The American Revolution is among the world’s first and most significant revolutions. The revolution’s enlightenment ideas were instrumental in inspiring the American colonies reject the oppressive British rule and establish a new nation. While the revolution helped create a republic, which is the United States of America, it also became a model for many nations across the world. This paper explores the origins of the American Revolution and the major parties that were involved in it. It provides an insight on how the revolution progressed, while also highlighting the major events that characterize it. Finally, the paper examines how the revolution ended, and how it could have been prevented.
Tracing the Root Causes
Although most people agree that, the American Revolution started because the colonists demanded independence from Britain, the desire can be traced back to Britain’s imperialistic foreign policy that was adopted many years before the struggle for independence started. The origins of the American Revolution can be traced back to 1763 after Britain emerged victorious in the French and Indian wars, but with a huge debt and an extensive empire to administer. After 1763, Britain attempted to address these challenges by designing policies that could generate more revenue from the colonies to cover the cost of the empire. For instance, the Sugar Act of 1964 imposed stricter trade regulations and duties on sugar and molasses. The policy adversely affected the colonies’ economy as it reduced the markets to which they could sell their products, and the amount of currency for purchasing manufactured goods from Britain. Due to its adverse effects, the Sugar Act set the stage for the colonies’ resistance to subsequent policies, for instance, the Stamp Act of 1765 that placed tax on printed materials and legal documents, and the Townshend Revenue Acts of 1767 that created new import duties for the colonists. These laws were created and amended by Britain’s colonial parliament, in which the colonies were not well represented in the formulation of the laws, which affected them directly. Since Britain had denied them the right to self-govern, the colonists protested that they would not pay taxes, unless they are represented in the parliament. Britain responded to the colonies’ growing resistance to these policies by sending its soldiers to the colonies to enforce compliance with the new regulations, with the first batch arriving in Boston on October 1768. The British colonies’ relationship deteriorated further in 1770 when the British soldiers in Boston killed five civilians that had attacked them. The colonies’ elite presented the event as unprovoked attack on Americans, forcing Britain to withdraw troops from Boston. In the same year, all Townshend duties were discarded, although the tax on tea remained in place. The Tea Act passed by parliament in 1763 that allowed the direct selling of tea by the East India Company, bypassing the colonial merchants. Although it was meant to ensure colonists pay lower tea prices than those offered by colonial merchants and smugglers, it was rejected on the basis that the unfair price would drive the colonial tea merchants out of business. The colonists opposed the act, sometimes violently, for instance the throwing of 342 tea chests into the Boston harbor, an event that is commonly referred to as the Boston Tea Party. The action made the British government pass numerous laws, called the Coercive Acts in 1774, with the aim of bringing the American colonies under control. The colonists regarded these acts as being unbearable, thereby naming them the “Intolerable Acts.” It is evident that these policies transformed Britain’s relationship with the American colonies, thereby marking the onset of the American Revolution.
The American Revolution entered a critical phase in 1774 when the American colonies responded to the Intolerable Acts by establishing the First Continental Congress comprised of delegates from 12 colonies, with the exception of Georgia. These representatives met in Philadelphia to explore ways of responding to the Intolerable Acts imposed by Britain. The delegates held differing opinions, which made them fall into three distinct groups, namely the radicals, moderates, and the conservatives. The radicals proposed two alternatives, which include, forcing Britain to agree to their demands, or declare their independence from Great Britain. The moderates believed that the deteriorating relationship between the colonies and Britain was repairable. Lastly, the conservatives avoided any aggressive response, although they mildly rebuked the British. The congress urged the colonies’ inhabitants to arm themselves and organize a militia. The group asked the king of Britain to end the punishing of Boston, and strive to restore peace between the colonies and the imperial government. The delegates also collectively agreed to end their colonial trade with Britain until the colonial government repealed the intolerable laws. It is during the discussion that most delegates questioned the parliament’s right to tax and rule them, which further advanced their revolutionary standpoint. The delegates had avoided declaring their independence, as they hoped their demands would be addressed by the king. The king’s failure to address the delegate’s complaints, including the repealing of the Intolerable Acts, resulted in increased tensions. This prompted the colonies to establish the Second Continental Congress to explore their next move.
Revolutionary War Begins (1775-1778)
The Great Britain commanded its forces, under the leadership of General Thomas Gage, to enforce the Intolerable Acts that the delegates had demanded to be repealed, and further shut down the Massachusetts legislature. General Gage also chose to seize a supply of colonial arms that were located in Concord, Massachusetts. As General Gage’s troops advanced into Concord on April 19, 1775, they faced resistance from the American militia at the town of Lexington. Paul Revere, who was an American silversmith and early industrialist, had warned the Americans of the British troop’s movement in advance. The British troops that were superior in numbers quickly overpowered the American militia. However, the alarm raised across the countryside helped mobilize more militia groups that launched sporadic attacks on the British forces as they advanced on to Concord. The Colonials also amassed a considerable number of troops at Concord, which repulsed the British forces after engaging in a fierce battle. The overpowered British forces departed without destroying the armory, and retreated to Boston while facing constant attack from the militia. The British reinforcement group that was situated on the outskirts of Boston helped prevent complete withdrawal of British troops from Boston. The Massachusetts militia that was commanded by General Artemas Ward partially besieged the British troops in Boston limiting the mobility of the British forces under General Gage.
While the Second Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia in Pennsylvania on May 10, 1775 to discuss the unfolding events, the American forces under the command of Generals Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold captured Fort Ticonderoga in New York. The fort had a supply of military equipments, most of which were moved to Boston by the Americans. Although the British forces were holed up Boston, they controlled the city’s harbor through which they received supplies and reinforcement troops. On May 25, 1775, General Gage received more reinforcement troops and three new Generals namely Major General William Howe, and Brigadiers John Burgoyne and Henry Clinton through the harbor. Gage started planning how to break out the Boston siege by the American militia. On June 14, Congress agreed to establish a continental army, which was to be commanded by George Washington.
The Battle of Bunker Hill began on June 17, 1775, when the American forces surrounded Boston and its outskirts that was controlled by British troops. Still under the command of General Gage, the British responded by attacking the American troops on the Breed’s Hill and the Bunker Hill. The British succeeded dislodging the American forces from their entrenched positions, although they suffered more casualties compared to the American losses. The American troops were forced to retreat as most of them had depleted their ammunition supply. The British were incapable of breaking the city’s siege as they had suffered great losses. As the siege continued, the British remained trapped within the city. Although the American forces experienced early defeat, the battle proved their capability of countering the British forces, which were regarded as the world’s best during that era.
George Washington began commanding the Continental Army in Massachusetts on July 3, 1775. Congress sent the British rule a petition for peace, which they rejected, and instead responded by passing the Prohibitory Act that banned trade with the American colonies. Under Washington’s command, the American troops were able to reoccupy Bunker Hill and Breeds Hill with ease. Between August and September 1775, the American forces under the leadership of General Richard Montgomery invaded Canada with the aim of gaining a fourteenth colony that would assist them in the fight against Britain. The invasion was initially successful as Montgomery managed to capture Fort St. Jean and Montreal City. On December 30, Montgomery attacked Quebec City that was controlled by the British. The attack proved catastrophic, with Montgomery perished in the battle. No other major revolutionary events took place in Canada. An American named Henry Knox, together with his engineers, was instructed by Washington to deliver the artillery seized at Fort Ticonderoga to the Continental Army during the winter of 1775-1776. After the arrival of the artillery in Cambridge on January 24, 1776, Washington later moved them and his troops to take the Dorchester Heights that overlooks Boston. They surrounded the British forces, who fearing the artillery attack, had to negotiate with Washington their way out of the city in peace. In return, General Howe assured Washington that his troops would not destroy through burning. The Boston siege ended on March 17, 1776, after the British forces left for Canada. Washington employed deception in taking over Boston as his forces had artillery guns but lacked gunpowder. While the militia returned home, Washington and the Continental Army went on to secure New York.
The Declaration of Independence
Leaders from the American colonies employed the Enlightenment ideas to justify the need for independence. They requested equal political rights as those enjoyed by the people in Britain, but they were never granted any. They used the established British law to justify their rebellion against the British rule, accusing it of breaking a social contract of serving and protecting them. This implied that the Britain had lost its legitimacy of governing the inhabitants of the colonies, and they had every right to oppose it and institute a new government that would advance their interests. On January 19, 1776, a publication by Thomas Paine, titled “Common Sense” further encouraged the American efforts towards declaring independence. The publication contained anti-Monarchy arguments that were derived from both the biblical perspective and the republican virtues that such monarchies are harmful to people living in any free state. On May 10, 1776, Congress directed the 13 colonies to establish new state governments. A month later, a formal resolution that called for the American independence was offered by Richard Henry Lee, a delegate from Virginia. Few weeks later on June 12, the Second Continental Congress appointed a committee that was tasked with the responsibility of preparing a draft of a working government, which was entitled the “Articles of Confederation.” The committee was comprised of five individuals, namely, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, and Roger Sherman. However, the document was principally authored by Thomas Jefferson. The Declaration of Independence draft was handed over to Congress by Jefferson on June 28, 1776. During the same day, the American forces repelled the British forces that had attacked Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina. Between June and July 1776, the British forces sent more troops to the colonies with the intention of crushing the growing rebellion. On July 2, 1776, Congress approved Lee’s resolution for independence, and formally adopted the Declaration of Independence two days later. The declaration highlighted the violations or crimes that the King of Britain committed against the people of the colonies, and other justifications for independence. The declaration was eventually signed by delegates on August 2, 1776.
The Turning Point of the War
After adopting the Declaration of Independence, the American forces suffered several defeats. For instance, between August 27 and 29, 1776, the British forces, under the command of William Howe, defeated the American forces at the battle of Long Island in New York. After the devastating defeat, Washington withdrew his forces from New York, and his Continental Army eventually established its camp in Pennsylvania. They Americans suffered a series of defeats in the following months, which saw the British take control of New York City. As winter approached, German mercenaries, who were referred to as the Hessians, were hired by Britain to protect the fort at Trenton, New Jersey, that was under British control. Having received replacements, the British forces chose to wait until spring to launch another attack on the Continental Army.
On December 19, Thomas Paine published another work titled “The Crisis”, which revived the liberty efforts on a period when the revolution was at its darkest moment. Washington’s forces crossed the Delaware River on December 25, 1776, and ambushed and defeated the Hessians at Trenton the following day. The incredible victory by the Americans over the Hessians raised the troop’s confidence, eventually resulting in re-enlistments. In the following year, Congress and Washington embarked on long-term enlistment as a means of building an army for the war. Although the British re-took Trenton on January 2, 1777, after the withdrawal of the American troops, it suffered heavy fatalities. Washington’s withdrawal of his troops was a tactical move, as he moved his troops to Princeton, where the Continental Army attacked the British Army’s rear-guard the following day, forcing them to retreat from New Jersey.
To defeat the American troops, the British Generals John Burgoyne and Howe decided to attack them from two sides in the summer of 1777. Howe’s troops that were attacking from the south managed to win the battles of Brandywine and Germantown, which eventually culminated to the capturing of Philadelphia. Burgoyne’s army that was marching southwards from Canada to Albany were attacked and defeated by the American troops when they reached Saratoga. As Burgoyne was surrendering his entire army to the Americans, General Howe resigned from his position, despite his victories in Pennsylvania. The Native American tribes of the Confederacy were divided on which side to support in the Revolution. While the Oneida and Tuscaroras supported the Americans, the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, and the Seneca tribes supported the British. The Battle of Saratoga also became the war’s major turning point, as the British never again advanced northwards. After the Battle of Saratoga, the tribes supporting the British began attacking American settlements throughout New York and Pennsylvania. The Iroquois Indians continued to attack American forts and towns, and the Americans reiterated by burning their villages.
Conclusion of the War (1778-1781)
After Britain’s defeat in the Battle of Saratoga, France, which is its traditional rival, supported American’s revolution efforts. On February 1778, Baron von Steuben, who was a former Prussian officer, joined the Continental Army at the Valley Forge camp to offer military training. Britain withdrew its troops from Philadelphia on June 18, 1778. The Continental Army pursued them, resulting to the Battle of Monmouth in New Jersey, where neither side claimed victory, although the pressure made Britain withdraw its their forces. France, Spain, and the Dutch Republic supported the Americans by providing them aid and going to war with Britain. In 1779, the Iroquois was eventually defeated by the American troops under the command of General Sullivan at the Battle of Newton. On the seas, the American John Paul Jones attacked and destroyed British ships. He emerged victorious in several sea battles, where he even attacked the shores of Britain itself.
On March 1, 1781, the States formally ratified the Confederation articles. Britain took the war southwards where most of its loyalists lived. Initially, the British defeated the Americans at Waxhaws, Charleston, and Camden between March and May 1780. The Americans were also defeated the American at the Battle of Guildford Court House. The Continental Army joined forces with the recently arrived French troops to surround the British that were at Yorktown. General Cornwallis, who commanded the British Army, surrendered the entire army of over 7,000 men on October 19, 1781.
Britain began withdrawing its troops from America in January 1782. The British loyalists also fled in great numbers to England, while others settled in Canada. On April 12, 1782, Britain initiated peace talks with America, which were held in Paris. The British parliament agreed to stop all offensive operations in the colonies, which had however earlier declared their independence. On November 30, 1782, a preliminary peace treaty was agreed upon by the American and British ministers.
The Treaty of Paris (1783)
On January 20, 1783, Britain signed the preliminary peace articles with France and Spain. A few months later on April 11, Congress proclaimed the ending of hostilities. Washington followed by declaring the end of fighting, after eight years at war with the British. Britain and the United States eventually signed a peace treaty in Paris on September 3, 1783. At the end of the year, Washington issued his army farewell orders, and eventually resigned his duty before the Continental Congress in Annapolis, Maryland. The revolution’s end had both positive and negative outcomes. Thousands of lives were sacrificed and many livelihoods were forfeited. The British loyalists, for instance, the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, lost most of their fortunes and homes. Numerous former American soldiers formed groups, which initiated the westward expansion. Their relentless advance displaced thousands of the native inhabitants off their rich expansive lands. Although the service in the revolutionary army brought freedom for some African Americans, most of them remained enslaved. The end of the revolution welcomed the battle for individual rights.
The War Could Have Been Prevented
The American revolutionary war could have been avoided in several ways. Firstly, Britain could have devised a more appropriate policy for generating revenues for paying the huge debts in incurred during the Indian and French wars. The heavy taxes it imposed on the colonies to raise such funds only generated great resentment against Britain. Secondly, since Americans were against high taxation without representation, Britain could have allowed the colonies elect their representatives in the British Parliament to facilitate enacted of laws favorable to the colonies. Since the Americans were yearning for self-rule, Britain could have avoided the war by allowing them to elect their own governors. The American’s sense of self-rule could have significantly reduced their resentment against Britain, thereby reducing the possibility of war. Finally, the war could have been avoided if Britain had granted the Americans equal rights, for instance, individual property and ownership, as those that were enjoyed by the people in Great Britain. This could have made the Americans perceive the British government as being considerably fair in advancing their interests, thus maintain the status quo. Unfortunately, Britain either failed to recognize these opportunities in time, or generally ignored them alltogether, as it was the most powerful nation at the time.
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