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The American Revolution

Declaration of Independence

The French and Indian War was the last conflict in which the colonists fought side by side with British regulars. After it ended, tensions began to rise between the American colonies and Great Britain. The colonists felt themselves to be British subjects, a feeling demonstrated by their willingness to support British military efforts in conflicts with France and Spain, and they expected to be governed as British citizens. The British didn't see it that way, however, and continued to view the colonies as a resource to be exploited. Throughout the 1760s and 1770s, they treated the colonies in exactly that manner.

The British believed that they had helped defend the colonists against the aggressions of the French. Because of this, they also believed that the colonists should help pay for the conflict. British officials enacted new trade regulations and instituted new taxes such as the Stamp Act of 1765. Such regulations outraged the colonists; pamphlets protesting the regulations were published, and newspaper headlines proclaimed, "No Taxation Without Representation!"

Because colonists had no representatives in the British Parliament, they had no voice on issues such as trade regulations or taxation. Furthermore, the colonies already taxed themselves, and much of the proceeds were used to pay for the administrative costs of the colonies and defense. Many colonists also pointed out that the colonies had not asked for British troops to be sent to the colonies in the first place, and the battles that were won at great cost in the colonies, such as the capture of the Louisbourg fortress during the King George's War, were simply thrown away during negotiations in Europe.

Radicals in Parliament eventually managed to repeal the Stamp Act, but Britain, still pressing for sovereignty in the colonies, continued to pass legislation regulating colonial trade. The colonists continued to protest. The final straw came in 1774, when Parliament taxed the most beloved of colonial luxuries: tea. Several colonists in Boston disguised themselves as Indians, crept aboard ships carrying British tea, and dumped the lot in Boston Harbor. There was a spreading sore of discontent in the American colonies that, after festering for a decade and more, finally erupted in violence at Lexington and Concord on April 19, 1775. British troops and colonial militia confronted one another in battle at Lexington and Concord. The following year, on 4 July 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from Britain.

Britain, on the eve of the American Revolution, was the greatest empire since Rome. Never before had she known such wealth and power; never had the future seemed so bright, the prospects so glowing. When news of the subsequent battle for Bunker Hill reached England that summer, George III and his ministers concluded that there was no alternative to using force to put down the insurrection. In the King's mind, at least, there was no longer any hope of reconciliation-nor did the idea appeal to him. He was determined to teach the rebellious colonials a lesson, and no doubts troubled him as to the righteousness of the course he had chosen. "I am not sorry that the line of conduct seems now chalked out," he had said even before fighting began; later he told his prime minister, Lord North, "I know I am doing my Duty and I can never wish to retract." And then, making acceptance of the war a matter of personal loyalty, "I wish nothing but good," he said, "therefore anyone who does not agree with me is a traitor and a scoundrel." Filled with high moral purpose and confidence, he was certain that "when once these rebels have felt a smart blow, they will submit-€¦" George III is chiefly remembered for two things: Losing the American Colonies, and for going mad.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

During the French and Indian War, a British surgeon named Richard Schuckburg put pen to paper to write some new words to an old folk tune. Schuckburg had the reputation for being a delicious wit. Soon his lyrics, which ridiculed colonial militiamen fighting alongside British soldiers, were on everybody's lips.

In the years leading up to the American Revolution this song of insult became a favorite of British soldiers serving in North America. They dreamed up countless new verses mocking the colonials they were growing to detest, as a way of putting those uncouth Americans in their place.

On April 19,1775, as British troops marched out from Boston to Lexington and Concord, fife and drum played the tune while soldiers sang merrily along. Later in the day as they found themselves in a desperate battle with an army of rebels, the song could be heard again.

But this time it was the colonials who were singing it, throwing the insulting tune back in the face of the British troops as they retreated back to Boston under heavy fire. "Damn them," said one British officer later, "they made us dance it till we were tired." After that it never sounded as sweet to British ears again.

Colonists claimed it as their own, sometimes referring to it now as the "Lexington March," and taking a new delight in the self-mocking words. The song came to haunt the British, who had to listen to it being played when they surrendered at Saratoga and Yorktown.

And that's how a ditty written to ridicule became America's first national song.

The origin of the word "Yankee" is disputed, but the most likely explanation is that it is from the Dutch form of the name Johnnie, "Jancke" (pronounced yan-kee), which was used by Dutch colonists in New Amsterdam as a dismissive word for English residents of New England.

Dozens, if not hundreds, of verses were written for the song in colonial times. There were a class of foppish dandies in London who wore outlandish clothes and tried to throw around Italian phrases to show how cultured they were. They were called "Macaronies."

The Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, began to take steps to defend the colonies it represented. Seeking munitions and supplies, a colonial militia expedition led by Ethan Allen and General Benedict Arnold, under the authority of the Connecticut Assembly and the Massachusetts Committee of Safety respectively, captured Fort Ticonderoga in the name of the Continental Congress on May 9, 1775, A few days later, the Continental Congress received word that the fort was in desperate need of men to reinforce the militiamen already there and money to outfit them. The Congress resolved to ask the governor of Connecticut, who had originally received the request, to send reinforcements to Ticonderoga. An expedition was immediately organized and soon left Hartford.

Similar requests poured into the Continental Congress over the next six months, and Congress responded by beginning to develop its own Continental forces to oppose and harass British forces. In October 1775, Congress authorized the refit of four ships to attack British supply ships, initiating the development of a Continental Navy.

A request from the citizens of Passamaquoddy, Nova Scotia, petitioned Congress to be included in the revolt of the North American colonies to preserve their rights and liberties. Congress eagerly received this request because it offered the opportunity to extend liberty farther north to Nova Scotia, and, perhaps even more important, to establish a naval base at Halifax.

Both the British and their American adversaries opted for orthodox warfare during our Revolution, with guerrillas consigned an auxiliary status, supporting rather than replacing regular armies. As for the British, they, like the soldiers of European nations, continued to follow time-tested military science until the Napoleonic era saw the birth of flexible units equally skilled in raids and patrols and line fire. The Americans, on the other hand, had their own unique reasons for turning their backs on the kind of bushwhacking conflicts they knew best. As early as the Stamp Act crisis, a decade before the Revolution, Americans had resolved to exercise restraint in opposing unpopular British imperial laws and policies. Violence and physical intimidation, rarely employed, usually were confined to specific targets and conducted without bloodshed.

A guerrilla war that might achieve independence but wreck the institutions of society in the process would be a hollow victory; Americans had no wish to win the war and lose the peace. And indeed they had much to lose, for theirs was a society rapidly growing in maturity, sophistication, and material affluence - becoming more English rather than less so with each passing decade. Only in the American case do we find colonies closely tied to the imperial state by culture, language, and direct descent. Those intimate links explain the reluctance of the Americans to cut loose from their British moorings and their rejection of terrorism. Terrorists hate everything their opponents stand for, and nothing generates guerrilla warfare like terrorism.

Consequently, the revolutionists continued to pursue a goal of restraint after hostilities began, one best accomplished by a central army under the Continental Congress, an army - commanded by Washington - that performed rather like that of its British counterpart. William Pitt, Earl of Chatham, could thus confidently inform the House of Lords in 1777 that the armed rebels were not "wild and lawless banditti."

The American colonists knew their British cousins very well, knew what they could get away with. In fact we should remember that the unplanned shooting in Boston in 1770 by regulars - the Boston Massacre - so embarrassed British authorities that they withdrew their soldiers from the city. There was, in the colonies, no great political center like Paris or London, whose loss might have been demoralizing to the Americans; indeed, Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, the seat of government, were all held at one time or another by the British without irreparable damage to the rebel cause. The fragmented political and military structure of the colonies was often a help to the rebels, rather than a hindrance, for it meant that there was almost no chance of the enemy striking a single crushing blow.

By 1780, matters were not going well for the rebels. British troops had enjoyed several victories in the south and Benedict Arnold's treason had occurred only the year before. Britain's success continued into 1780-81 with new triumphs. However, the Americans fought back. The American colonists had international support. France had been aiding the colonists since 1776 and officially declared war on Britain in 1778. Spain joined the colonies and France in 1779 and the Netherlands followed in 1780.

In January 1780, the naval Battle of Cape St. Vincent, also known as the "Moonlight Battle" took place between the Spanish and the British, who won. Other successes for the British followed. Charleston, South Carolina was taken by Henry Clinton, the British commander-in-chief, on 12 May 1780. On 16 August 1780, the British, under General Lord Cornwallis, were victorious at Camden, South Carolina, where they defeated American general Horatio Gates' forces.

However, the Americans fought back with success during the early 1780s, including Kings Mountain and Cowpens. In September 1781, the French won an important victory over the British at the naval Battle of the Chesapeake. Washington, who had been planning to attack New York, turned his army to Yorktown after learning of the British naval defeat, which prevented reinforcements and supplies getting to the British troops. The conclusive victory for the Americans, aided by the French, was the siege of Yorktown, which ended on 19 October 1781. More than 7,000 troops surrendered to the victorious commander-in-chief George Washington, effectively ending the war, although minor skirmishes continued. Naval fighting between the British and America's allies continued for several years.

The Treaty of Paris was signed on 3 September 1783. Britain recognized the independence of the United States, with a western boundary to the Mississippi River, and Florida was ceded to Spain. France received Senegal and Tobago from Britain and the Netherlands ceded Nagappattinam in India to the British. WITH THE SIGNING of the Treaty of Paris the struggle for American independence was won by the Americans.

With everything to gain from victory and everything to lose by defeat, the Americans could follow Livy's advice, that "in desperate matters the boldest counsels are the safest." Frequently beaten and disheartened, inadequately trained and fed and clothed, they fought on against unreasonably long odds because of that slim hope of attaining a distant goal. And as they fought on, increasing with each passing year the possibility that independence might be achieved, the people of Britain finally lost the will to keep going.

During the American Revolution, approximately one-third of the American colonists remained loyal to the British Crown. Some 100,000 Loyalists, about four percent of the population, left the American colonies, almost one-third from New York alone. Many moved north to Quebec or Nova Scotia, bringing about great change for the country that would become Canada. Some 35,000 Loyalists established themselves in Nova Scotia. Those who settled further north helped found New Brunswick in 1784. Another 10,000 Loyalists settled in Quebec, where the increased population led the British in 1791 to divide the colony into Upper Canada (present-day Ontario) and Lower Canada (present-day Quebec). Other Loyalists went to the Bahamas or other parts of the West Indies, and some returned to England. The British government paid more than £3 million to the Loyalist exiles. In addition, they were given land, appointments and pensions.

These Loyalists - or Tories, as the Patriots called them - were officeholders, Anglicans or involved in colonial administration, landholders and merchants. The Loyalists were punished with heavy taxes, not allowed to hold office and not allowed to vote. Some were banished. Tarring and feathering, although not official, was meted out on Loyalists as punishment.

Many Loyalists took part in the struggle by joining the British Army or forming guerrilla units. A significant number of slaves were freed in order to fight for Britain and even formed their own regiment, known as the Ethiopian Regiment. George Washington wrote of the Loyalists in a letter to his brother, dated 31 March 1776: By all Accts. there never existed a more miserable set of Beings, than these wretched Creatures now are, taught to believe that the Power of Great Britain was superior to all opposition.

A number of Loyalists returned to the States after the end of the war. Their reception, at first, was unwelcoming, but as time passed, they were assimilated. The Treaty of Paris, ending the American Revolution, called for fair treatment of the Loyalists by the States. However, many laws against the Loyalists were not repealed until the conclusion of the War of 1812.



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