The following deals with events, conflicts, and people during 1775-1783.
DISCLAIMER: This does NOT serve as a replacement for reading Chapter 8.
The opening salvo at Lexington and Concord encouraged 20,000 Minute Men to storm Boston, trying to outnumber the Brits. Meanwhile, Congress met for a second time with all thirteen colonies represented. Though independence wasn’t yet on the table, they wanted to keep fighting to see what would happen.
George Washington, a man of great moral character and a natural-born leader, was chosen to head the conglomerate army in Boston. Washington refused pay for his service, though his expenditures totaled $100,000. The move to pick him was made so that Americans down south would begin to trust the New England army again.
The Americans won two quick battles in 1775. In May, they captured the British gunpowder supply at Ticonderoga and Crown Point in New York and in June, they captured Bunker Hill whilst slaughtering scores of British soldiers. If they kept losing men at this rate, the Brits wouldn’t even have an army in America. For once, we were feeling pretty backasswards and tried to affirm our loyalty to the crown with the Olive Branch Petition in July of 1775.
George III wasn’t buying it and saw the action at Bunker Hill as treason– punishable by death. He hired German Hessians, who were ‘more interested in booty than in duty’. The textbook’s attempt at a joke is disparaging.. In autumn of 1775, the Brits got to burning down Portland, Maine while the rebels began to invade Canada. Generals Montgomery and Arnold led 2,000 troops to defeat at the hands of French Canadian leaders, who supported the Brits after the Quebec Act of 1774, which guaranteed many French traditions.
In January of the following year, the Brits burnt down Norfolk, VA, while the loyalists in Boston were forced to flee. Meanwhile, 15,000 loyalists were defeated in North Carolina and the British fleet was stopped from invading in Charleston. But even with all this fighting, the patriots refused to admit that they were seeking independence. The burning of Norfolk and Portland, as well as the Hessians’ hiring changed all that. Thomas Paine’s Common Sense also changed a lot of minds by asserting that it made no sense that a teeny, tiny island should rule a vast continent.
Among Paine’s radical ideas was republicanism, the idea that political power was derived from the public. Plato had gotten a hard-on for this idea a few millennium ago. It had been mixed in with British politics to no avail. Most Americans saw the actions of the Brits as an attempt to strip them of their liberty and embraced this idea. New Englanders had already been practicing this with their town hall meetings. But with republicanism came great sacrifice: the social contract. Individuals gave up their self-interests to serve the interests of the many. Wealthy people didn’t like republicanism as it could lead to a leveling-off of the classes. Can’t have that!
The word ‘independence’ finally rolled off the tongue of Richard Henry Lee in a meeting of Congress in Philadelphia in June of 1776. Lee’s proposal was to break from Britain and many agreed. Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant Virginian lawyer, was given the task of crafting the document which would do just that: the Declaration of Independence. In the Declaration, Jefferson insisted that all men had Lockian natural rights and that the British were taking them away. To assert the latter point, Jefferson listed a bill of indictment that included imposing taxes, burning towns, and hiring mercenaries. Jefferson didn’t set out to accurately portray history; the document was mainly an editorial, especially when you consider the words ‘all men are created equal’ were written by a slave-owner.
Nevertheless, the document inspired thousands to bear arms and support the rebelling nation. America’s rebellion against the world’s largest empire would inspire more revolutions in the subsequent years. The Declaration also made it harder for loyalists to live among the patriots. Some 80,000 fled for Britain, while those that remained were imprisoned, hanged, and had their properties sold to finance the war. Some also served as spies for the King and incited anger among Indians.
With Boston no longer an option for occupation, the Brits made New York their main base of operations in July of 1776. They then sent over the entire British fleet and 35,000 troops. Soon after, the Americans faced a huge blow at the Battle of Long Island. Washington just narrowly escaped to the Delaware River with the Redcoats right behind him. British General Howe didn’t pursue him any further, remembering his great defeat at Bunker Hill and that he had a mistress to sleep with back in New York.
From the Delaware, Washington launched an attack on Hessian forces right after Christmas and a week later, won another victory at Princeton. The British realized that if they cut off the Hudson River from the rebels, they could stop their supply line. General Burgoyne would push his men down from Canada and meet up with General Howe, if necessary, in Albany. They would have to wait until spring to start their invasion, and once they did, it was extremely slow, as axmen had to cut a path and all the officers’ wives had decided to come along for the party.
Though he was supposed to help Burgoyne’s forces, General Howe was sizing up to capture Philadelphia. Washington transferred his army to Philly and was defeated in two quick battles. Howe settled down in the City of Brotherly Love and forgot all about Burgoyne, who had to surrender at Saratoga in October of 1777. The surrender revived the soldiers’ morale, which had been lacking of late. Soon after, Parliament offered the Americans home rule without independence. Soon afterwards, the Brits insisted that a hand-job was better than the real thing. The Yankees weren’t buying it.
France had been aching to regain its empire and America was looking for an ally. The French disliked mercantilism and wanted to have free trade and open seas. They also wanted to abolish rule of law and instead rely on raw power to keep nations in order. Plain ol’ Ben Franklin was sent over to France with John Adams’ ‘Model Treaty’, which hoped to secure peaceful relations with the French through a commercial trading agreement and not a military alliance. This is the stuff utopias are made off. In February 1778, the French agreed on a similar treaty with more military entanglement. This meant that France was bound with America until the US had secured its freedom.
Spain would eventually join the Americans in 1779, while Russian Queen Catherine the Great organized the Armed Neutrality, which gave passive hostility to Britain. From 1778 to 1783, the French sent over guns, money, and equipment. They would also send over a fleet of ships and planned to cut of Britain’s line of supply in the West Indies. The Brits then evacuated Philly for New York with George Washington hounding after them each step of the way.
French troops first arrived in Newport, RI in the summer of 1780. Relations were slightly strained at first, but they quickly melted over. General Ben Arnold deserted for the Brits in 1780 and almost sold out the strong hold of West Point. In 1778, the Brits began their southern strategy from Charleston, SC, systematically moving up through the colonies and capturing 5,000 American soldiers in the process. In the Carolinas, patriot neighbor fought against loyalist neighbor. ‘Fighting Quaker’ Nathanael Greene finally drove the Brits from the South with his strategy of delay.
The Indians, fast to protect their shrinking lands, were still a force to be reckoned with. After Mohawk Chief Joseph Brant converted to Anglicanism, he swore allegiance to the Brits and went on raid after raid in the backlands of Penn and NY until Americans stopped him in 1779. In a completely unrelated incident, the Iroquois were forced to give up most of their land in the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1784. Cool beans!
Even with all these battles, westward expansion expanded and in Illinois, the Brits held old, isolated French forts, which were easy to attack. George Rogers Clark rounded up some men and went down the Ohio River, capturing fort after fort.
America’s navy got off to a rough start and was only able to attack merchant ships. Privateers, essentially pirates, stepped up their game for the Americans. Their small, armed ships quickly racked up lots of victories and raised morale for the Yanks. Moreover, British shipping suffered greatly because of the privateers.
The darkest days of the war came in 1780 and 1781. Inflation was its highest point and many had deserted the army. But with British General Cornwallis’ assumption that the Brits would bring reinforcements, the Americans caught a break. Cornwallis settled into the Chesapeake Bay– Yorktown to be precise– while Washington and French Admiral de Grasse surrounded the area and made him and his 7,000 men surrender. Though the war should’ve ended there, George III was stubborn and kept the effort up.
At yet another peace conference in Paris, the Americans and British agreed to the Treaty of Paris of 1783. The Americans sent over Ben Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams, who had all been directed to consult their French allies at each and ever step. They disregarded this provision as France was only trying to secure the Alleghenies and Gibraltar for itself and Spain. The Treaty granted independence to America, who would pay off all debts to British creditors in time. The newly-instated Whig ministry also ceded large amounts of land in North America to the Americans so that trade wouldn’t be cut off.
And thus, America was born.