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Short outline / Introduction
The American war of Independence, also called Revolutionary War or simply
American Revolution arose from a conflict between Britain and 13 of its colonies
on the North American Atlantic coast.
During the course of the North American War of Independence the 13 colonies declared their independence from England and signed an alliance with France. As a result of their victory in this war, which began near Boston in 1775 and officially ended in 1783 with the signing of a peace treaty in Paris, the United States of America came into being. July 4th 1776, the day their independence from Britain was declared is celebrated as „Independence day“ until today.
The British Colonies in America
The main reasons for European settlement on the American east-coast were
economical, political and religious ones.
There were settlers, who hoped for an improvement of their economic situation,
e.g. when they founded the colony of Virginia.
Also many aristocrats of the overthrown Stuart-dynasty found refuge in the colonies where they could keep their prevailing position as big landowners after the political transition of power
When it came to their religious reasons for settling it has to be distinguished between the following:
-The Puritans founded Massachusetts on the paths of the pilgrim fathers. The intolerance of this theocratic „state“ expelled people thinking different, who later founded Connecticut and Rhode Island.
-William Penn founded Pennsylvania to offer a refuge for persecutes. Thus, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s capital, came into being.
Each of the 13 British Colonies in America, now known as the States of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia had their own governor, a 12-head-governor’s council and an assembly. This system is obviously similar to the British ruling system (King, House of Lords, House of Commons) and gave the colonies a certain amount of independence.
The Colonial System mainly followed the mercantilist aims of
- guaranteeing the prevailing position in overseas trade
- protecting home production (above all the British, but also the colonial) against foreign competition
- guaranteeing a positive balance of trade (more export than import trade)
- guaranteeing the raw material supply
The economic emphasis of the northern colonies consisted of cultivation of cereals, fishing and stockbreeding. In the South, where the big landowners lived the plantation system caught on. The plantation system was based on slave labor. That means that the work was done by captured, transported African women and men.
Background and origins to hostilities
The starting situation
The Seven Years War (1756-1763) respectively the French and Indian War (1754-1763) had very important effects on the relations between the British colonies in America and their „mother country“. France, which had been defeated of this war had to leave its colonies Canada and Louisiana to the British. Apart from that Britain also gained Florida from Spain.
Now that the French „menace“ (on the boundaries) was gone the self- confidence of the colonies was encouraged. Accustomed to quite a large measure of independence they now demanded more freedom. But the plans of the British were different.
The introduction of new taxes
In order to liquidate the debts Britain had as a result of the French and Indian War England introduced new taxes, such as the stamp- or the molasses and sugar tax. These should also cover a part of the expenses of maintaining British troops in America. The Stamp Act (1765) required the colonists to purchase stamps for newspapers, playing cards, dice, marriage licenses and many other legal documents. This led to indignation, boycott and rebellion. The stamp act virtually aroused the hostility of everyone everywhere, including the most powerful and articulate groups of the population, like e.g. journalists, lawyers and merchants. Secret organizations were founded to fight the stamp act, often through violent means.
The colonial assemblies and the Stamp Act Congress (1765) demanded the abolishment of the Stamp Act. Associations to enforce a general boycott of British goods were founded and proved very effective; When the colonists´ measures began to have effects on British merchants and manufacturers, they joined the Americans in opposition to the tax.
In 1766 the British Parliament yielded: The Stamp Act was repealed and the Sugar Act was modified. But simultaneously England rejected the American demand of „no taxation without representation“ (in the British Parliament). The Declaratory Act asserted that the Parliamentary authority extended over the colonies „in all cases whatsoever“.
Clashes between American citizen and British troops
In 1770 a harmless snowballing of British soldiers stationed in Boston turned into violence. No one exactly knew who had given the order to fire, but in the
end five Bostonians lay dead on the floor. This incident was called The Boston Massacre and brought several more clashes between citizen and the British army.
The following three years were deceptively calm. No significant stirs happened, but the Americans had become highly sensitive to any kind of exertion of British authority and they had become used to violent resistance.
At the Boston Tea Party on December 16th, 1773 townsmen in Indian dresses dumped 342 chests of tea into the Boston harbor to protest the new British law, the Tea Act. This law was made in order to relieve the East India Company of heavy duties on the tea it brought into England and enabled it to establish a monopoly on all tea exported to the colonies.
Reactions in London
The Boston Tea Party provoked a strong reaction in London. King George III and the British Parliament decided to stand firm and to force the colonies to obedience. In 1774 they introduced the Coercive or Intolerable Acts. They included the closing of the harbor of Boston, more royal control of Massachusetts´ government and the extension of Quebec’s boundaries into areas claimed by Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The situation comes to a head
At the first Continental Congress (1774) the people of Massachusetts were called up not to pay the taxes till the repeal of the acts. In succession the other colonies also joined the boycott. Armed militias called „Minute men“ (because they were said to be ready to fight in a minute) were founded and called out to resistance.
During this time the British General Gage and his troops, which had been sent to Boston to enforce the new laws, waited for instructions from London. In the beginning of 1775 George III ordered Gage to move decisively against therebels: „The die is now cast, the colonies must either submit or triumph.“