The Revolutionary War

What could stop a group of 13 colonies from remaining colonies from being a part of one of the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful empires on Earth? From hindsight, the answer seems obvious - what else but the unjust rule of the British Empire!? But back then, things weren't so black and white.

Summary of the Causes:

Back in the old days (and when I say old, I mean older than my great great great grandmother's great great great grandmother), life was pretty simple. You lived in a pretty small island called Great Britain, paid huge taxes to a big group of people called Parliament, had a small farm with your wife and six kids (most of them being yours).

Then you find out that there's a big, BIG place called America where you don't have to pay those huge taxes to those people in Parliament, and both you and your six kids can have big, BIG farms. That sounds better, right? You're happy in this 'America', and you're still an Englishman at heart.

And you still remember the biggest reason why you came here - almost no taxes! But that guy you called King back in England (and technically still do in America) and those rich folks called Parliament want to tax you as heavily as before. Are you going to take that!? If you said yes, you would have been a loyalist. If you said no, you're a true patriot!

Of course, taxes aren't the only reason why the American Revolution started, though it was one of the biggest factors involved.

Causes of the American Revolution: 

It all began in 1764. People in British North America traditionally (for almost two hundred years) paid taxes much lower than their counterparts in London. Everything changed after the French and Indian War. In battles like the Battle of Fort Beauséjour, the soldiers were colonists led by British officers. It's for this reason that most of the casualties were colonists. The colonies rightfully viewed themselves as having spent the blood and effort for the benefit of the British Empire.

Meanwhile, the British also rightfully viewed themselves as those who had spent the money, ships, and officers necessary for the victory over France. But they were now in debt. Very much in debt, in fact. In order to continue the war, the British government borrowed a looooooot from British and Dutch bankers. In fact, the national debt practically doubled from £75 million in 1754 to £133 million in 1763.

While this happened, British soldiers had to occupy the new (hostile) lands of former New France. Parliament passed the Stamp Act in March 22, 1765, which imposed direct taxes on the colonies for the first time starting November 1. People in the colonies argued that their rights as Englishmen meant that they should not receive taxes because they had no representation in Parliament. On the other hand, they did not want representation, arguing 'local circumstances' disallowed it. The Act could not be enforced because of civil resistance, including some tarring and feathering that occurred in the colonies. In addition, there was an organized boycott of British goods.
You might find this in
your history textbooks. It's a
1774 British propaganda print
showing the tarring and
feathering  of John Malcolm,
 not just a political cartoon.

In fact, the problem with the Stamp Act was not that the colonies didn't want taxation, which is completely untrue. Colonial governments existed, and where governments exist, taxation must too. These governments relied on many taxes, like poll, property, an excise taxes. The problem was that these were taxes from the British Parliament, which was very far away. A certain popular tactic was attacking (or threatening to attack) the British tax collectors everywhere in the colonies. Some stamp commissioners was actually tarred and feathered [1], but it was popular in the 18th century against tax collectors in Great Britain.

Thomas Gage, commander-in-chief of British forces in North America had a difficult time trying to persuade colonial assemblies to pay for quartering of troops on the march during the French and Indian War. So along with the Stamp Act came the Quartering Act of 1765, around two acts of British Parliament for the local governments to provide British soldiers with any needed accommodations or housing, also required colonists to provide food for any British soldiers in the area. This was completely unnecessary, since there was no standing army that needed to be in British North America.

The Stamp Act was repealed, of course, in March of 1766, around a year later, after a change in government. However, the same government pushed out the Declaratory Act on March 18 of the same year, arguing that "the said colonies and plantations in America have been, are, and of right ought to be, subordinate unto, and dependent upon the imperial crown and parliament of Great Britain."

The new act caught colonists differently. Some were busy celebrating the repeal of the Stamp Act. However, many noticed that its contents were shared by the Irish Declaratory Act, and everything was matched verbatim from the Irish act, which had put Ireland in 'bondage' to Britain. James Otis, Patrick Henry, and Sam Adams, among others argued this violated their liberty. It implied others acts would be coming to America.

By 1767, Parliament passed the Townshend Acts, which taxed many new items. Eventually, most were repealed except the tax on tea. The next year, violence broke out in Boston, and 4000 British troops were sent to occupy the city. The Boston Massacre occurred on March 5, 1770. British soldiers killed five men and injured six others when firing on a crowd throwing rocks and other items at them.

The (British) East India Company (BEIC) was experiencing financial difficulties in 1773. To help shore up their finances, the British tried increasing tax sales by exempting the BEIC from tea taxes and appointing certain merchants to sell untaxed tea in the Tea Act of May 10, 1773. Several colonists, many having dressed themselves as Native Americans, destroyed an entire shipment of tea in defiance of the Tea Act. They threw the tea into Boston harbor, ruining the tea, after they had boarded the ships. This is what we call the Boston Tea Party, which happened on December 16, 1773.

With nobody being punished for the Boston Tea Party, Parliament ordered Boston harbor closed until some paid for the tea. It went on to pass the Intolerable Acts, removing Massachusetts' self government and historical rights. They also included another Quartering Act. Starting on September 5, 1774, the First Continental Congress was attended by 56 delegates from 12 colonies (without Georgia). Their appeal to stop the enforcement of the Intolerable Acts failed, and it was dissolved on October 26, 1774.

The Revolution Begins!

Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion in February 1775. Thomas Gage was ordered to disarm rebels and arrest their leaders on April 14. On April 18, 1775, he sent 700 men to take munitions from Concord. Paul Revere and other riders alerted the countryside. When the British entered Lexington, they found 77 Minutemen. They shot at each other, killing many Minutemen, before moving on to Concord, where several companies were routed at the North Bridge by 500 Minutemen. While they retreated, thousands of militamen attacked them on the roads. The war had begun with the Battles of Lexington and Concord.

The Second Continental Congress met the next year, on May 10, 1775, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Continental Congress attempted to reconcile with the British Parliament by giving the Olive Branch Petition on July 8. It was too late, however. After a year of debate, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence on a day we all know very well - July 4, 1776.
Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia
Throughout another whole year of more and more debate, Congress sent the Articles of Confederation for ratification on November 15, 1777. The Congress tried to lead the nation through the war with borrowed money and no taxes. The last state to sign the Articles of Confederation were the delegates of Maryland on March 1, 1781.

Battles of the Revolution:

At the Battle of Bunker Hill, William Howe captured the Charlestown Peninsula on June 17, 1775 with around 4,500 more British soldiers. The British lost around a thousands soldiers. In July 1775, General Washington came to the areas around Boston to organize the Continental Army. He required more gunpowder. Washington placed heavy cannons from Fort Ticonderoga on Dorchester Heights to overlook the British forces, whom fled on March 17, 1776 to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Several attempts were made by the Americans to push north and take Quebec, but they all failed.

Still, Benedict Arnold's invasion of Quebec in 1776 (and his fallback towards Fort Ticonderoga) delayed a full-scale British counteroffensive until Saratoga in 1777. Saratoga is possibly the most important battle throughout the course of the American Revolution, only overshadowed by Yorktown.

General Howe captured Staten Island and Long Island, then sieging the Brooklyn Heights. Washington then withdrew his entire army across the East River on the night of August 29-30 without losing anything. Howe took control of New York City on September 15, forcing an American withdrawal to Harlem Heights. Here they forced the British back. General Clinton then took Newport, Rhode Island.

Cornwallis chased Washington around New Jersey, but Howe forced Cornwallis to stop, and Washington escaped across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Congress moved further inland. Washington stealthily crossed the Delaware on the night of Christmas, capturing around a thousand surprised Hessians at the Battle of Trenton. Washington then forced Cornwallis back, and Howe gave up on New Jersey, despite Howe's huuuuuuge advantage in numbers.

Battle of Saratoga:

In 1777, John Burgoyne led an expedition from Quebec to isolate New England from the other colonies. He captured Fort Ticonderoga in early July, but was slowed down by American militias. When Benedict Arnold approached, the other British column fell apart and returned to Quebec. Burgoyne surrendered to the
Saratoga Setup
Americans on October 17, ending the Battle of Saratoga. France began its open alliance with the Americans.

Howe managed to get closer to Pennsylvania, and the Congress moved further inland (again). Washington's army remained at Valley Forge in December 1777, around 20 miles from Philadelphia. They remained here for six months. Meanwhile, Baron von Steuben supervised a training program at Valley Forge to introduce the latest Prussian organization and tactics. Incompetent General Howe of the British forces was finally replaced by General Clinton. France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic all joined in by declaring war on Britain.

After Saratoga, the British accepted the original American demands. They repealed any taxes on tea and disallowed taxes on colonies without consent. A commission was formed for negotiation with the Continental Congress to suspend objectionable acts, issue pardons, and declare the end of war. The Congress refused negotiations until American independence was acknowledged.

Clinton launched an invasion of Georgia on December 29, 1778, successfully capturing Savannah and repelling a Franco-American attempt to retake on October 9, 1779. Clinton continued on to capture Charleston and most of the southern Continental Army on May 12, 1780. The rest of the southern army tried to withdraw to North Carolina, but they were defeated by Lieutenant Tarleton at the Waxhaws on May 29, 1780. Cornwallis took over the British army, and Horatio Gates came guide the Americans. Gates lost at the Battle of Camden in South Carolina, though, restoring Georgia and South Carolina to Britain temporarily. However, Cornwallis failed to take North Carolina.

Meanwhile, the new general in the south, Nathanael Greene, replaced General Gates and began seeking reinforcements while refusing to battle with Cornwallis. In the Battle of Guilford, Cornwallis defeated Greene but lost around a quarter of his army. In addition, less Loyalists were joining, further harming his cause. He continued his expedition north to try and take Virginia. General Lafayette had been sent to stop Benedict Arnold and later Cornwallis, too, and he followed Greene's example by avoiding large-scale battles but still getting reinforcements.

Battle of Yorktown:

Battle of Yorktown Cornwallis' Surrender
General Clinton also refused to support Cornwallis, since he felt that Virginia was a large disease-ridden (primarily malaria from the swamps) hostile area that couldn't be put down with the few resources available. Clinton wanted to continue fighting in the north, areas that he thought held many Loyalists. Cornwallis fortified Yorktown and awaited the Royal Navy. However, the entire French navy moved to surround the Yorktown Peninsula in Virginia, and Washington moved his army south. The British fleet sent a small flotilla under Admiral Graves, which failed to achieve victory against the French at the Battle of the Chesapeake, stopping Cornwallis' escape. The Battle of Yorktown had begun.

The combined Franco-American force of 18,900 men besieged Cornwallis in early October for several days. Cornwallis surrendered his whole army of over 7,000 men on October 19, 1781, when the British fleet at New York attempted to rescue him. In addition to other British failures, like the Franco-Spanish successes in taking several West Indian islands, the loss of Minorca on February 5, 1782, and Gibraltar appearing close to surrender.

Peace again! End of the War:

On February 27, 1782, Parliament voted to stop all offensives in America and to attempt peace. On March 20, Prime Minister Lord North resigned and was replaced by the liberal Whigs.

The Whigs accepted American independence. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, ending the war between Britain and the U.S. There were ten articles:
  1. Britain acknowledges the United States to be free, sovereign and independent s
    Treaty of Paris Negotiations
    tates. The British government relinquish claims to the Government, property, and territorial rights of the U.S.
  2. The boundaries between the United States and British North America were established
  3. Fishing rights were granted to American fishermen in the Grand Banks, off the coast of Newfoundland, and in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence
  4. Lawful contracted debts were to be paid to creditors on either side
  5. The United States will prevent future confiscations of the property of Loyalists
  6. Prisoners of war on both sides are to be released
  7. All property of the British army (including slaves) now in the United States is to remain and be forfeited
  8. Great Britain and the United States are each to be given perpetual access to the Mississippi River
  9. Territories captured by Americans subsequent to the treaty will be returned without compensation
  10. Ratification of the treaty is to occur within six months from its signing.
The Treaties of Versailles ended the British wars with the Dutch, French, and Spanish. France got Tobago, Senegal, and small territories in India with huge financial losses, leading to the French Revolution. The Dutch got nothing. The Spanish conquered British West Florida and Minorca, but they lost Gibraltar.

The American Revolutionary War was finally over. A new chapter had begun for America.

[1] "The Stamp Act Riots & Tar and Feathering." PBS. PBS, 2015. Web. 04 Aug. 2015.

You Might Also Like