The American Revolutionary War (1775-1783) was a war between Great Britain and their thirteen American colonies. The leadership of the colonies decided to unite and attempt to gain their independence from Britain, largely due to high taxes levied by Parliament without adequate representation. The decision to reject British rule was not universal in the colonies. Those that favored independence were called Patriots and those that remained loyal to the throne were called Loyalists. There was also a significant contingent that tried, for the most part, to remain neutral.
Origins of the Revolution
Following a successful campaign by the British in the French and Indian War, in which they conquered French lands east of the Mississippi River, the British governement decided to enact new taxes on its North American colonies to repay expenses for their defense. The colonies were upset about this because they were not granted seats in Parlaiment, and the famous phrase "No Taxation Without Representation" became the battle cry of the colonists. The British also began actively enforcing the Navigation Acts, which they had been previously lax on, which subjected American imports to higher tarrifs. The Stamp Act of 1765, which required certain trade goods to be affixed with a tax stamp, added further fuel to the fire and led to the creation of the Sons of Liberty, a patriot group which actively resisted British authority. The British continued with their taxation policies with the Townshend Acts, which lead to the infamous Boston Tea Party and the British response of closing Boston Harbor.
Relations were strained further, when in March of 1770, there was an altercation between British soldiers and a colonial mob that resulted in the death of five colonists. This became known as the Boston Massacre.
The war began in April 1775, when Paul Revere's midnight ride alerted the Massachusetts militia that British troops under the command of General Thomas Gage were moving to seize an arms depot in Concord, Massachusetts. The militia held a bridge at nearby Lexington, and the "Shot heard 'round the world" was fired, although it is unknown which side fired first. After this short skirmish, and the subsequent Battle of Lexington, delegates from the Thirteen Colonies met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and convened the Second Continental Congress to draft a Declaration of Independence. The Declaration was officially signed on July 4, 1776, officially severing American ties with England.
The culmination of the war was the Battle of Yorktown, which pitted the American army, under the command of General George Washington, along with the French, under the command of General Comte de Rochambeau, against the British, under the command of General Charles Cornwallis. Due to a French Naval blockade, Cornwallis was unable to receive the reinforcements and supplies he needed and surrendered along with 7,000 troops on October 19, 1971.
The war concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Paris in 1783, granting independence to the colonies.
Chronology of the American Revolution
|April 19||Fighting breaks out at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, the war begins|
|May 10||Americans capture Fort Ticonderoga, New York, Second Continental Congress opens in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.|
|June 15||George Washington named Commander-in-Chief|
|June 17||Battle of Bunker Hill, Boston, Massachusetts|
|December 31||Battle of Quebec, Canada|
|January||Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense|
|March 17||British leave Boston|
|July 4||Declaration of Independence signed|
|August 27||Battle of Long Island, New York|
|September 15||British occupy New York City|
|November 16||British capture Fort Washington, New York|
|November 20||British capture Fort Lee, New Jersey|
|December 26||Battle of Trenton, New Jersey|
|January 3||Battle of Princeton, New Jersey|
|July 6||British recapture Fort Ticonderoga, New York|
|September 11||Battle of Brandywine, Pennsylvania|
|September 19||First Battle of Freeman's Farm (Saratoga), New York|
|September 26||British capture Philadelphia, Pennsylvania|
|October 4||Battle of Germantown, Pennsylvania|
|October 7||Second Battle of Freeman's Farm, New York|
|October 17||British General John Burgoyne surrenders at Saratoga, New York|
|December 19||Washington moves his army to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania|
|February 6||Americans sign treaty with France|
|June 28||Battle of Monmouth, New Jersey|
|December 29||British occupy Savannah, Georgia|
|June 21||Spain declares war on Britain|
|September 23||The British frigate Serapis Is captured by John Paul Jones|
|May 12||Americans surrender at Charleston, South Carolina under Benjamin Lincoln|
|August 16||Battle of Camden, South Carolina|
|October 7||Battle of Kings Mountain, North and South Carolina|
|March 15||Battle of Guilford Court House, North Carolina|
|September 28||Battle of Yorktown begins|
|October 19||Battle of Yorktown ends, British General Charles Cornwallis surrenders|
|July 11||British leave Savannah, Georgia|
|November 30||Draft of peace treaty signed in Paris, France|
|December 14||British leave Charleston, South Carolina|
|April 15||Peace treaty draft is ratified by United States|
|September 3||Treaty of Paris signed officially ending war|
The ideas in the Declaration of Independence, drafted by 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson with help by other Founders, were very powerful. Invoking the authority of God frequently throughout the document, the Declaration contains the most striking legal statement of all time: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” The phrase “that all men are created equal” was original to the Declaration of Independence and was quoted frequently by Abraham Lincoln (e.g., in the Gettysburg Address) and by other future Americans.
The Declaration of Independence drew upon Christianity and the Enlightenment English philosopher John Locke. In his famous work “Two Treatises on Government” (1690), Locke declared that all men have the natural (inalienable) rights of “life, liberty and estate (property).” Adam Smith, the great economist, modified this to be “life, liberty and the pursuit of property.” Notably the Declaration of Independence does not emphasize a right to pursue property, however, speaking instead in favor of pursuit of “happiness”.
Locke also wrote that government exists to defend our natural rights, and when government fails to do so then it may rightfully be overthrown. Locke built on the concept of a “social contract” first proposed by Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), who felt that government was a contract by which people gave up some rights to government to obtain protection and order in return. When this social contract is violated by government, as when it fails to defend our natural rights, then Locke felt that rejecting the authority of government was justified. This logic was embraced by the Declaration of Independence by declaring that the colonies were right to break away from the King of England because he failed to uphold the social contract. The Declaration said: “That to secure these [inalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government ….” And the Patriots did “abolish” English rule here.
The ideas in the Declaration of Independence, drafted by 33-year-old Thomas Jefferson with help by other Founders, were powerful. Invoking the authority of God frequently throughout the document, the Declaration contains the most striking legal statement of all time: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." The phrase "that all men are created equal" was original to the Declaration of Independence and was quoted frequently by Abraham Lincoln (e.g., in the Gettysburg Address) and by other future Americans.
There is an interesting issue as to whether Jefferson simply copied the substance of the Declaration of Independence from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was published earlier and would have been in Jefferson's possession when he drafted the Declaration. See Did Jefferson Copy the Declaration of Independence?
Regardless, the Declaration of Independence drew upon Christianity and the Enlightenment English philosopher John Locke. In his famous work "Two Treatises on Government" (1690), Locke declared that all men have the natural (inalienable) rights of "life, liberty and estate (property)." Adam Smith, the great economist, modified this to be "life, liberty and the pursuit of property." Notably the Declaration of Independence does not emphasize a right to pursue property, however, speaking instead in favor of pursuit of "happiness".
The Declaration of Independence was an important historical document, drawing from Christianity and the works of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and Adam Smith. It was penned primarily by Thomas Jefferson and is an indictment of the injustices the British monarchy had inflicted on the colonies, and a justification for independence from their rule. It asserted in the preamble the powerful belief that "all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness." These ideas have been influential throughout America's history and referenced many times, inluding by Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address.
The colonists felt that the "social contract" between themselves and England had been violated. This idea was originated by Hobbes, and expanded on by Locke, which was the belief that government was a contract between the people and the governing body, in which the people gave up certain rights in return for protection of their natural rights. If the contract was not held up by the government, the people then had the authority to reject the government. The Declaration states “That to secure these [inalienable] rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,—That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government ….” The Declaration of Independence abolished the right of England to rule over the colonies, and provided a strong motivation for the Colonial Army in the war.