Robert Kennedy's  United States History Class

Subtitle


Learning Objective Two
Discuss the NEW British Imperial policy and its results

According to Parliament, they could legally pass or disallow any law they felt was necessary in the colonies. But, poor communication between England and her colonies meant that English control was elastic at best.  The British Imperial System lacked effective channels of communication. Information about American attitudes came from royal officials in the colonies and others with special interests to protect or advance, or from colonial agents and merchants in London, whose information was often out of date.

Serene in their ignorance, most English leaders insisted that colonials were uncouth and generally inferior beings.  The colonial assemblies learned that it was much easier simply to ignore royal instructions instead of trying to fight Parliament's right to make laws.  The English and the colonists had never hammered out an agreement on the precise extent of England's power over the colonies.

Nor had they argued out their differences openly. Instead they had fallen into a comfortable pattern of side-stepping serious conflicts. English authorities usually looked the other way when the colonials violated Parliamentary regulations.  The colonists went on quietly breaking the laws when they could without openly challenging Parliament's right to pass them.

What changed?  The end of the Seven Years War (aka French Indian War) 1754-1763.

Watch the video below to learn what were the
 Four Effects of the French Indian War

In 1763, George III appointed George Grenville to be the new Chancellor of the Exchequer.    

Grenville discovered that the American customs service was costing the English government nearly £ 8,000 a year in salaries but was collecting less than £2,000  in duties. Consequently,  the English  government was losing money on the colonies, even though English businessmen were not. In order to solve this problem, Grenville began his pursuit of the American dollar in several ways:  

  • First, he put several bills (Sugar and Stamp Acts) before Parliament. These were designed to produce revenue by enforcing duties on the American colonists.

  • Second, in April of 1764 he also got Parliament to pass a measure to tighten up the customs service to enforce mercantilism. This was done by the use of admiralty courts and writs of assistance.

Timeline of Revolutionary Era


The use of these administrative acts along with the Sugar Act passed on the same day (April 5, 1764) are known as the Grenville Acts. Included in the Grenville Acts was a third measure passed in April, 1764, the Currency Act, which was designed to eliminate colonial currency so it could not be used to pay debts in England.  These acts passed after 1763 damaged colonial commercial interests and offended colonial sentiments. After  1763, all conditions for a rebellion were at hand except one--a sense of unity among the colonies.

In 1764 and 1765, Grenville sponsored several acts which launched the new phase of the British Imperial System--the Grenville Acts of 1764 and the Stamp Act of 1765. The Grenville Acts of 1764 consisted of: 

(1) The Sugar Act, which was passed in England on April 5, 1764,

(2) an administration act that reactivated the use of admiralty courts and writs of assistance was also passed on April 5, and finally

(3) there was the Currency Act which was passed on April 17, 1764.

The Sugar Act is notable in that it was passed with the stated purpose of raising revenue. This inaugurated the new phase of the British Imperial policy.  The earlier English Navigation and Trade acts, including the Wool, Hat, and Molasses Acts, were designed essentially to protect English commerce from colonial competition and to regulate the flow of trade for the benefit of the British Empire.  The Sugar Act, or the American Revenue Act as it was called in England, was an attempt to raise money to alleviate the large war debt and the expenses of administering the colonial empire.

Specifically, the Sugar Act

(1) imposed new or higher duties on additional imports, including non-British textiles, coffee, and on Maderia and Canary wines;

 (2) doubled duties on foreign goods reshipped in England (under the Navigation Act of 1663) to the colonies; 

(3) added iron, hides, whale fins, raw silk, etc., to the enumerated lists; 

(4) and finally the act extended the Molasses Act of 1733 but reduced the 6 cents per gallon duty upon foreign molasses to 3 cents, the old rate on raw sugar was continued, and an increased duty was levied on foreign refined sugar.

Grenville estimated that the act, if efficiently administered, would return '45,000 out of the 350,000 needed to administer the American colonies. The Grenville Acts made it clear that the new duties would be enforced by the use of writs of assistance and admiralty  courts--thus, the end of "salutary neglect."   The admiralty courts were particularly resented by the colonists since the burden of proof to demonstrate innocence was imposed on the accused.  In other words, if someone was brought before these courts they were assume guilty.    

One of the more important effects of the Grenville Acts was that it greatly damaged the monetary situation in the colonies with its provision of enforcement of the Navigation and Trade acts.  The trade with the West Indies was in the colonists favor and provided a valuable means of income, particularly for the New England colonies.  Not only had colonial merchants been getting cheap molasses outside the empire, but they had found excellent markets for their beef, pork, wheat, flour, and lumber in the Spanish, Dutch, and French Islands.

The profitable rum trade seemed in danger, and as John Adams later declared: "It is no secret that rum was an essential ingredient in the American Revolution."   The net result of the act was that it reduced the amount of money going to the colonies from the foreign West Indies while at the same time it asked the colonists to pay more money in taxes in the form of hard currency.

Furthermore, the Grenville Acts were passed during a sharp economic recession in the Colonies.  Typically after most wars, there is downturn in the economy.  The French Indian War was no different.  In 1764 the colonists were complaining bitterly about: the drop in real estate values, the high prices of English manufactured goods, the scarcity of money and unemployment.  English commercial restrictions were blamed for these conditions, perhaps unjustly, and now the Sugar Act was one of several burdensome measures aimed at ruining colonial prosperity.  The fact that the taxes had to be paid in specie was considered a further burden on a people already suffering from a lack of money. Twelve days after the passage of the Sugar Act the Currency Act was passed. The Currency Act widened the scope of colonial opposition.

Aimed principally  at Virginia, which had issue S10,000 of legal-tender paper money during the French and Indian war, the act prohibited after September 1, issues of legal-tender currency in all the American colonies (thereby extending the ban already operative in New England since 1751).
To guard  against evasion, the Act nullified  all acts of colonial  assemblies contrary to its terms and provided  for a fine 100 ,000 and dismissal from office  (with ineligibility  for any government  position  in the future) of any colonial  governor who  assented  to legislative  acts in defiance of the  law.  

This act served to create a common  grievance uniting  the more commercial  northern  colonies with the agricultural  southern colonies. And not only was the Currency Act a severe deflationary measure, but it also threatened to destabilize the colonial economy.  The Grenville Acts raised important economic questions. But more significantly they started the development of important lines of communication and caused the colonists to examine their constitutional and political relationship with the mother country more closely than ever before.

The Grenville measures were protested at a Boston town meeting in May of 1764, where James Otis first introduced the issue of taxation without representation. and he also suggested a united colonial  response.

Three weeks later the Massachusetts House of Representatives organized a committee of correspondence to communicate with the other 12 colonies and suggest the idea of non-importation of English goods (a boycott of British goods).  

At first the non-importation  movement was not too effective. But the passage of the Stamp Act in March, 1765, brought it more support.  Nevertheless, in Boston, New York, and elsewhere merchants pledged themselves not to buy or use certain British goods; it was in this way that the idea of non-importation--which  was to become an effective colonial weapon--originated .  In November of 1766, as a result of the success of the  non-importation movement during the Stamp Act crisis, Parliament revised the Grenville Acts of 1764. Parliament dropped all the duties under the Sugar Act of 1764 except the tax on molasses which was lowered to one cent per gallon on all imported  molasses.  

Why did the English repeal  all the taxes and leave just the one cent gallon tax on molasses?  

The significance of the Grenville Acts was that they led to the first links of communication and pattern of defense between the colonies after 1763. These links of communication eventually led to independence under colonial unity.    The colonists learned by their actions during the Grenville Acts as well as the Stamp Act that they would have more success if they combined their efforts to defeat their common enemy.

This started a pattern of unity through communication and defense which culminated in the Second Continental Congress in 1775 and the Declaration of Independence  in 1776.

The Stamp Act of 1765: When Grenville announced the Sugar Act, he had served notice that yet another revenue measure was in store for the colonists. This was the Stamp Act, passed by Parliament in March, 1765.

The stamp tax was a device used in England since 1694. The act imposed a stamp duty on newspapers, pamphlets , legal documents, cards and dice. Grenville expected the act to bring in about 10,000 pounds a year 

Grenville regarded all these measures as reasonable and just. He was simply asking the colonists to pay their fair share for colonial defense, with a tax that was much lighter than the one levied in England . However , the law pinched colonial pocketbooks and menaced the local liberties they had come to assume as a matter of right (because of "salutary neglect").   Every time the colonists wanted to buy a commercial or legal document, a newspaper, pamphlet, playing cards, or dice this new act required that they purchase a tax stamp ranging in value from a half-penny.   

For example three shillings was a day's wage for an urban worker , the stamp tax was two shillings for an advertisement in a newspaper, five shillings for a will, and 20 shillings for a license to sell liquor.  Violators were to be punished by heavy fines and could be tried in the same jury less admiralty courts in which smugglers were brought. In the admiralty courts the burden of proof was on the defendant, who was assumed to be guilty unless he could prove himself innocent.  Trial by jury and the doctrine of "innocent until proven guilty" were ancient privileges which English people everywhere, including the American colonists, held dear.

No law  could have been better calculated  to arouse public opposition or to unify the colonies around  a single issue than the Stamp Act.   The Sugar Act had struck only at merchants and those associated with them; but the  Stamp Act affected every articulate and influential person in the colonies--lawyers, printers, editors, and tavern-owners.

An important aspect of the act was that the colonists had advance notice of about one year that it was coming.  In 1764, Grenville had asked the colonists for any suggestions to raise the needed money , but the colonists had none. It would have been impossible for them to work together in this point in time to collect the money.

Thus, taxation with representation would have been impossible for the colonists. And representation in Parliament was as undesirable to the colonists as it was to England. The Stamp Act was an attempt by Parliament to levy an internal revenue tax on the colonists without their consent.

The colonists objected because they felt Parliament had no right to levy an "internal" or direct tax on them.  An internal tax was a direct tax on the individual for goods and commodities used by him.  This power would give Parliament the powers to control the internal financial affairs of the colonists. The colonists objected to the English principal of "virtual representation" --representation of classes and interests rather than geographical representation . 

 The English parliamentarians insisted that the American colonies were represented in the same way as the cities of Liverpool or Birmingham , which elected no members of their own.  The colonists felt an "external" tax on trade was more permissible , but neither was desirable . The external tax would effect trade outside of the colonies and did not effect the colonists directly .  The colonists' reaction to the Stamp Act was violent. In voicing their opinions on the Act, the colonists did not confine themselves to polite protests. 

In May of 1765, Patrick Henry made a stormy speech in the Virginia House of Burgesses in which he warned George III to note the fates of Julius Caesar and Charles I, two other notable tyrants. Henry's Virginia Resolves might have remained a local matter had it not been for the colonial press .  Newspapers throughout the colonies printed Henry's resolutions, but perhaps because editors did not really know what had happened in Williamsburg, they reported that all five resolutions (only four) had received the Burgesses' full support. Several newspapers carried resolves that Henry had not even introduced . Hence , it appeared that Virginia had taken a very radical stand on Parliaments right of internal taxation.

Not to be outdone by Virginia, the Massachusetts assembly sent out a circular letter in June to the other colonial assemblies , proposing an intercolonial congress to meet in New York City in October to coordinate colonial opposition to the Stamp Act.  Nine colonies sent representatives to the Stamp Act Congress which was the first intercolonial gathering held since the abortive Albany Congress of 1754.  The first thing the Congress did was to draw up a protest to the Stamp Act. It was entitled the "Declaration of Rights and Grievances ." The document acknowledged the colonists' allegiance to the Crown.  The colonists claimed their rights as Englishmen: freedom from taxation except with consent.   At no point did the Congress threaten rebellion or mention the prospect of independence .  To put force behind their declaration the Congress suggested that the non-importation movement be supported until the Stamp Act and the Acts of 1764 were revised .

The suggestion was carried out beginning with New York, merchants in major ports signed agreements not to buy English goods.The decline in British exports by £ 300,000 from the end of 1764 to the summer of 1765 spoke more forcefully than colonial resolutions. During the summer, resistance to the Stamp Act soon spread from the assemblies to the streets as respectable men became agitators throughout the colonies. They set up an underground inter-colonial organization known as the Sons of Liberty for the purpose of resisting the Stamp Act.   The idea for the Sons of Liberty originated in Boston under the leadership of Sam Adams and spread rapidly to 12 of the 13 colonies. In Boston, Philadelphia, Newport, New York and Charleston, mobs organized by merchants rioted in the streets, coerced stamp distributors into resigning and burned the stamped paper.

On November 1, 1765, when the act went into effect, colonists almost everywhere suspended business in protest. When business was resumed, it was done without the use of stamps.  Thus the stamps were never distributed.Shaken by violence, the machinery for collecting the tax broken down, and trade with the colonies was off b 00,000, England was hard hit.   Merchants, manufacturers, and shippers suffered from the colonial non-importation agreements, and hundreds of laborers were thrown out of work.  Consequently, strong demands were made on Parliament for repeal of the Stamp Act.

After a hot debate, and encouraged by the King, Parliament in March of 1766 reluctantly repealed the Stamp Act.  The law was repealed simply because it could not be enforced against united opposition, and because English merchants and manufacturers suffered from a boycott of British goods.  However, English political leaders had to make it clear that the repeal of the Stamp Act was not a renunciation of Parliament's revenue-raising powers, so they passed the Declaratory Act.  The act asserted that Parliament had full power to make laws which would bind the colonists in any case.   With the rejoicing in America over the repeal of the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act was ignored and the colonists realized they had won a victory  by working  together.

This process of colonial unity continued from the Stamp Act all the way through the Coercive Acts of 1773 and eventually led to the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Each time England passed an act, the colonists were forced to work closer together in order to defeat it.

 When England passed the Townshend Acts of 1767 the same pattern of opposition, defeat of the act, and unity among the colonists developed. Once again the non-importation agreements which had been so successful in 1765 were revived. By 1769, trade with England had dropped off £500,000 and England again back down and repealed the Townshend Acts except for a one cent per pound tax on tea.  The tax was left on tea more as a mark of parliamentary authority than for any economic purpose.


The Colonies Organize to Resist Britain 


The Townshend Acts taxed goods that were imported into the colony from Britain, such as lead, glass, paint, and paper. The Acts also imposed a tax on tea, the most popular drink in the colonies. Led by men such as Samuel Adams, one of the founders of the Sons of Liberty, the colonists again boycotted British goods. 



Tension Mounts in Massachusetts



As hostilities between the colonists and the British mounted, the atmosphere in Boston grew increasingly tense. The city soon erupted in bloody clashes and later in a daring tax protest, all of which pushed the colonists and Britain closer to war.

VIOLENCE ERUPTS IN BOSTON

On March 5, 1770, a mob gathered in front of the Boston Customs House and taunted the British soldiers standing guard there. Shots were fired and five colonists, including Crispus Attucks, were killed or mortally wounded. Colonial leaders quickly labeled the confrontation the Boston Massacre.

Despite strong feelings on both sides, the political atmosphere relaxed some- what during the next three years. Lord Frederick North, who later followed Grenville as the prime minister, realized that the Townshend Acts were costing more to enforce than they would ever bring in: in their first year, for example, the taxes raised only 295 pounds, while the cost of sending British troops to Boston was over 170,000 pounds. North persuaded Parliament to repeal the Townshend Acts, except for the tax on tea.

Tensions rose again in 1772 when a group of Rhode Island colonists attacked a British customs schooner that patrolled the coast for smugglers. The colonists boarded the vessel, which had accidentally run aground near Providence, and burned it to the waterline. In response, King George named a special commission to seek out the suspects and bring them to England for trial.

The plan to haul Americans to England for trial ignited widespread alarm. The assemblies of Massachusetts and Virginia set up committees of correspondence to communicate with other colonies about this and other threats to American liberties. By 1774, such committees formed a buzzing communication network linking leaders in nearly all the colonies.


THE BOSTON TEA PARTY

In 1773, Lord North devised the Tea Act in order to save the nearly bankrupt British East India Company. The act granted the company the right to sell tea to the colonies free of the taxes that colonial tea sellers had to pay. This action would have cut colonial merchants out of the tea trade by enabling the East India Company to sell its tea directly to consumers for less. North hoped the American colonists would simply buy the cheap- er tea; instead, they protested dramatically.

On the moonlit evening of December 16, 1773, a large group of Boston rebels disguised themselves as Native Americans and proceeded to take action against three British tea ships anchored in the harbor. In this incident, later known as the Boston Tea Party, the“Indians” dumped 18,000 pounds of the East India Company’s tea into the waters of Boston harbor. 

THE INTOLERABLE ACTS

An infuriated King George III pressed Parliament to act. In 1774, Parliament responded bypassing a series of measures that colonists called the Intolerable Acts. One law shut down Boston harbor. Another, the Quartering Act, authorized British commanders to house soldiers in vacant private homes and other buildings. In addition to these measures, General Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America, was appointed the new governor of Massachusetts. To keep the peace, he placed Boston under martial law, or rule imposed by military forces.

In response to Britain’s actions, the committees of correspondence assembled the First Continental Congress. In September 1774, 56 delegates met in Philadelphia and drew up a declaration of colonial rights. They defended the colonies’ right to run their own affairs and stated that, if the British used force against the colonies, the colonies should fight back.

The Road to Revolution

After the First Continental Congress met, colonists in many eastern New England towns stepped up military preparations. Minutemen—civilian soldiers who pledged to be ready to fight against the British on a minute’s notice—quietly stockpiled firearms and gunpowder. General Thomas Gage soon learned about these activities. In the spring of 1775, he ordered troops to march from Boston to nearby Concord, Massachusetts, and to seize illegal weapons.

First Continental Congress


In order to debate a response to the Intolerable Acts, all American colonies except for Georgia sent delegates to
the First Continental Congress at Philadelphia. The Congress met in September 1774 and issued a Declaration of Rights and Grievances. When the Congress adjourned, it stipulated another Congress would meet if King George III did not meet the demands of the Declaration. When the Second Congress did meet, the military hostilities of the Revolutionary War had already begun, and the issue of Independence, rather than a redress of grievances, dominated the debates.



FIGHTING AT LEXINGTON AND CONCORD


 Colonists in Boston were watching, and on the night of April 18, 1775, Paul Revere, William Dawes, and Samuel Prescott rode out to spread word that 700 British troops were headed for Concord. The darkened countryside rang with church bells and gunshots—prearranged signals, sent from town to town, that the British were coming.


The king’s troops, known as “redcoats” because of their uniforms, reached Lexington, Massachusetts, five miles short of Concord, on the cold, windy dawn of April 19. As they neared the town, they saw 70 minutemen drawn up in lines on the village green. The British commander ordered the minutemen to lay down their arms and leave, and the colonists began to move out without laying down their muskets. Then someone fired, and the British soldiers sent a volley of shots into the departing militia. Eight minutemen were killed and ten more were wounded, but only one British soldier was injured. The Battle of Lexington, the first battle of the Revolutionary War, lasted only 15 minutes.


The British marched on to Concord, where they found an empty arsenal. After a brief skirmish with minutemen, the British soldiers lined up to march back to Boston, but the march quickly became a slaughter. Between 3,000 and 4,000 minutemen had assembled by now, and they fired on the marching troops from behind stone walls and trees. British soldiers fell by the dozen. Bloodied and humiliated, the remaining British soldiers made their way back to Boston that night. Colonists had become enemies of Britain and now held Boston and its encampment of British troops under siege.


THE SECOND CONTINENTAL CONGRESS 

In May of 1775, colonial leaders called the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia to debate their next move. The loyalties that divided colonists sparked endless debates at the Second Continental Congress. Some delegates called for independence, while others argued for reconciliation with Great Britain. Despite such differences, the Congress agreed to recognize the colonial militia as the Continental Army and appointed George Washington as its commander.


THE BATTLE OF BUNKER HILL 


Cooped up in Boston, British general Thomas Gage decided to strike at militiamen on Breed’s Hill, north of the city and near Bunker Hill. On June 17, 1775, Gage sent 2,400 British soldiers up the hill. The colonists held their fire until the last minute and then began to mow down the advancing redcoats before finally retreating. By the time the smoke cleared, the colonists had lost 450 men, while the British had suffered over 1,000 casualties. The misnamed Battle of Bunker Hill would prove to be the deadliest battle of the war.


By July, the Second Continental Congress was readying the colonies for war though still hoping for peace. Most of the delegates, like most colonists, felt deep loyalty to George III and blamed the bloodshed on the king’s ministers. On July 8, Congress sent the king the so-called Olive Branch Petition, urging a return to “the former harmony” between Britain and the colonies. E

King George flatly rejected the petition. Furthermore, he issued a proclamation stating that the colonies were in rebellion and urged Parliament to order a naval blockade to isolate a line of ships meant for the American coast

The Patriots Declare Independence

Despite the growing crisis, many colonists were uncertain about the idea of independence. Following the Olive Branch Petition, public opinion began to shift.

THE IDEAS BEHIND THE REVOLUTION 


This shift in public opinion occurred in large part because of the Enlightenment ideas that had spread throughout the colonies in the 1760s and 1770s. One of the key Enlightenment thinkers was English philosopher John Locke. Locke maintained that people have natural rights to life, liberty, and property. Furthermore, he contended, every society is based on a social contract—an agreement in which the people consent to choose and obey a government so long as it safeguards their natural rights. If the government violates that social contract by taking away or interfering with those rights, people have the right to resist and even overthrow the government. 


Yet the ideas of limited government and civil rights had been basic to English law since even before A.D. 1215, when the English nobility had forced King John to sign Magna Carta, or the Great Charter. Magna Carta acknowledged certain specif- ic rights of the barons against the king, including some rights to due process, a speedy trial, and trial by a jury of one’s peers. Its main significance, though, was to recognize that the sovereign did not have absolute authority, but was subject like all men and women to the rule of law. This principle was reaffirmed by the English Bill of Rights, accepted by King William and Queen Mary in 1689. To the colonists, however, various Acts of Parliament between 1763 and 1775 had clearly violated their rights as Englishmen. In addition to due process, a speedy trial, and trial by a jury of one’s peers, those rights included taxation only by consent of property owners, a presumption of innocence, no standing army in peacetime without con- sent, no quartering of troops in private homes, freedom of travel in peacetime, and the guarantee of regular legislative sessions.


Just as important were the ideas of Thomas Paine. In a widely read 50-page pamphlet titled Common Sense, Paine attacked King George and the monarchy. Paine, a recent immigrant, argued that responsibility for British tyranny lay with “the royal brute of Britain.” Paine explained that his own revolt against the king had begun with Lexington and Concord.


Paine declared that independence would allow America to trade more freely. He also stated that independence would give American colonists the chance to create a better society—one free from tyranny, with equal social and economic opportunities for all. Common Sense sold nearly 500,000 copies in 1776 and was widely applauded. In April 1776, George Washington wrote, “I find CommonSense is working a powerful change in the minds of many men.”


DECLARING INDEPENDENCE By the early summer of 1776, the wavering Continental Congress finally decided to urge each colony to form its own government. On June 7, Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee moved that “these United Colonies are, and of a right ought to be, free and independent States.”


While talks on this fateful motion were under way, the Congress appointed a committee to prepare a formal Declaration of Independence. Virginia lawyer Thomas Jefferson was chosen to prepare the final draft.


Drawing on Locke’s ideas of natural rights, Jefferson’s document declared the rights of “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” to be “unalienable” rights— ones that can never be taken away. Jefferson then asserted that a government’s legitimate power can only come from the consent of the governed, and that when a government denies their unalienable rights, the people have the right to “alter or abolish” that government. 


Jefferson provided a long list of violations commit- ted by the king and Parliament against the colonists’ unalienable rights. On that basis, the American colonies declared their independence from Britain. 


The Declaration states flatly that “all men are created equal.” When this phrase was written, it expressed the common belief that free citizens were political equals. It did not claim that all people had the same ability or ought to have equal wealth. It was not meant to embrace women, Native Americans, or African-American slaves—a large number of Americans. However, Jefferson’s words presented ideals that would later help these groups challenge traditional attitudes. In his first draft, Jefferson included an eloquent attack on the cruelty and injustice of the slave trade. However, South Carolina and Georgia, the two colonies most dependent on slavery, objected. In order to gain the votes of those two states, Jefferson dropped the offending passage.

On July 2, 1776, the delegates voted unanimously that the American colonies were free, and on July 4, 1776, they adopted the Declaration of Independence. The colonists had declared their freedom from Britain. They would now have to fight for it.




THE WAR

The Beginning of the War (1776 - 1778)

Catholics in the Revolution

The complex situation of Catholicism in Great Britain had results in their Colonies. At the time of the American revolution, Catholics formed approximately 1.6% of the total American population of the original 13 colonies. If Catholics were seen as potential enemies of the British state, Irish Catholics, subject to British rule, were doubly-damned. In Ireland they had been subject to British domination. In America Catholics were still forbidden from settling in some of the colonies. Although the head of their faith dwelt in Rome, they were under the official representation of the Catholic Bishop of the London diocese, one James Talbot. When War began, Bishop Talbot declared his faithfulness to the British Crown. (If he had done otherwise, Catholics in England would have been in trouble. Anti-Catholic sentiment still ran high.) He forbade any Colonial priest to serve Communion. This made practice of the faith impossible. This created sympathy for the Colonial rebels. The Continental Army's alliance with the French increased sympathy for the faith. When the French fleet arrived in Newport, Rhode Island, the colony repealed the Act of 1664 and allowed citizenship to Catholics. (This anticipated the provision of the Constitutional Bill of Rights which would strike anti-Catholic laws from the books.) After the war, the Pope created an American Bishop, John Carroll -- a descendant of the same Carrolls who had helped found Maryland -- and an American Diocese communicating directly with Rome.

Battle For Boston

Despite the British access to the ships, the town and the army were on short rations. Salt pork was the order of the day, and prices escalated rapidly. While the American forces had some information about what was happening in the city, General Gage had no effective intelligence of rebel activities.

On May 25, 1775, 4,500 reinforcements and three new generals arrived in Boston Harbor. The fresh leaders were Major General William Howe and Brigadiers John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton. Gage began planing to break out of the city.

On July 3, 1775, George Washington arrived to take charge of the new Continental Army. Forces and supplies came in from as far away as Maryland. Trenches were built at Dorchester Neck, extending toward Boston. Washington reoccupied Bunker Hill and Breeds Hill without opposition. However, these activities had little effect on the British occupation.

In the winter of 1775– 1776, Henry Knox and his engineers under order from George Washington used sledges to retrieve sixty tons of heavy artillery that had been captured at Fort Ticonderoga. Knox, who had come up with the idea to use sledges, believed that he would have the artillery there in eighteen days. It took six weeks to bring them across the frozen Connecticut River, and they arrived back at Cambridge on January 24, 1776. Weeks later, in an amazing feat of deception and mobility, Washington moved artillery and several thousand men overnight to take Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston. General John Thomas fortified the area. The British fleet had become a liability, anchored in a shallow harbor with limited maneuverability, and under the American guns on Dorchester Heights.

When General Howe saw the cannons, he knew he could not hold the city. He asked that George Washington let them evacuate the city in peace. In return, they would not burn the city to the ground. Washington agreed: he had no choice. He had artillery guns, but did not have the gunpowder. The whole plan had been a masterful bluff. The siege ended when the British set sail for Halifax, Nova Scotia on March 17, 1776. The militia went home, and in April Washington took most of the Continental Army forces to fortify New York City.


Ethan Allen and Fort Ticonderoga

The British had considered Fort Ticonderoga a relatively unimportant outpost in a conflict which had up to then been mostly based in Massachusetts. However, a veteran of the French and Indian War, Ethan Allen, had his eye on the fort. Allen had built up a Vermont territorial militia, the Green Mountain Boys, until it was an effective fighting force. Vermont was claimed by the New York colony, but Allen wanted more independence. In April of 1775, Allen was surprised by a visit by Commander Benedict Arnold of the Connecticut Militia. Arnold announced that he had been commissioned to seize the cannons of Fort Ticonderoga. A heated discussion between the two concluded with the agreement that the two militias would combine to attack the fort. This was for the best, for both forces together were small, well short of brigade strength. On May tenth, the combined American forces captured the fort. They seized the arms, including the cannons, which were then hauled by oxen all the way to Boston.

The Turning Point of the War

Despite the numerous defeats they faced in the early years of the war, the colonists were able to turn the tide around with several major victories.

New York and New Jersey.

In July, 1776, General William Howe and thirty-thousand British troops arrived at Staten Island in New York. The large army attacked and defeated General George Washington's American forces in the Battle of Long Island. After nearly having his entire army captured, Washington led a skilled withdrawal out of New York. Eventually the Continental Army was forced to set up camp in Pennsylvania.


Howe could have ended the war by pursuing Washington's forces. But Howe was very cautious and took almost no risks. He feared losing too many men so far from home. Britain hired German mercenaries (Hessians) to guard the British fort at Trenton. Howe took advantage of these replacements and decided to wait until spring to attack the Continental Army again.


Washington also took advantage of the situation, though from a different perspective. He figured that the Hessians would be weakest on Christmas night, after heavy feasting and drinking. On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington led his troops 9 miles, and across the Delaware River to ambush the Hessians. Crossing the river was difficult. A hail and sleet storm had broken out early in the crossing, winds were strong and the river was full of ice floes. The crossing took 3 hours longer than expected, but Washington decided to continue the attack anyway. As Washington predicted, the mercenaries were completely caught off guard and had little time to respond. Within just a over an hour, on the morning of December 26, the Continental Army had won the Battle of Trenton. The Americans had just 4 wounded and 0 killed against 25 Hessians Killed, 90 wounded and 920 captured. The victory increased the troops' morale and eventually led to re-enlistments. Some historians even speculate Trenton saved the revolution.


On January 2, the British came to re-take Trenton, and did so with heavy casualties. Washington once again led a clever withdrawal, and advanced on Princeton. At the Battle of Princeton, the Continental Army attacked the rear-guard of the British Army, and forced them to retreat from New Jersey.


The Battle of Saratoga

In the summer of 1777, British General John Burgoyne and General Howe agreed to attack the colonial Army from two sides and defeat it. Howe marched north, winning the Battles of Brandywine and Germantown and eventually capturing Philadelphia. But Burgoyne was not so fortunate. Delayed by natural traps set up by the Continental Army, his troops slowly marched from Canada to Albany. By September of the year, his forces reached Saratoga, where an enormous American Army attacked the troops. In October, General Burgoyne surrendered all his forces to the Americans. General Howe resigned his post, thwarted despite his victories in Pennsylvania.

The Battle of Saratoga proved to be the major turning point in the war. It persuaded France that America had to overthrow Great Britain, and French aid now was introduced to the colonists. The battle was also the last time the British would advance North. By the summer of 1778, following the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, all fighting would take place in the South.


Defeat of the Iroquois

The Iroquois Confederacy in its zenith had been the equal of the European Powers. But since the French and Indian war it had been in decline. The Tribes of the Confederacy disagreed on who to support in the Revolution. The Onedia and Tuscaroras supported the Americans, while the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and the Seneca supported the British. The Confederacy managed to stay together until 1777, when following the Battle of Saratoga, the 4 Tribes supporting the British began to attack American settlements across New York and Pennslyvenia.

A back and forth battle followed. The Iroquois would attack American Forts and Towns, then the Americans would burn Iroquois villages. In 1779 George Washington sent General Sullivan to destroy the Iroquois Nation. After defeating the Iroquois at the Battle of Newtown, Sullivan's army then carried out a scorched earth campaign, methodically destroying at least forty Iroquois villages. The devastation created great hardships for the thousands of Iroquois refugees outside Fort Niagara that winter, and many starved or froze to death. The survivors fled to British regions in Canada and the Niagara Falls and Buffalo areas. Thus ended the 700-year history of the Iroquois Confederacy.


Conclusion of the War (1778 - 1781)

After the loss at Saratoga, the French, traditional rivals of the British, offered their aid in the Revolution. The United States allied itself with France in 1778. Spain and the Dutch Republic also joined the American side, both lending money to the United States and going to war with Britain.

On the Seas

War broke out on the seas as well. Americans granted commissions to "privateers" to attack and destroy all British ships, whether they were military or not. One of the most famous privateers, John Paul Jones, scored several victories at sea for the Americans, even attacking the shores of Britain itself.


The War Heads South

An attempted treachery was defeated when its architect, British Major John Andre, was captured in September of 1780. Benedict Arnold, one of the heroes of Fort Ticonderoga, had been placed in charge of Fort Clinton, New York (now called West Point). In response to a bribe, Arnold neglected maintenance of the fortification, and was then preparing to turn the fort over to the British. After he had learned of Andre's arrest he fled to join the British army.

Britain turned its attention from the North to the South, where more loyalists lived. They were at first very successful, defeating the Americans at Waxhaws, Charleston, and Camden. Lord Cornwallis, commander of the British forces in the south, was faced with the challenge of chasing down the Americans. Nathanael Greene had split his army into two, leaving one under the control of Daniel Morgan. Morgan drew Banastre Tarleton, who was commanding one half of the British Army, to Cowpens where they were they decisively defeated the British. The other half of the British Army, still under control of Cornwallis, defeated the Americans at the Battle of Guilford Court House. However, it was a bloody victory for Cornwallis and he was forced to withdraw to Yorktown Virginia to regroup.

After hearing that the British were in Yorktown, and there was a French Fleet arriving, Washington took the Continental Army, along with French Troops, to Yorktown and surrounded the British. By mid September the town was under siege. Cornwallis was assured by British Commander-in-Chief, Henry Clinton, who was in New York, that he would be relieved shortly. However, the British relief force was defeated by the French fleet. The British continued to hold off for a few more days, but the allied army moved in closer and closer to Yorktown, and their cannons destroyed many of the British defenses. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered his entire army, over 7,000 men.

Scattered fighting continued, but back in Britain, the British were crushed by this defeat. Parliament voted to cease all offensive operations in "the colonies." Washington took his army to Newburgh, New York, where he stopped a mutiny in the Army.

At the conclusion of the war in 1783 large numbers of loyalists and their families relocated to the home country of England and in large part to Canada as well as to other British Colonies. They submitted claims for lost property and lands in America. Many of the claims were not accepted by the English government for lack of evidence of the losses or significantly reduced. The property and lands were acquired by the American communities and then resold to the highest bidders.

Due to the climatic effects of a 1782 eruption of an Icelandic volcano, the loyalists also experienced one of the coldest Canadian winters on record which contributed to poor crops in 1783-1784. Starvation, disease and hardship were rampant and many resolved to return to the United States despite the threats of retribution rather than subsist on their meager produce.


Treaty of Paris (1783)

The British lost hope of crushing the rebellion after Yorktown. They decided to negotiate peace with The United States, France, and Spain. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3rd, 1783. In it, the United States was recognized as an independent nation, with boundaries stretching from the Canadian border in the North, to the Mississippi River to the West, and the northern border of Florida in the South. Britain was forced to return Florida to Spain, but could still hold Canada. Congress was told to advise the states to restore property lost or stolen from the Loyalists. (However, many Loyalists had fled during the Revolution, and many of them did not return to claim their property.)


The Early Government of the New United States

The Articles of Confederation, formally the Articles of Confederation and Perpetual Union, was an agreement among the 13 founding states that established the United States of America as a confederation of sovereign states and served as its first constitution.  Its drafting by the Continental Congress began in mid-1776, and an approved version was sent to the states for ratification in late 1777. The formal ratification by all 13 states was completed in early 1781. Even when not yet ratified, the Articles provided domestic and international legitimacy for the Continental Congress to direct the American Revolutionary War, conduct diplomacy with Europe and deal with territorial issues and Native American relations. Nevertheless, the weakness of the government created by the Articles became a matter of concern for key nationalists. 

The Articles set up a Congress in which each state would have one vote regardless of population. Powers were divided between the states and the national government. The national government had the power to declare war, make peace, and sign treaties. It could borrow money, set standards for coins and for weights and measures, and establish a postal service. After approval by all thirteen states, the Articles of Confederation went into effect in March 1781.

One of the first issues the Confederation faced had to do with the the Northwest Territory, lands west of the Appalachians, where many people settled after the Revolutionary War. To help govern these lands, Congress passed the Land Ordinance of 1785, which established a plan for surveying the land. (See Geography Spotlight on page 72.) In the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, Congress provided a procedure for dividing the land into no fewer than three and no more than five states. The ordi- nance also set requirements for the admission of new states which, however, overlooked Native American land claims.

The Land Ordinance of 1785 and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 became the Confederation’s most significant achievements. Overshadowing such success- es, however, were the Confederation’s many problems. The most serious problem was that each state functioned independently by pursuing its own interests rather than considering those of the nation as a whole. The government had no means of raising money or enforcing its laws. Moreover, there was no national court sys- tem to settle legal disputes. The Articles of Confederation created a weak central government and little unity among the states.


Weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation

  • Congress could not enact and collect taxes.
  • Each state had only one vote in Congress, regardless of population.
  • Nine out of thirteen states needed to agree to pass important laws.
  • Articles could be amended only if all states approved.
  • There was no executive branch to enforce laws of Congress.
  • There was no national court system to settle legal disputes.
  • There were thirteen separate states that lacked national unity.