American Revolutionary War

Causes & History

Until the end of the Seven Years' War in 1763, few colonists in British North America objected to their place in the British Empire. Colonists in British America reaped many benefits from the British imperial system and bore few costs for those benefits. Indeed, until the early 1760s, the British mostly left their American colonies alone. The Seven Years' War (known in America as the French and Indian War) changed everything.

Although Britain eventually achieved victory over France and its allies, victory had come at great cost. A staggering war debt influenced many British policies over the next decade. Attempts to raise money by reforming colonial administration, enforcing tax laws, and placing troops in America led directly to conflict with colonists. By the mid-1770s, relations between Americans and the British administration had become strained and acrimonious.

French & Indian War

Boston Massacre

Boston Tea Party

Colonialism

British Acts

The first shots of what would become the war for American independence were fired in April 1775. For some months before that clash at Lexington and Concord, patriots had been gathering arms and powder and had been training to fight the British if that became necessary. General Thomas Gage, commander of British forces around Boston, had been cautious; he did not wish to provoke the Americans. In April, however, Gage received orders to arrest several patriot leaders, rumored to be around Lexington. Gage sent his troops out on the night of April 18, hoping to catch the colonists by surprise and thus to avoid bloodshed. When the British arrived in Lexington, however, colonial militia awaited them. A fire fight soon ensued. Even so, it was not obvious that this clash would lead to war. American opinion was split. Some wanted to declare independence immediately; others hoped for a quick reconciliation. The majority of Americans remained undecided but watching and waiting.

In June 1775, the Continental Congress created, on paper, a Continental Army and appointed George Washington as Commander. Washington's first task, when he arrived in Boston to take charge of the ragtag militia assembled there, was to create an army in fact. It was a daunting task with no end of problems: recruitment, retention, training and discipline, supply, and payment for soldiers' services were among those problems. Nevertheless, Washington realized that keeping an army in the field was his single most important objective.

Campaigns

During the first two years of the Revolutionary War, most of the fighting between the patriots and British took place in the north. At first, the British generally had their way because of their far superior sea power. Despite Washington's daring victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey, in late 1776 and early 1777, the British still retained the initiative. Indeed, had British efforts been better coordinated, they probably could have put down the rebellion in 1777. But such was not to be. Patriot forces, commanded by General Horatio Gates, achieved a significant victory at Saratoga, New York, in October 1777. Within months, this victory induced France to sign treaties of alliance and commerce with the United States. In retrospect, French involvement was the turning point of the war, although that was not obvious at the time.

Between 1778 and 1781, British military operations focused on the south because the British assumed a large percentage of Southerners were loyalists who could help them subdue the patriots. The British were successful in most conventional battles fought in that region, especially in areas close to their points of supply on the Atlantic coast. Even so, American generals Nathanael Greene and Daniel Morgan turned to guerrilla and hit-and-run warfare that eventually stymied the British. By 1781, British General Lord Charles Cornwallis was ordered to march into Virginia to await resupply near Chesapeake Bay. The Americans and their French allies pounced on Cornwallis and forced his surrender.

Yorktown was a signal victory for the patriots, but two years of sporadic warfare, continued military preparations, and diplomatic negotiations still lay ahead. The Americans and British signed a preliminary peace treaty on November 30, 1782; they signed the final treaty, known as the Peace of Paris, on September 10, 1783. The treaty was generally quite favorable to the United States in terms of national boundaries and other concessions. Even so, British violations of the agreement would become an almost constant source of irritation between the two nations far into the future.

British Empire

During the 1760s and early 1770s, relations between the Thirteen Colonies and Britain became increasingly strained, primarily because of resentment of the British Parliament's attempts to govern and tax American colonists without their consent. This was summarized at the time by the slogan "No taxation without representation", a perceived violation of the guaranteed Rights of Englishmen.

The American Revolution began with rejection of Parliamentary authority and moves towards self-government. In response, Britain sent troops to reimpose direct rule, leading to the outbreak of war in 1775. The following year, in 1776, the United States declared independence. The entry of France into the war in 1778 tipped the military balance in the Americans' favor and after a decisive defeat at Yorktown in 1781, Britain began negotiating peace terms. American independence was acknowledged at the Peace of Paris in 1783.

The loss of such a large portion of British America, at the time Britain's most populous overseas possession, is seen by some historians as the event defining the transition between the "first" and "second" empires,[69] in which Britain shifted its attention away from the Americas to Asia, the Pacific and later Africa. Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, published in 1776, had argued that colonies were redundant, and that free trade should replace the old mercantilist policies that had characterized the first period of colonial expansion, dating back to the protectionism of Spain and Portugal. The growth of trade between the newly independent United States and Britain after 1783 seemed to confirm Smith's view that political control was not necessary for economic success.

Patriots

Patriots (also known as Revolutionaries, Continentals, Rebels, or American Whigs) were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule. Patriots represented the spectrum of social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. They included lawyers such as John Adams, students such as Alexander Hamilton, planters such as Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, merchants such as Alexander McDougall and John Hancock, and farmers such as Daniel Shays and Joseph Plumb Martin.

They also included slaves and freemen such as Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the American Revolution; James Armistead Lafayette, who served as a double agent for the Continental Army; and Jack Sisson, leader of the first successful black operation mission in American history under the command of Colonel William Barton, resulting in the capture of British General Richard Prescott.

Thirteen Colonies

Patriots (also known as Revolutionaries, Continentals, Rebels, or American Whigs) were those colonists of the Thirteen Colonies who rejected British rule during the American Revolution and declared the United States of America as an independent nation in July 1776. Their decision was based on the political philosophy of republicanism as expressed by spokesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Thomas Paine. They were opposed by the Loyalists who supported continued British rule. Patriots represented the spectrum of social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. They included lawyers such as John Adams, students such as Alexander Hamilton, planters such as Thomas Jefferson and George Mason, merchants such as Alexander McDougall and John Hancock, and farmers such as Daniel Shays and Joseph Plumb Martin.

They also included slaves and freemen such as Crispus Attucks, the first martyr of the American Revolution; James Armistead Lafayette, who served as a double agent for the Continental Army; and Jack Sisson, leader of the first successful black operation mission in American history under the command of Colonel William Barton, resulting in the capture of British General Richard Prescott.

Thirteen Colonies