The American Revolution

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The American Revolution

EQ: What were the most important turning points of the American Revolution against England?
Mounting Tension
New Enlightenment ideas about government led to discontent among many people under European monarchies. People living in Europe didn’t even have it the worst, though. Conquered lands that were ruled by European governments, called colonies, also had to follow the laws of monarchs.On top of having no political say, colonies were usually exploited (taken advantage of) for the economic gain of the ruling country. For example, England did not let the American colonies trade with other countries. This monopoly (only one supplier) on trading with colonies was helpful for European countries, but bad for the colonies.

In 1765, with many Enlightenment ideas brewing, King George III of England and Parliament passed the Stamp Act. It required American colonists to pay for stamps on pretty much anything written (newspapers, legal documents, etc.). Outraged, Americans protested against the Stamp Act and boycotted (refused to buy) many English products. Parliament decided to repeal the Stamp Act in 1766.

The next year, however, Britain passed the Townshend Acts. These acts imposed taxes on lots of different materials (like glass, paper, and tea) when they came to America. Colonists complained about these 1767 taxes with the saying “no taxation without representation.” Again, American colonists boycotted English goods. Some riots even occurred in Boston in 1768, which led to the stationing of “redcoats” (British soldiers) there.

The stationing of British troops in Boston led to more tension between British and Americans. The British soldiers weren’t paid well, so they looked for second jobs in Boston. One night in 1770, the redcoats and colonists got in a fight over jobs. The British soldiers ended up firing on the colonists, killing five. This event was known as the Boston Massacre, seen as a British attack on defenseless civilians.

A few years later, in 1773, Britain passed a new act called the Tea Act. Though the East India Company had many goods from trade with India, the American boycotts had hurt their sales. The Tea Act got rid of all taxes on British tea in America, making it much cheaper than American tea. The British thought this would increase sales for the East India Company, but instead it led to protests in America. In Boston, a group of colonists dressed up as Native Americans snuck onto British ships. They dumped 18,000 pounds of tea into the Boston Harbor. This became known as the Boston Tea Party.

King George III was furious after the Boston Tea Party. To keep control of the American colonies, King George passed the Intolerable Acts in 1774. The Intolerable Acts shut down the Boston Harbor, allowed British soldiers to stay in uninhabited buildings owned by colonists (called quartering), and made a British general governor of Massachusetts. The new governor kept Boston and the rest of Massachusetts under control with his military.

In response, the American colonies all decided to meet. This meeting in Philadelphia was called the First Continental Congress. They demanded that, in spirit with Enlightenment thinkers, they had a right to decide how their government ran. The First Continental Congress stated that if the British used force against the colonies, they would fight back.

The American Revolution

EQ: What were the most important turning points of the American Revolution against England?
The War, 1775-1778
Many Americans prepared to fight against the British, and local militia (armed civilians) was known as “minutemen,” because they were prepared to fight “at a moment’s notice.” The first opportunity was in 1775, when British troops marched to Concord to destroy military supplies. Paul Revere, a silversmith, rode around warning colonists that the British were coming. 700 British soldiers found about 70 minutemen waiting for them at a town calledLexington. The troops fired on each other for 15 minutes, which signaled the start of the war. The British marched on to Concord but found no military supplies. On the British march back to Boston from Concord, thousands of minutemen had gathered and fired on them. Many British were killed, and the Battles of Lexington and Concord were an American victory.

Later in the year, Americans were laying siege to Boston, where British troops were stationed. The Americans had positions along several hills, and the British attacked Breed’s Hill. The British lost far more soldiers than the Americans, but they won the hill when the Americans ran out of ammunition. A victory where you lose so much that it’s almost a loss is called a Pyrrhic victory. The Battle of Bunker Hill (though most of the fighting was for Breed’s Hill) was a British Pyrrhic victory.

In 1776, the Second Continental Congress decided America should become independent from Britain. Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, which was based on other Enlightenment texts. Jefferson said that all people have a right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” He said that if a government was not protecting those rights, the people have a right “to alter or to abolish” the government.

The British left Boston and began a campaign to take New York in 1776. With 32,000 troops under their command, the American general George Washington was in serious trouble. Washington managed to recruit 23,000 colonists to fight, but they were not well-trained. The Continental Army (the Americans) lost thousands to the British, and Washington became desperate.

Forced out of New York, Washington set his sights on Trenton, New Jersey. There were many hired soldiers fighting for Britain stationed there, called Hessians. Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night 1776, hoping to catch the Hessians by surprise. It worked, and the Americans won an important battle. American morale was greatly boosted by this victory.

The British had a strategy to split New England from the southern colonies, and they continued this plan in 1777. An army of about 8,000 British soldiers met a large colonial army at the Battle of Saratoga in New York. The colonial army surrounded the British, who then surrendered. The British changed their strategy after this, always staying close to the coast for supplies from ships. This victory also swayed the French into supporting the American cause in the war, which would be vital the rest of the war.

The American Revolution

EQ: What were the most important turning points of the American Revolution against England?
The War, 1778-1781 & Aftermath
French help was a tremendous help to the Americans. The main American advantage in the war so far was having better generals, while the British advantage was having better-trained troops. Foreign help strengthened the Americans in both places. The French sent a good general named Marquis de Lafayette who helped the war effort. Another foreign aid was Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian military man. Von Steuben helped train the colonial army to compete with the British army.

The British turned their attention south, in an attempt to gain support from the more mildly revolutionary southern colonies. The British won two quick victories at Savannah and Charles Town in 1778 and 1780. The Americans then won several victories under good leadership in 1780 and 1781, however. An American general named Nathanael Greene defeated the British twice in South Carolina. Along with smaller victories by de Lafeyette and von Steuben, the British were on the run. The British general Cornwallis moved his army to the coast of Virginia, hoping to recover.

Unfortunately for Cornwallis, he was now trapped on the coast. The French fleet blockaded the sea, and American and French forces surrounded Cornwallis at Yorktown. The British were stuck in Yorktown for three weeks before finally surrendering in October of 1781. This marked the end of the American Revolutionary War.

Peace talks started in Paris in 1782. The American negotiators insisted that America become an independent nation. After a year of debate over details, the Treaty of Paris was finally signed in 1783. America was a new nation. The former colonies now turned to governing themselves.

Obviously, Americans did not want a government based on monarchy. The ideas of the Enlightenment led to a system of government that balanced power between the state and federal (national) governments. This first American government was based on the Articles of Confederation, which were approved during the war (1781). However, the Articles of Confederation were very weak. They didn’t allow congress to tax, there was no executive branch, and there was no judicial branch. After the war, Americans realized all of these shortcomings. America developed a system of government influenced by Montesquieu (with three branches), and the U.S. Constitution we use today was put into effect in 1789.

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