American History Lecture Two

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Lecture - Questions - Student Answers

Before we start our second lecture for American history, here are several test-taking tips for multiple-choice history exams. Test-taking is a skill; master it and you will excel in any career you choose. Treat a multiple-choice exam like a contest or a game. How well do depends on two components: how well you prepared prior to the exam, and how well you tried on the exam itself. Everyone can improve their test-taking skills and obtain higher scores on all multiple choice exams.

Test-taking tips

There are seven ways to improve your score while taking an exam. Following these tips can improve your score significantly:

1. Understand the question. The better you understand the question, the more likely you can answer it correctly. Beware of qualifiers in the question, such as "EXCEPT": "Each of the following was a cause of the Revolutionary War EXCEPT ...."
2. Do not give up too easily on a question when you don't yet know the answer. Keep looking for clues in the question and answer choices.
3. Answer every question. Most exams (including the CLEP) do not deduct for wrong answers, so it's worth guessing.
4. Eliminate wrong answers before picking the correct one. The more wrong answers you can cross out, the better your chances are of getting the right answer. Examples of wrong answers would be:

  • Wrong time period
  • The answer doesn't match the question – e.g., the answer is generally true, but not necessarily true with respect to the question.
  • The answer violates common sense.
  • The answer is deceptively familiar for reasons unrelated to the question, such as an answer choice of "Magna Carta," which is not part of American history.
  • The answer is too general, too broad, too sweeping, or too strong, such as an answer that everyone liked George Washington.
  • The answer is too awkward.
  • The answer is something you never heard of. Don't pick it simply based on a hope that it might be right.
  • Two answers are too similar to each other. Both cannot be correct, so the correct answer must be something else.

5. Go with your first impression unless you have a good reason to change it. Don't outsmart yourself by repeatedly going against your first impression.
6. Don't let a few hard questions cause you to lose momentum during the exam. Remember that all questions count equally in your score.
7. On College Board exams, expect some bias. For example, College Board exams rarely ask about military battles, often have questions about women in history, and are more likely to ask about the decline of the Puritans than about their Christian success.

The above 7 tips can significantly improve your scores. Now back to history:

Colonial History

During the colonial period, each colony had its own separate government. The colonies functioned like independent nations. There were no restrictions on travel. But if someone said the wrong thing in one colony (such as Puritan-controlled Massachusetts), then he might be kicked out and told never to return.

The only union among colonies before the American Revolution was the "United Colonies of New England," which existed from 1643 to 1684 in the northeast. It consisted of a union of Massachusetts, Plymouth, Connecticut and New Haven in order to fight wars and resolve interstate disputes. Other than that, "disunity" existed among the colonies. Here's an easy-to-use summary of each colony, in chronological order:

Colony Year Established Who Founded It Why It Was Founded Year it Became a Royal Colony (controlled by the King)
Virginia 1607 London Company To Make Money In 1624, King James took back ownership
Massachusetts 1620 Puritans To Establish a Religious Society 1691
New Hampshire 1623 John Wheelwright Banished by the Puritans from Massachusetts 1679
Maryland (Land of Mary) 1634 Lord Baltimore To Establish freedom for Catholics; many early settlers died from malaria prevalent in the high-moisture Chesapeake Bay climate Never
Connecticut 1635 Thomas Hooker Hooker wanted voting rights for all men who owned property, not just church members as in Massachusetts Never. Obtained Charter from King in 1662
Rhode Island 1636 Roger Williams Expelled by the Puritans from Massachusetts Never. Obtained Charter from King in 1663
Delaware 1638 founded by the Dutch In 1704, Quakers bought it to protect the water route to Pennsylvania Never
North Carolina 1653 8 English noblemen (granted by Charles II) Colonized all of Carolina to grow silk, but this failed. Colony split in 1729 into North Carolina (farms) and South Carolina (rice and indigo) 1729
South Carolina 1663 same origin as North Carolina, see above same origin as North Carolina, see above 1729
New Jersey 1664 Lord Berkeley & Sir George Carteret It had two parts: the west was acquired by William Penn and the Quakers, and the east was dominated by the Duke of York 1702
New York (after defeat of the Dutch) 1664 Duke of York the great port of Manhattan was supposedly purchased from the Indians in 1626 for $24 worth of trinkets[1] 1685
Pennsylvania 1682 William Penn Religious Freedom for Quakers; King Charles II gave land to Penn to satisfy the King's debt to his father Never
Georgia 1732 James Edward Oglethorpe Established as a refuge for debtors jailed in England and as a "buffer" against Spanish Florida; initially banned slavery 1752

Learn and remember the above chart.[2] Notice how many colonies became royal colonies under the control of the King of England. Frequently, this occurred because joint stock companies (such as the Virginia Company of London) became insolvent (went broke), or the proprietors (owners) of the colony proved unable to govern it.

Now let's continue with the Colonies around the turn of the century (i.e., the late 1600s and early 1700s). Don't memorize dates, but do keep time periods separate in your mind. In the 1600s most of the colonies were just getting started (except for Georgia, which was the only colony founded in the 1700s rather than the 1600s). In the 1700s, the colonies (except for Georgia) had long been established and were growing stronger.

I should be able to mention an event and you should be able to tell me if it happened in the 1600s or 1700s. Develop a habit of quizzing yourself: Jamestown settlement, 1600s or 1700s? Bacon's Rebellion, 1600s or 1700s? Founding of Pennsylvania, 1600s or 1700s? If you don't know the answers in all three cases, then please go back and reread the first lecture.

Events in Europe affected the American colonies. Upheaval occurred in England in 1688. The people there overthrew King James II, who was Catholic. His daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange took the throne and reinstated Protestantism, and adopted the English Bill of Rights. A century later this would inspire the American Bill of Rights, One of the first American universities, "William & Mary" in Virginia, was named after King William and Queen Mary.

The Salem Witch Trials

In 1692, dozens of extraordinary criminal trials occurred in the town of Salem and other villages located north of Boston, Massachusetts: the Salem Witch Trials. Several girls displayed behavior and symptoms suggesting they were possessed by the devil, and it remains a mystery to this day what caused their afflictions, or even if they were play acting. Their puzzled doctor, after examining them, suggested that the unknown cause might be supernatural. The community became suspicious of an Indian slave from Barbados in the Caribbean, named Tituba, who had been telling stories of voodoo and witchcraft and even fed a "witch cake" to a dog (at her master's instructions) as a way of a causing pain to the devil and identifying his presence.

The girls -- who were only 9 and 11 years old -- told identical details about how the devil visited them, including seeing "witches flying through the winter mist." Tituba first denied being a witch, but then "confessed" that she was a witch and named other townswomen (including a tavern owner) who she said were witches working with her. Tituba declared that a tall man from Boston, perhaps Satan, visited her and sometimes appeared as a dog or a hog, asking her to do his work. She said she had flown through the air on poles with the other witches she named, and could not obtain counseling from the minister because the devil had blocked her path.[3]

Before long the local jails were overflowing with witches identified by other so-called witches who had "confessed", and trials had to be held in order to free up space in jail. Keep in mind that Puritans were running these trials, and they allowed "spectral evidence" as a basis for convicting someone. "Spectral evidence" is testimony by a victim that she had been visited by an image ("specter") of the accused, thereby suggesting the guilt of the accused. This type of unreliable evidence is not allowed today. Another flaw in the Puritans' legal system included a lack of a defense attorney for the accused, the allowance of "touching tests" as evidence, and the case did not have to be proven "beyond reasonable doubt," as it must be today.

City authorities prosecuted the suspects (mostly older women but also some men), and nearly two dozen were convicted and executed for the crime of witchcraft (nearly all of them women, but at least one man too). Some thought that the trials offered an unique opportunity to identify and expose the devil for the advancement of knowledge. But others observed that killing all these people may itself the work of the devil. Finally one of the accused witches identified the wife of the governor as being a witch. That alarmed the governor himself, obviously, and he intervened to order the exclusion of spectral evidence and touching tests as evidence against the accused, and that proof be based on a higher standard of "clear and convincing evidence." Under these better legal standards, nearly everyone was acquitted (found "not guilty") and the governor pardoned the few who were still convicted. Tituba herself, who sparked the panic, later recanted her "confession" but remained in jail another year until someone paid the jailer money to release her and her husband. (Note that while a few Puritans did own slaves in early times, they did not split slave families.) Many associated with the trials later apologized, but not the Chief Judge William Stoughton. He always insisted that he was about to "clear the land" of witches and that the governor should not have intervened to prevent this; Stoughton subsequently became governor himself of the Massachusetts colony, showing the popularity of his position.

This entire episode is taught today to embarrass the Puritans and religious authority in general. In 1850 a classic in American literature, The Scarlet Letter, described life in Puritan Boston in the 1600s and criticized its strict adherence to morality and the occasional scandals that resulted. Yet when Puritanical morality was eventually abandoned centuries later, Boston and Massachusetts became the most liberal areas in the nation, and today Massachusetts is one of the very few states that allows same-sex marriage. Morally, Massachusetts is now directly opposite of what it was in the 1600s.

Historians continue to debate what the real motivation for the Salem Witch trials was. There is much evidence that money, not religion, was the driving force. Nearly all of the accusers were from poorer farms, which nearly all of the accused were from the newer, richer, commercial class (such as a tavern owner mentioned earlier).

Debate: Does the legal system or the Puritans -- or neither -- deserve blame for the Salem Witch Trials?

Salutary Neglect

The period of "salutary neglect" was a time of prosperity in the colonies during which England did not enforce many rules or laws against the colonies. Instead, England let the colonies do as they pleased in the hope that freedom and minimal taxation would stimulate business growth.

This approach of "salutary neglect" was very successful. It lasted from the late 1600s (just after all the colonies were established) until about 1760, when conflicts began and Britain changed its "hands off" policy.

During this period, colonies differed in many ways from each other, but businesses flourished and the wealth of the colonies grew.

The Zenger Trial

Freedom began to cause problems in the colony of New York when the governor disliked criticism that appeared in a newspaper. John Peter Zenger printed something embarrassing about the governor, and the governor decided to silence him by charging him with "seditious libel." He demanded that Zenger be prosecuted and thrown in jail for criticizing him.

Zenger was then put on trial in 1735. On the first day of the trial, Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, one of the best known attorneys in colonies, surprisingly showed up and agreed to defend Zenger for free. Hamilton argued that it should not be a crime to print something that is true, even though it may embarrass the governor. In other words, Zenger's attorney thought that someone should have a right to tell the truth, no matter how embarrassing it may be. It also established that truth is a perfect defense against a charge of libel.

The judge instructed the jury that, under the law, publishing the truth about someone can be a crime (the crime of "libel"). But the jury ignored this law and held in favor of Zenger: "not guilty." This case established a unique new American right: the right of freedom of the press. To this day we have that right in America, while those in England still do not.[4]

This important case also helped convince Americans of the importance of the right to a jury trial, which was later written into our Constitution.

The trial established one additional right: the power of the jury to ignore the law and hold in favor of a defendant even though the law says he is guilty. This is known as "jury nullification," and it also exists to this day. Juries may "nullify" the law to find a defendant "not guilty," but defense attorneys are not allowed to inform a jury of this power during a specific trial. Jurors can only decide to do it on their own, without suggestion by the defense attorney.

Debate: Do you think a jury should be able to ignore the law in order to find a defendant "not guilty?"

1730-1740: The Great Awakening

In the 1700s, the English colonies grew in size, reaching 2 million in population compared to only 100,000 in the French settlements.

But note that the citizens of the English colonies were not exclusively English. Germans came here, African slaves came here involuntarily, and Scotch-Irish immigrated to the back country of the Middle Colonies and settled in Appalachia, where they remain a key voting bloc in support of the right to bear arms (own guns) today. The Middle Colonies were New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware, and consisted of many diverse ethnic groups and religions; prejudice existed between the groups but they were peaceful towards each other. William Penn even advertised for immigrants to come to Pennsylvania.

In the 1730s and 1740s, a marvelous spiritual revival known as the "Great Awakening" swept the colonies. A glorious Christian fervor spread throughout, helping to bring the colonies closer together in terms of beliefs, customs and practices. Led by Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield, this was called "New Light" revivalism to distinguish it from the spiritualism of the 1600s.

Jonathan Edwards was brilliant man who graduated valedictorian at age 17 from Yale University. (Harvard was founded in 1636; the College of William & Mary in 1693; and Yale in 1701). As Edwards grew older, he developed a sermon entitled "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." It was so powerful that it moved listeners to tearfully repent simply upon hearing it, and it remains the most prominently cited example of "fire-and-brimstone" preaching.

George Whitefield was an even better preacher, perhaps the finest preacher of all time in the English-speaking world. Known as the "Great Itinerant," he drew enormous crowds for his sermons as he did seven tours through the colonies from 1740 to 1770. He would simply arrive at a public place, like the Boston Commons, and many thousands would come to hear his sermon. They didn't leave disappointed.

Not all was well for everyone in the colonies during the Great Awakening. During this time South Carolina had grown heavily dependent on slavery to pick its crops and sustain its economy. By the late 1730s South Carolina had twice as many slaves as free Europeans. In 1739 tensions between the slaves and their masters reached a boiling point in the Stono Rebellion in Charleston. This insurgency by the slaves was brutally suppressed, and then South Carolina passed harsh laws (codes) to exert even more control over the slaves. More so than any other colony (and later, more than any other state), South Carolina was determined to keep and use slavery.

Migration and Conflict

West of the Appalachian Mountains is the Ohio Valley. This area was rich in animals necessary for the lucrative fur trade, and covered vast amounts of unsettled land. The Ohio valley was occupied by Native American tribes, primarily peoples such as the Shawnee and Lenni-Lenape (Delaware) who had been displaced by the Iroquois League. Both the British and the French traded with the Indians in this region. As the population and confidence of the English settlers in the colonies grew in the mid-1700s, they began to migrate to Ohio. There they came into conflict with the French over the fur trade and control of the region. Conflict between the English colonists and the French traders increased after the end of King George's War in 1748.

Join or Die cartoon.jpg

In 1754, 7 colonies met to address these problems at the Albany Congress. They considered, but did not adopt, Benjamin Franklin's Albany Plan of Union. The Albany Plan of Union attempted to unite the English colonies with the Iroquois League in a defensive stance against New France. Franklin published the political cartoon (shown here to the right) in order to urge unity among the colonies.

The governor of Virginia sent a 21-year-old named George Washington to stop the French from building a fort near the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and to protest French attacks. But in Western Pennsylvania, at Fort Necessity, the French defeated and captured him and his 400 troops. They made him sign a statement in French (which George Washington did not understand) "confessing" that his men had assassinated some Frenchmen. Then they released George Washington. He remembered that lesson and in the Revolutionary War made sure that in the future he always had an aide who could understand French. That future aide would be the very influential Founding Father named Alexander Hamilton.

While George Washington was humiliated by this experience, that did not matter to the young colonies trying to assert themselves. When he returned to Virginia was treated as their hero.

George Washington is the most honored person in all of American history. Why was he so great? Was he so great? He was not a brilliant man. He was not a great military general. In terms of military strategy, he was not particularly good. He was inept during the French and Indian War, for example. He did not write much of value. Think about that as we learn more about him. Most likely he was great because of his values, and how everyone knew he would stick to his principles.

Debate: George Washington. Was he great, and if so, why?

French and Indian War

The English and the French did not like each other in Europe, and their conflicts there spilled over into America. They had constant friction in fighting over territory and trading rights. They had four wars between 1689 and 1763, which are known collectively as the French and Indian Wars.

The French traded more with the Indians, and so the Indians tended to side with the French. Also, some Indians saw how George Washington was defeated, so they probably thought the English colonies were weaker than the French. Finally, it's likely the French treated the Indians better than the English did.

"The" French and Indian War was the seven-year struggle that was the culmination of the conflicts between France and England in America. It was the American portion of the Seven Years' War (1756-1763) between England and France in Europe. The name "French and Indian" to describe the war is confusing, because the French and Indians were on the same side, both fighting against the British, and there were some Native Americans who were allied with the British.

In 1755, the British sent General Edward Braddock to confront French, but they ambushed and beat him badly near Fort Duquesne (pronounced DOO CANE). In 1756, war broke out between the French and English in Europe, Africa, and India, as the war morphed into the first true global conflict.

The British struggled badly at first in this war. But eventually a smart fellow named William Pitt was appointed Prime Minister of England. The city of Pittsburgh is named after him. Pitt believed in appointing generals based on merit, not seniority or friendship. Pitt recognized the importance of the colonies and began investing significant money and resources into the war. He then started beating the French. Under Pitt's leadership, the English captured Fort Duquesne (renaming it Fort Pitt) in 1758, Quebec in 1759, and then Montreal in 1760. Taking advantage of their powerful navy, Britain gained control of the sea lanes and started winning in other places in world also, including India.

In 1763, the war ended when Britain, France and Spain signed the Treaty of Paris. Under the terms of the treaty, the French lost all of their possessions in North America, yielding to England all of their territory east of the Mississippi, with the exception of two islands off the coast of Newfoundland. England returned Cuba and the Philippines to Spain, in exchange for Florida, while France surrendered the Louisiana territory to Spain. Later, in 1803, Spain sold this land back to France, who quickly sold it to the United States in the Louisiana Purchase.

In North America, the end of the French and Indian Wars left the British with a great deal of territory west of the Appalachians, but the Indians, who were not included nor consulted in the peace settlement, did not give up their land easily. In 1763, Native Americans, inspired by the anti-British message of a Lenni-Lenape (Delaware) prophet named Neolin, and led by the Ottawa chieftain Pontiac, destroyed every British post west of the Appalachians with the exceptions of Niagara, Pitt, and Detroit.

King George III, and Debts

Meanwhile there had been a big change in England. King George III assumed the throne in 1760 (he ruled until 1820). He had wanted to end the French and Indian War quickly. William Pitt wanted England to escalate the war, and resigned in 1761, due partly to pressure by George III. George III, after all, was the King and he demanded obedience from Pitt.

George III openly controlled Parliament, bribing men to do anything he wanted by placing them in positions of power. This significantly altered the face of Parliament, and the majority became much less sympathetic to the colonies. The ruling sentiment was that the colonies should be obliged to pay for their own expenses, rather than depending on the mother county (England).

This war with France left Britain deeply in debt, and tired of fighting. A new prime minister, George Grenville, came into power in 1763. The citizens of England were already being heavily taxed, so guess where Grenville looked to raise money to pay the bills: the colonies.

England felt that the colonists hadn't paid their fair share of the war expenses. To keep from spending any more money, England was eager to make peace with the Indians and stop fighting. England passed the Proclamation Act of 1763, forbidding colonists from settling west of Appalachians and forcing them to stop buying land from Indians. The Proclamation Act ordered, "that no governor or Commander in chief of our other colonies of plantations in America, do presume for the present, and until our further pleasure be know, to grant warrant of survey, or pass patents for any lands beyond the heads of sources of any of the rivers which fall into the Atlantic Ocean from the west or north west ...."

The logic behind the Proclamation Act was that as long as the colonists stayed in the colonies and had nothing to do with Indians, there should be peace. Little did the British know that peace would not last for long in the colonies, and that when war did break out again, it would be against the British themselves.

Tension Grows

In 1770, the British Empire was the greatest in the world, and it continued to grow in power through the 1800s. The idea that 13 different colonies with tiny armies and a divided population - a large percentage of which were pacifist Quakers - could defeat the mighty British was utterly absurd in 1770. But this unlikely victory came true. The story of this epic struggle for freedom is the story of the American Revolution.

Years before war broke out, tension was growing between England and her colonies. King George III controlled parliament much more than preceding monarchs had, and his changes facilitated attempts to gain additional revenue from the colonies. This was accomplished through higher taxes and restrictive trade laws which oppressed the colonies. We've already discussed the institution of the Proclamation Act, and now we need to discuss its consequences.

The Proclamation Act imposed an enormous burden on the colonies. When it passed in 1763, 90% of the colonial economy depended on farming. Farmers needed land to grow valuable crops of tobacco, corn, rice, indigo, and wheat, but the Proclamation Act confined them to the land they already had in the colonies. The other 10% of the colonial economy involved fishing and whaling in New England and timber, but the overwhelming majority of colonists were farmers, and the Proclamation Act was detrimental to their growth.

In addition, many colonists felt that the Proclamation Act was simply unfair. They had worked hard fighting the French and Indian Wars, but now England was denying them the territory they had won.

Conflict Increases

The first true crisis began around 1763 when Parliament allocated money to maintain a standing army in the colonies. At first, this change did not arouse much anger, since there was already a British army in America. But conflicts began when Grenville (referenced above) gave naval officers the authority to enforce customs regulations. More than 1500 ships began to patrol American waters. This new vigilance on Britain's part was early evidence of her changing relationship to her colonies, foreshadowing the greater tension to come.

Grenville wanted the colonies to pay their share of the war costs, so he started burdening colonists by strictly enforcing taxes. The era of salutary neglect was over, and colonists did not like sending their hard-earned money to Britain.

The first of these tax burdens was the Sugar Act. As its name suggests, this act imposed taxes on sugar, but it also imposed additional burdens. The Sugar Act placed stricter regulations on all shipping, stopped the colonies from importing rum, and lowered molasses tariffs that had been benefiting the colonies. The British made no secret of the fact that the purpose of the Sugar Act was to impose more taxes: "Whereas it is expedient that new provisions and regulations should be established for improving the revenue of this kingdom ...: and whereas it is just and necessary that a revenue be raised in you majesty's said dominions in America, for defraying the expenses of defending, protecting, and securing the same; we ... have resolved to give and grant unto your majesty the several rates and duties herein after mentioned."

Grenville viewed the colonies as subservient to him. Grenville humiliated the colonists with legal intrusions. He violated ancient rights by authorizing writs of assistance to search businesses without a court order or warrant.

Colonists disliked these events, but only with the passage of the Stamp Act did they become truly angry. The Stamp Act was an undisguised attempt to bring the British more money, the first time Parliament directly taxed the colonies. It required that legal papers, cards, dice, newspapers, degrees, land documents, and appointments to office bear stamps (not postage stamps) showing that coin tax had been paid. Subtly, the British were suppressing vocal writers and lawyers by making their professions more costly. The public, and especially the media, was outraged.

A few months later, Britain passed the Quartering Act. The Quartering Act required colonial governments to house British troops at their own expense. The troops were to be housed in inns, abandoned homes, and government buildings. The Act mandated that "all such officers and soldiers ... be furnished and supplied ... with fire, candles, vinegar, and salt, bedding, utensils ... without paying anything for the same."

Anger by the colonists against the King, which existed before the Stamp Act and Quartering Act, rose to a fever pitch. The colonists held to a strong argument against England's oppression: taxation without representation. The colonists pointed out that they were not represented in British Parliament when these taxes were passed. The colonies could not elect anyone who was making these decisions. The colonists had no "say" in the matter. The British leaders responded by saying the colonists had "virtual" representation by Englishmen who were looking out for them. Nonsense, the colonists said, adequate representation was impossible because England was so far away. Patrick Henry put this argument into words in one of his resolutions which were published in newspapers throughout the colonies: "Resolved. That the taxation of the people by themselves or by persons chosen by themselves to represent them, who can only know what taxes the people are able to bear, are the easiest method of raising them, and must themselves be affected by every tax laid on the people, is the only security against a burthensome taxation and the distinguishing characteristick of British freedom, without which the ancient constitution cannot exist."

To confront the problems, nine colonies met with each other in the Stamp Act Congress in New York City in October 1765. This was the first time the colonists had come together to consider protesting. They sent a petition to the King. Later, a boycott of British goods was organized.

Colonists strongly opposed the Stamp Act's direct (internal) taxation. If the Act were not odious enough in its own right, the fact that it came during a time of weak economy threatened to injure the colonies more deeply. The outrage united colonists, for the Stamp Act affected every colony and every citizen. They shared the injury of a common grievance, and had a common cause to work towards.

In Massachusetts, Sam Adams created the Sons of Liberty during July 1765. This group strongly protested the Stamp Act and forced British-appointed stamp agent Andrew Oliver to resign.

When stamp agents in the other colonies realized how unpopular they were, most of them resigned also. The few that remained were pressured to resign, and sometimes forced, as in the case of Jared Ingersoll. "They caught Ingersoll at Wethersfield and silently and pointedly led him under a large tree. They parlayed for hours ..., with Ingersoll squirming, arguing and refusing to resign. The crowds ... grew so large and threatening that finally Ingersoll read his resignation to the mob and yielded to the demand that he throw his hat in the air and cheer for 'Liberty and Property.'"

When the Stamp Act took effect, there was no one to sell stamps in the colonies. Business went on as usual and the Act was not effectively enforced.

Realizing that it had underestimated the colonies, Britain repealed the Stamp Act in 1766 but passed the Declaratory Act asserting a right by Britain to legislate for colonies in future. Public outrage decreased dramatically because the Stamp Act was repealed, even though the Sugar Act, Quartering Act, and Proclamation Line (the line preventing colonies from expanding westward) were still in effect.

In 1767, Charles Townshend replaced William Pitt in Britain as leader in the British House of Commons. Pitt had been generous to the colonies, and quite popular in America. But Townshend viewed America as an opportunity for imposing taxes on the colonies in order to increase revenue for the benefit of the English government. His attempts to do this were a series of taxes called the Townshend Acts. They taxed paper, lead, paint, and tea in colonies to pay salaries of royal judges and governors. Townshend also tried to divide the colonies from each other by telling only New York and Massachusetts to suspend their assemblies for failing to levy taxes to house and feed British troops in their colonies. But the rising conflict, particularly that of the Stamp Act, had already begun to unify the colonies, and they realized that they must rise or fall together.

The colonies did not react as swiftly as they had to the Stamp Act. But they did resist, primarily due to clever pamphlets that educated and incited them. John Dickinson's pamphlet, "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania" was first published in 1767, and spread throughout the colonies as well as to Ireland, England, and France. Dickinson, known as the "Penman of the Revolution," was a superb writer who also drafted the "Declaration of Rights" for the Stamp Act Congress, the "Olive Branch Petition," and the Articles of Confederation.

The "Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania" maintained an impression of loyalty to the King. Cleverly, Dickinson argued not from the standpoint of the colonies, but in terms of England's well being, and benefit to her. He admonished Americans not to allow chaos break out (as occurred in the French Revolution a decade later): "The cause of liberty is a cause of too much dignity to be sullied by turbulence and tumult."

Discontent with England grew. In 1768, Massachusetts wrote a defiant letter to the British and the letter was endorsed (co-signed) by New Hampshire, Virginia, Maryland, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Georgia, and South Carolina.

A harsh response came from across the Atlantic in Britain, ordering Massachusetts to revoke their letter, and admonishing other states to have no part in stirring up resentment toward Britain. In June, more troops arrived from England.

Next, the colonists boycotted British goods. The boycott was very effective. British imports fell from 2,157,218 pounds to 1,336,122 pounds between 1768 and 1769.

Feeling the strength of the colonies once again, Britain repealed the Townshend Acts, but the tea tax remained. This tension would explode on the night of December 16, 1773, when the Boston Tea Party occurred.

Debate: Should England have been able to impose direct taxes on the colonies?

Violence Begins

Before the Boston Tea Party, there was the "Boston Massacre," during which British troops (which had been stationed in Boston to enforce the Townshend Act) fired on a colonial mob that was throwing snowballs (with rocks in them) at the soldiers. This massacre, which occurred in 1770, resulted in the death of 5 colonists.[5]. The future President John Adams then served as the defense attorney for the British soldiers, and obtained "not guilty" (acquittal) verdicts for them because they were provoked into shooting.

This incident outraged the colonies, but it was followed by relative calm from 1770 to 1773. Things were not completely peaceful, however. In 1772, in what became known as the Gaspee incident, Rhode Island colonists boarded the British Gaspee ship and burned her, to the King's great outrage. The Gaspee had run aground while chasing smugglers, and the Rhode Island colonists had taken advantage of its misfortune.

Meanwhile, the revolutionary Samuel Adams was busy establishing a resistance organization known as the Committee of Correspondence. This group, and others like it throughout the colonies, shared and disseminated information on Britain's activities.

Thus, although conflicts diminished somewhat from 1770 to 1773, colonists retained their opposition to British oppression. The tea tax remained in effect, so many colonists refused to drink British tea, and once again, their boycott was felt in England.

Bent on breaking the colonists' boycott of English tea, England next passed the Tea Act of 1773. A large British tea company, the East India Company, lobbied for and obtained monopoly (exclusive) rights from the England. The East India Company had a huge inventory of tea and received an exception from the tea tax. This enabled the East India Company to import tea from their huge inventory to Boston Harbor, where they planned to undersell colonial merchants. The Puritans of Massachusetts were outraged. They tried to have the tea turned back to England, but the royally appointed governor refused. On December 16, 1773, a group of colonists led by Samuel Adams disguised themselves as Indians and boarded the tea ships. They dumped all of its tea into Boston Harbor; this was the "Boston Tea Party." The task took an entire night, as the ships contained 350 chests of tea, costing about 1.87 million dollars in wasted tea (converted to today's dollars).

As punishment, Britain passed harsh laws, which were given pejorative names by the colonists: the Coercive Acts or, alternatively, the Intolerable Acts. These laws revoked Massachusetts' charter, closed Boston Harbor, installed a British general as governor, and repealed liberties like the right to hold town meetings. The closing of the harbor, in particular, was a sore blow to Massachusetts, whose economy was largely dependent on fishing and whaling.

In defiance, public sentiment turned violently against tea. Coffee gradually replaced it, and continues to be more popular than tea in America to this day. In Boston today, there is still no tax on tea as a tribute to the Boston Tea Party.

The British also passed the Quebec Act, which gave Canadians part of the Ohio Valley. This further infuriated the colonists. In addition, the Act gave the French more freedoms, such as freedom of religion for the Catholic Church. Colonists were angered because (1) they felt people in Quebec were getting more freedoms than they had and (2) they feared establishment of an Anglican Church in America.

Although many colonists remained loyal to the King and had hoped to keep peace, conflicts worsened and emotions boiled over.


Causes of the Revolutionary War

There were 9 major causes of the Revolutionary War, also called the "American Revolution":

(1) Colonists were accustomed to much independence and self-determination, and British efforts (led by the Tory political party in England) to regulate and tax were bitterly opposed by the colonies (and by the Whig political party in England; the conservative Edmund Burke was a British politician who sided with the American colonists).
(2) British burdens hurt nearly all the colonists in all walks of life.
(3) Taxes hit at a bad time: postwar depression.
(4) Legally, colonies disagreed with "virtual representation."
(5) Religious reasons: many colonists disliked Anglicans (and Catholics), and feared England would install an Anglican bishop.
(6) Colonists disliked English class distinctions.
(7) 1/3 of colonists were not even English, and thus felt no attachment to the British.
(8) Colonists accepted John Locke's philosophy of natural rights and a social contract, which conflicted with rule by a monarchy.
(9) Colonists saw a bright prospect for their future.

The Revolutionary War

The Coercive (or Intolerable) Acts sparked the Revolution. Britain had backed down from earlier conflicts caused by its laws, but not this time. Britain was determined to bring America into line.

The colonists responded with the First Continental Congress, in 1774. Every colony except Georgia agreed to disobey the Coercive Acts and to withhold taxes, cut trade, and arm their people. Their agreement is recorded in the Declaration of Rights and Grievances by John Adams. The Congress also gave Massachusetts instructions on resisting the Coercive Acts, called the Suffolk Resolves. Massachusetts, still heavily Puritan, was prepared to defy the British. The Congress composed a set of Declarations and Resolves which established the colonies' position toward Britain. The colonies agreed to end all trade with Britain in a final effort to have her alter her policies. All of these plans were carried out.

Yet the British did not back down. Colonists were prohibited from presenting petitions and declarations and resolutions to Parliament. William Pitt, one of the colonists' few friends in the British Parliament, introduced a resolution to withdraw British troops from the colonies. This was defeated in Parliament by a wide margin: 68 to 18. Parliament officially declared that Massachusetts was in rebellion.

Many Americans were ready to forsake all hope of peace. Patrick Henry was one of these, when he said these words in a famous address, "Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace -- but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle? What is it that gentlemen wish? What would they have? Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"

On April 19, 1775, the British commander in charge of America, General Thomas Gage, responded to orders from England to forcibly stop the rebellion. He sent troops to march by surprise from Boston to Concord to seize a storehouse of rebel guns and ammunition, and maybe arrest some leaders.

Paul Revere then went on his famous midnight ride to alert the colonists. They were ready. After years of conflict, war finally began. At Lexington, just 75 colonists faced several hundred British soldiers. When the British ordered the colonists to disperse, gunfire broke out. Eight colonists were killed and ten were wounded in the ensuing chaos. But 73 British died.

The British troops continued to Concord. Here a larger number of colonists attacked them and routed them back to Lexington. Only 93 colonists died in comparison to 275 British soldiers. The British were narrowly saved by the arrival of reinforcements.

That and other conflicts brought the colonies together in 1775 for the Second Continental Congress. They realized that hope for peace was foolish now. It was time to prepare for war. The Congress instituted paper money and named George Washington head of Continental Army, which he then led throughout the Revolution. As a last attempt for peace, they sent the "Olive Branch Petition" (written by Charles Townshend) to the King. He refused even to receive the petition. War was inevitable.

As the Congress met in Philadelphia, the colonial "Green Mountain Boys" captured Fort Ticonderoga from the British in 1775 because Ethan Allen wanted to protect his land holdings in a disputed area near Lake Champlain. (Lake Champlain is located in the far north of Vermont, which was not a colony then.)

In January of 1776, Thomas Paine's published a pamphlet called Common Sense, which argued against divine rule and economic reasons to stay with Britain, in plain language. Paine's book and ideas worked the colonists into a frenzy, and gave them the courage to realize that separation from Britain was necessary and attainable. After only three months, 120,000 copies had been sold, which was about 5% of the total population! Today a bestselling book has sales of 30,000 out of a population of 300 million (only 0.01%). Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense sold 500 times as much as a bestseller today, when measured as a percentage of the population. And many more read borrowed copies, or heard speeches that quoted from the book.

Here are some of Paine's words against divine rule: "The heathens paid divine honors to their deceased kings, and the Christian world had improved on the plan by doing the same to their living ones. How impious is the title of sacred majesty applied to a worm, who in the midst of his splendor is crumbling into dust!"

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was formally announced. It declares that all men are created equal, having natural inalienable rights. The colonies' many grievances against the crown were listed. It argued that government is a social compact and rebellion is justified when the government breaks its end of the bargain. This logic was borrowed from the philosophy of John Locke. But perhaps the most important part of the Declaration was its frequent invocation of God. Our nation was founded on God's providence and truth.

Still, the colonies had few troops, especially since one-third of the population was loyal to Britain and another significant percentage were pacifist Quakers. Washington's army was composed of just 18,000 men, less than a third the size of attendance at Giants Stadium for a football game. The British won early battles at Bunker Hill in Boston, in Canada, and in New York. The colonies did not start winning until Christmas Eve in Trenton in 1776, then later at Princeton.

During the winter of 1777 Washington quartered his troops in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. This winter was filled with suffering. The troops lacked supplies and many died of starvation and cold. But the training the troops received during this time was invaluable. Prussian Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben drilled the troops throughout the winter, and his expertise may well have aided in turning the tide against the British.

In 1777, the Continental Congress adopted the Articles of Confederation to govern the colonies, but they were not ratified until 1781. The government they instituted was weak, without a president or courts, and unanimous approval was required to amend them. Eventually, they were replaced by the Constitution.

At Saratoga in upstate New York in October 1777, 6,000 British soldiers surrendered, constituting a huge victory for the colonies. It is a mystery to this day whether Benedict Arnold actively directed our army there, or had little influence, before becoming a traitor and going over to the British side. The Saratoga victory was the turning point in the war, because the French then ended its neutrality and entered on our side.

Benjamin Franklin was instrumental in obtaining French backing for the American cause and forging the Franco-American Alliance in 1778. Due to Franklin's efforts as an ambassador to France, and the inspiration of the colonies' victory at Saratoga, France recognized the colonies' independence, entered into a military alliance with the colonies, and renounced its territory east of the Mississippi as well as Bermuda. Franklin, it is worth noting, had other significant achievements that included writing the Poor Richard's Almanac, inventing the Franklin stove for heating, and starting the first library.

Despite the alliance with the French and the northern victories by the Patriots (Americans), the British were still beating the Patriots badly in the South. The British captured Charleston in 1780, taking 5,500 soldiers and huge amounts of weapons. Finally, the Patriots installed General Nathanael Greene, one of the revolution's best generals. He started inflicting heavy casualties on the British, and they retreated from the Carolinas to Yorktown, Virginia.

In May 1781, the French arrived with two fleets, and trapped the British at Yorktown, Virginia. They were forced to surrender their entire army of 8,000. But the British still held New York, and did not finally sign a peace treaty until February 1783, the Treaty of Paris. In it the British gave up their claim to land east of the Mississippi, from Canada to Florida. The Americans promised to treat fairly the Loyalists (colonists loyal to the King) and English creditors (people owed money by colonists). Some people on both sides refused to abide by the treaty, and loyalty to England continues to run deep to this day in some American families.


  2. The terms "England" and "Britain" are used interchangeably (with the same meaning) throughout this course.
  4. To this day, English courts welcome libel lawsuits far more than American courts do. "Known as the 'libel capital of the world' because of its plaintiff-friendly rules on defamation, Britain has nothing remotely comparable to the First Amendment's protections for freedom of the press."[1]

See also