American Revolutionary War

The American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), also known as the American War of Independence, [43] was a global war that began as a conflict between Great Britain and her Thirteen Colonies which declared independence as the United States of America. [N 1]

After 1765, growing philosophical and political differences strained the relationship between Britain and its colonies. Following the Stamp Act, Patriot protests against taxation without representation escalated into boycotts, which culminated in the Sons of Liberty destroying a shipment of tea in Boston Harbor. Britain responded by closing Boston Harbor and passing a series of punitive measures against Massachusetts colony. Massachusetts colonists responded with the Suffolk Resolves, and they established a shadow government which wrested control of the countryside from the Crown. Twelve colonies formed a Continental Congress to coordinate their resistance, establishing committees and conventions that effectively seized power. [44]

British attempts to disarm the Massachusetts militia at Concord in April 1775 led to open combat. Militia forces then besieged Boston, forcing a British evacuation in March 1776, and Congress appointed George Washington to command the Continental Army. Concurrently, an American attempt to invade Quebec and raise rebellion against the British decisively failed. On July 2, 1776, the Continental Congress voted for independence, issuing its declaration on July 4. Sir William Howe launched a British counter-offensive, capturing New York City and leaving American morale at a low ebb. However, victories at Trenton and Princeton restored American confidence. In 1777, the British launched an invasion from Quebec under John Burgoyne, intending to isolate New England. Instead of assisting this effort, Howe took his army on a separate campaign against Philadelphia, and Burgoyne was decisively defeated at Saratoga in October 1777.

Burgoyne's defeat had drastic consequences; France formally allied with the Americans and entered the war in 1778, and Spain joined the war the following year as an ally of France but not as an ally of the United States. In 1780, the Kingdom of Mysore attacked the British in India, and tensions between Britain and the Netherlands erupted into open war. In North America, the British mounted a " Southern strategy" led by Charles Cornwallis which hinged upon a Loyalist uprising, but too few came forward. Cornwallis suffered reversals at King's Mountain and Cowpens. He retreated to Yorktown, Virginia, intending an evacuation, but a decisive French naval victory deprived him of an escape. A Franco-American army led by the Comte de Rochambeau and Washington then besieged Cornwallis' army and, with no sign of relief, he surrendered.

Whigs in Britain had long opposed the pro-war Tories in Parliament, and the surrender gave them the upper hand. In early 1782, Parliament voted to end all offensive operations in North America, but the war continued in Europe and India. Britain remained under siege in Gibraltar but scored a major victory over the French navy. On September 3, 1783, the belligerent parties signed the Treaty of Paris in which Britain agreed to recognize the sovereignty of the United States and formally end the war. French involvement had proven decisive, [45] but France made few gains and incurred crippling debts. Spain made some minor territorial gains but failed in its primary aim of recovering Gibraltar. The Dutch were defeated on all counts and were compelled to cede territory to Great Britain. In India, the war against Mysore and its allies concluded in 1784 without any territorial changes. [46]

Background

Early seeds

In 1651, the Parliament of England sought to regulate trade in America by passing the Navigation Acts, ensuring that trade only enriched Britain. [47] [48] The economic effects were minimal, [49] [50] but they triggered serious political friction. [51] The American colonists had fought King Philip's War without significant assistance from the Crown, and this contributed to a growing sense of American identity separate from that of Britain. [52] Britain continued to assert control into the 1680s, [53] culminating in the abrogation of colonial charters [54] and the establishment of the Dominion of New England in 1686. Colonists, however, felt that the Dominion was undermining their democratic liberty [55] [56] and they overthrew it in 1689; [57] [58] the Crown made no attempt to restore it. [59] [60]

The British government continued to pursue trade control, however, passing acts that taxed wool, [61] hats, [62] and molasses. [63] The Molasses Act of 1733 was especially egregious to the colonists, as a significant part of colonial trade relied on the product. The taxes severely damaged the local economy, and consequently they were rarely paid. Smuggling, bribery, piracy, and intimidation of customs officials became commonplace. [64] Colonial wars were also a contributing factor. The return of Louisbourg to France in 1748 following the War of the Austrian Succession caused considerable resentment in New England, the colonists having expended great effort in subduing the fortress only to have it returned to their erstwhile enemy. [65] [66]

Taxation disputes

Britain triumphed over France and Spain in the Seven Years' War, but this led to a financial crisis, as the national debt had doubled to £130 million, and the annual cost of the British civil and military establishment in America had quintupled when compared to 1749. [67] Smuggling had been tacitly accepted, but now the British began to consider that it blunted their revenue, so Whitehall decided to ensure that customs duties were unavoidable [68] by passing the Stamp Act in 1765. Colonists condemned the tax because their rights as Englishmen protected them from being taxed by a Parliament in which they had no elected representatives. [69] Parliament argued that the colonies were " represented virtually", an idea that was criticized throughout the Empire. [70] Parliament did repeal the act in 1766; however, it also affirmed its right to pass laws that were binding on the colonies. [71] From 1767, Parliament began passing legislation to raise revenue for the salaries of civil officials, ensuring their loyalty while inadvertently increasing resentment among the colonists, and opposition soon became widespread. [72] [73]

Enforcing the acts proved difficult; the seizure of the sloop Liberty on suspicions of smuggling triggered a riot. In response, British troops occupied Boston, and Parliament threatened to extradite colonists to face trial in England. [74] Tensions rose after the murder of a teen by a customs official in 1770 and escalated into outrage after British troops fired on civilians in the Boston Massacre. [75] In 1772, colonists in Rhode Island boarded and burned a customs schooner. Parliament then repealed all taxes except the one on tea, passing the Tea Act in 1773, attempting to force colonists to buy East India Company tea on which the Townshend duties were paid, thus implicitly agreeing to Parliamentary supremacy. The landing of the tea was resisted in all colonies, but the governor of Massachusetts permitted British tea ships to remain in Boston Harbor—so the Sons of Liberty destroyed the tea chests. [76]

Two ships in a harbor, one in the distance. On board, men stripped to the waist and wearing feathers in their hair throw crates of tea overboard. A large crowd, mostly men, stands on the dock, waving hats and cheering. A few people wave their hats from windows in a nearby building.
This iconic 1846 lithograph by Nathaniel Currier was entitled "The Destruction of Tea at Boston Harbor"; the phrase "Boston Tea Party" had not yet become standard. Contrary to Currier's depiction, few of the men dumping the tea were actually disguised as Indians. [77]

Parliament then passed punitive legislation. It closed Boston Harbor until the tea was paid for and revoked the Massachusetts Charter, taking upon themselves the right to directly appoint the Massachusetts Governor's Council. Additionally, the royal governor was granted powers to undermine local democracy. [78] [79] Further measures allowed the extradition of officials for trial elsewhere in the Empire, if the governor felt that a fair trial could not be secured locally. The act's vague reimbursement policy for travel expenses left few with the ability to testify, and colonists argued that it would allow officials to harass them with impunity. [80] Further laws allowed the governor to billet troops in private property without permission. [81] The colonists referred to the measures as the " Intolerable Acts", and they argued that both their constitutional rights and their natural rights were being violated, viewing the acts as a threat to all of America. [82] The acts were widely opposed, driving neutral parties into support of the Patriots and curtailing Loyalist sentiment. [83] [84]

Colonial response

The colonists responded by establishing the Massachusetts Provincial Congress, effectively removing Crown control of the colony outside Boston. Meanwhile, representatives from twelve colonies [85] [86] convened the First Continental Congress to respond to the crisis. The Congress narrowly rejected a proposal which would have created an American parliament to act in concert with the British Parliament; instead, they passed a compact declaring a trade boycott against Britain. [87] [88] Congress also affirmed that Parliament had no authority over internal American matters, but they were willing to consent to trade regulations for the benefit of the empire, [89] and they authorized committees and conventions to enforce the boycott. The boycott was effective, as imports from Britain dropped by 97% in 1775 compared to 1774. [88]

Parliament refused to yield. In 1775, it declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion and enforced a blockade of the colony. [90] [91] It then passed legislation to limit colonial trade to the British West Indies and the British Isles. Colonial ships were barred from the Newfoundland cod fisheries, a measure which pleased Canadiens but damaged New England's economy. These increasing tensions led to a mutual scramble for ordnance and pushed the colonies toward open war. [92] Thomas Gage was the British Commander-in-Chief and military governor of Massachusetts, and he received orders on April 14, 1775 to disarm the local militias. [93]

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