this day there is no one universally accepted account of what happened next. Somehow British soldiers started shooting into the crowd. Now nobody really argues that they were completely unprovoked in doing so, but exactly how this crowd behaved, exactly to what extent they go the British into shooting or somehow antagonized them into shooting, we're never going to get a complete agreement on it to this day, but once the smoke had cleared from the British firing into the crowd, five people laid dead or dying with another eight wounded. So now the growing patriot cause of this rather radical movement, which, by the way, in 1770, just to step back for a moment, even many of the most frustrated Colonials looking at British rule are not yet talking about complete independence. You know, you'd really have to go to your most radical hard core to find anybody in 1770 who's already willing to really talk about that. For the most part, it was about trying to renegotiate what the colonies' relationship with England would be, but to remain somehow in the British Empire, just to do it under better terms, but now this patriot cause had martyrs, thanks to the Boston Massacre. Now the British did show some good judgment for once and allowed the British soldiers involved in this incident to be tried in Boston courts as a gesture of faith in the Colonial legal system. In other words, rather than just packing them on a ship, sending them back to England where they would get a friendlier trial, they were put on trial in Boston, and John Adams, one of the most respected attorneys in Massachusetts, agreed to defend the British soldiers. Now this was a tricky thing because obviously it was an unpopular cause in Boston, and John's own cousin, Samuel, was one of the leading members of the Boston Sons of Liberty chapter, and Samuel Adams was one of the leading figures trying to stoke up this incident to get the maximum political mileage out of it, and now his cousin is defending the British soldiers. Now John Adams was not a fan of British policy at this point, but he still at this point considered himself a loyal subject of King George III, and he was also a very firm believer in the rule of law. He felt that everyone deserves a trial and that this thing needed to be settled in the courts rather than in the streets, and so he did defend those British soldiers rather well, and most of them were acquitted, and only two were convicted, and they ended up, they were convicted of manslaughter, but they ended up only being branded on their thumbs rather than being put to death or sentenced to prison. So it was pretty much a victory for John Adams in court and a victory for the rule of law, and actually, even John's cousin, Samuel, felt that even though the Sons of Liberty had in effect lost the trial, Bostonians were so upset that the British soldiers had gotten off easy, that someone like Sam Adams could argue that really in the big picture of things, this actually helped the patriot cause because now Bostonians were even more inflamed.

Slide 5

Text: Colonial Grievances

  • Restrictions of westward expansion

  • Taxation without representation

  • Conspiracy theory that gradual enslavement politically was the British goal

  • Inability to trade internationally

  • Connections and social standing mattered more than merit

Audio: With this slide, I'm going to give a very brief summary of what was a far more complicated scenario. But I want to give you a sense of what sort of frustrations and grievances that Colonial Americans held during the 1760s and 70s that helped to bring on the war. One of them I had already alluded to in the context of the French and Indian War and that would be the issue of Westward Expansion. During the same year that the French and Indian War came to an end in 1763, the British Crown declared that there was to be no further westward expansion beyond what was then the Frontier line, essentially what is today the Appalachian Mountains. So for many colonists who had been expecting that a victory over the French would open up economic opportunity and prosperity with the ability to move west, the British Government for the reasons that I outlined a little while ago said absolutely not. Now, the British never really enforced its Proclamation of 1763, so plenty of Colonists went west anyway, but they did so without legal sanction and policy definitely was creating more tension in this regard. Secondly, and I'm sure this expression has often been mentioned in high school history classes, since the Colonists had no seats in the British Parliament back in England, British policy especially taxation policy was taking increasing amounts of their income without Colonists having any formal say, any vote in the process. And so the slogan that was often used was taxation without representation. And many historians say that if the British had just given Colonists a token number of seats in Parliament, you know maybe 25-30 seats, that would have gone a long way towards killing this as a source of frustration. But the British sort of stumble along. They allow that situation to fester. There are a variety of taxes. For example, the Stamp Act, the Tea Act, the Townsend Acts. There are a variety of British laws that are designed to raise revenue because the British Government had racked up huge debts in fighting the French and Indian War. And British authorities feel like look, that war ultimately protected the 13 colonies so Colonists need to pony up and you know, pony up their share. And frankly, these taxes never amounted to terribly large sums of money anyway. And the British often didn't have much luck collecting the taxes. But for many Colonists it was more the symbolism of the situation. The fact again they were not represented in Parliament. And also, the British had never previously taxed them directly like this. And it just felt the rules were changing in a very dangerous way. And so taxation without representation helped to feed into the next point on this slide. Which is that gradually Colonists become more and more sensitive to the possibility that there is this insidious conspiracy out there. That what British authorities are gradually trying to do is to enslave the Colonists politically. That it certainly won't happen overnight because that would be too obvious, too controversial. But that with little steps here and there, this is the ultimate fate of the 13 colonies. For example, the land of Ireland as a British colony at this point in history had really been clamped down on quite harshly by the British Government. So for many Colonial Americans who read their newspapers, you know, they looked at what was taking place in Ireland, and they felt like Ireland is just in a more advanced stage of the kind of process that's being forced upon Americans here in this part of the world. So this conspiracy theory did gain a certain amount of traction. And learned Colonists who had studied, you know, the history of Political Philosophy and Government really felt that it was natural anyway. You know some of you have heard the expression absolute power corrupts absolutely. You know many Colonists to the extent that they thought about government, they really felt that government was at best a necessary evil and that political power has a natural ability to corrupt those who hold it. And so this made them particularly sensitive to British behavior. Another point as listed here on the slide is that because the colonies are obviously under British authority, the British can decide whom Americans trade with. And this limits your ability to, you know, to always get the best deal and maximize your profits because your trade has to benefit the mother country. So and to be fair to the British, Colonial Americans loved to be smugglers. I mean back when the French still had a large empire on the North American mainland, many New Englanders, for example, were smuggling with the French. And to some extent, this practice continued even after the French were defeated. But in any case, the inability to trade internationally, to trade freely was another source of frustration. And a final point that's important here is that if we look at the kind of Monarchial Society that Great Britain represented, and especially if you look back at life in the mother country in England, it was still very much a land where connections and social standing mattered more than your intelligence, mattered more than your performance in whatever your line of work might be. Now granted I mean Britain was, as far as major European countries go, Britain was the freest society of any of the major European powers. So ironically, the revolution that we're building towards here -- these Colonists are not going to rebel against the worst tyranny that Europe had to offer. They're actually going to rebel against the most progressive society at least among major European powers. Nevertheless, relatively speaking, the dominant values of British society were ones that made it difficult to achieve upward mobility. Because there was such a focus on, you know, your family name, the social class that you represented. There were all these expectations that those of a relatively higher class with were given a certain amount of respect and difference and they got all kinds of breaks that others did not enjoy. And this is increasingly frustrating to Colonial Americans. And so I think that's another important point that we have to consider.

Slide 6

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