(HRS) American Revolution, 1774-1783

In Chapter 5, we consider the tasks the American patriots had to accomplish in order to achieve victory in the Revolutionary War. The first section, Government by Congress and Committee, concerns the ideological and political task of transforming the resistance movement into a coalition supporting independence. 


Several factors made achievement of this task possible:

1.    the process by which delegates were elected to the First Continental Congress;

2.    the presence of respected political figures at the Congress;

3.    the ability of the Congress to allow debate among divergent interest groups in the formulation of a compromise policy;

4.    the election of committees of observation and inspection at the local level as a means by which to enforce the Continental Association; and

5.    the emergence of popularly elected provincial congresses to take over the reins of colonial government.


The interaction of these factors leads to the conclusion that independence was being won at the local level. Such an occurrence made American victory not only possible but likely. However, as noted in Contest in the Backcountry, settlers pouring into the region of Kentucky came into conflict with Indians in that area just as the Revolutionary War began


Transforming the resistance movement into a coalition supporting independence also involved defeating potential internal enemies. Congress, recognizing that settlers pouring into the region of Kentucky would likely support the side that best served their interests, acted to protect those settlers from Native Americans. Although Congress recognized the potential threat of Native Americans to the patriot cause and, as a result, sought Indian neutrality, in the end a lack of unity prevented the Native American threat from materializing. Patriot policies, built on a broad popular base, were also effective in isolating the loyalist minority and in defusing them as a potential threat. Moreover, although slaves were drawn to the British side as the side that could offer them freedom, they never became a real threat because: (l) blacks did not rally to the British side as much as expected, and (2) southern patriots were successful in manipulating white fears concerning a slave conspiracy.


We see how the political and ideological tasks confronting the patriots converged. The British frame of reference toward the war becomes clear through the context of the early skirmishes at Lexington and Concord. At this time, the Second Continental Congress assumed responsibility for organizing the American war effort and selected George Washington as commander of the Continental Army. The discussion of Washington's background, beliefs, and war strategy suggest that his selection was an additional reason for eventual American victory.


As both sides prepared to deal with the military tasks of the war, the ideological war continued to rage. Decisive American victory in this realm was largely due to the efforts of Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. These men so eloquently defined the American cause that they established principles that aided the war effort and served as a solid base on which the new republic was founded.


The military task of defeating the British takes center stage. The discussion of the northern and southern campaigns shows the importance of these factors in the patriot victory:


1.    the false assumptions on which the British based their strategy;

2.    the battlefield errors of the British;

3.    Washington"s strategy of avoiding decisive losses;

4.    the almost unlimited reservoir of man and woman power available to the American side;

5.    the commitment to the patriot cause that developed among the officers in the Continental Army;

6.    American perseverance and resourcefulness;

7.    American policies that effectively swayed the populace to the patriots side; and

8.    the Franco-American alliance of 1778.

The chapter ends with a discussion of the Battle of Yorktown, the final skirmishes of the war, the impact of the war on the Indians, and the Treaty of Paris.


1763 Peace of Paris ends French and Indian War. Proclamation of 1763 restricts westward settlement.

1764 Sugar Act (Revenue Act) increases colonial taxation and steps up enforcement.

1765 Stamp Act imposes direct sales tax in colonies. Colonists respond with Virginia Resolves, Stamp Act Congress, and boycotts.

1766 Parliament repeals Stamp Act.

1767 Townshend Revenue Act imposes new duties on imports into the American colonies.

1770 British troops fire on civilians in Boston Massacre.

1773 Colonists launch Boston Tea Party to protest British monopoly on tea.

1774 Parliament responds with the Coercive, or Intolerable, Acts.
The First Continental Congress meets to coordinate the colonial response.

1775 New England Restraining Act. Minutemen meet British army in Battles of Lexington and Concord. British surrender Fort Ticonderoga to colonial troops. Battle of Bunker Hill tests colonial troops. Second Continental Congress appoints George Washington to command Continental army.

1776 Thomas Paine's Common Sense moves Americans to demand independence. Congress approves Declaration of Independence on July 4.

1776-77 Battles of Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey. Washington spends the winter at Morristown, New Jersey.

1777-78 British invade New York from Canada. French recognize American independence. Spain enters the war on the American side. Washington spends the winter at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.

1779-81 British strategy focuses on the southern colonies.

1781 Facing American and French forces, Lord Cornwallis surrenders at the Battle of Yorktown.

1783 British sign Treaty of Paris, granting U.S. independence and western lands.


THEMES 


American Diversity: Divisions between those who supported independence produced the major division in the population during the Revolution. Also, ethnic groups often divided along these lines. By the end of the war many Loyalists left for other parts of the British Empire.

Globalization: This period marks the first in which America engaged with the outside world as an independent political entity. From its appeal to the world in the Declaration of Independence to its alliances with European nations for financial and military aid, this era was a sharp break with its colonial past.
Politics and Citizenship: Politics in America was revolutionized on both the state and national level by the collapse of British government in America. State governments with written constitutions emerged, and America's first national government as an independent nation, the Articles of Confederation, helped pave the way for a more permanent political system.

Reform: The American Revolution produced dramatic social as well as political changes. The departure of many of the former elite, the Loyalists, opened up the political and social structures to new people. The relative positions of religious denominations shifted, and slave emancipation gained strength in northern states. Women joined in Revolutionary activity and assumed the role of "republican motherhood." Indians divided between the British and the patriots and in general found themselves in a weaker position.

War and Diplomacy: The Revolutionary War mobilized the entire population as no previous war had. George Washington played the prominent role in keeping an army in the field to resist British forces. Fighting a defensive war, the American forces finally outlasted the English political will to fight. America's alliance with France proved critical.


Digital History


The American Revolution

The British had many advantages in the war, including a large, well-trained army and navy and many Loyalists who supported the British Empire. But many white colonists were alienated by Lord Dunmore's promise of freedom to slaves who joined the royal army, and were inspired by Thomas Paine?s Common Sense. Excellent leadership by George Washington; the aid of such European nations as France; and tactical errors by British commanders contributed to the American victory. British strategy called for crushing the rebellion in the North. Several times the British nearly defeated the Continental Army. But victories at Trenton and Princeton, N.J., in late 1776 and early 1777 restored patriot hopes, and victory at Saratoga, N.Y., which halted a British advance from Canada, led France to intervene on behalf of the rebels. In 1778, fighting shifted to the South. Britain succeeded in capturing Georgia and Charleston, S.C. and defeating an American army at Camden, S.C. But bands of patriots harassed loyalists and disrupted supply lines, and Britain failed to achieve control over the southern countryside before advancing northward to Yorktown, Va. In 1781, an American and French force defeated the British at Yorktown in the war's last major battle.


1. About 7,200 Americans died in battle during the Revolution. Another 10,000 died from disease or exposure and about 8,500 died in British prisons.

2. A quarter of the slaves in South Carolina and Georgia escaped from bondage during the Revolution. The Northern states outlawed slavery or adopted gradual emancipation plans.

3. The states adopted written constitutions that guaranteed religious freedom, increased the legislature's size and powers, made taxation more progressive, and reformed inheritance laws.


Lecture Outlines

The American Revolution 1776-1783

The Articles of Confederation

The Revolutionary War


Student Assignments 

Declaration of Independence ws

American Revolution 1776-1783 wc


Web Links

Articles of Confederation

The Virginia Plan

The New Jersey Plan 

Articles v. Constitution 

Federalists v. Anti Federalists

The American Revolution