What started the American Revolution?

What started the American Revolution?

I've read that the American Revolution started at Lexington and Concord with what Ralph Waldo Emerson called, “the shot heard around the world”.

Battles of Lexington and Concord
The Battles of Lexington and Concord, fought on April 19, 1775, kicked off the American Revolutionary War (1775-83)

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The Concord Hymn - Ralph Waldo Emerson(1837)

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.
The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps;
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.
On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone;
That memory may their deed redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.
Spirit, that made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free,
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and thee

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I also read the American Revolution started after the Stamp Act from Britain as the American colonists resisted taxation without representation.

The Stamp Act
The issues raised by the Stamp Act festered for 10 years before giving rise to the Revolutionary War and, ultimately, American independence.

Which of these is true? If none, how was the American Revolution started?

Sources:

  • The Concord Hymn
  • Battles of Lexington and Concord
  • The Stamp Act

Question:
I've read from certain places that the American Revolution started because of the “shot heard around the world” and I also read from other places that the American Revolution started after the Stamp Act from Britian as the American colonists wanted representation. Which of these is true? If none, how was the American Revolution started?

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The "shot heard around the world" or Lexington and Concord (April 18, 1775) was the anonymous first shot of the American Revolution. That was literally the start of the war, but not the cause or why the war was fought.

Technically it wasn't Taxation without representation either. That was the slogan used to oppose the Stamp Act 1765(March 22 1765). The Stamp act was an unpopular precursor of the cause of the war, but it wasn't the actual cause because that crisis was mitigated after one year when the British Parliament repealed the act(March 18, 1766). It was in effect for only six months, and repealed a decade before the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776.

The start of the lead up to the war was the Tea Act(May 10, 1773), which did not increase the price of Tea but significantly reduced the price of tea in the Colonies. Reduced the legal tea so much it was less expensive than black market tea which dominated the colonial tea market. That was the first domino which fell which elicited a response and counter response and eventually led to war. (See timeline be low)

Important Facts

  • Stamp Act 1765 (royal assent: March 22, 1765, commencement: Nov 1 1765, repealed: March 18, 1766) was the first direct, internal tax that Parliament had ever levied on the colonists. It was repealed after British officials trying to enforce it were subject to physical intimidation and mob violence, making it's enforcement impossible.

Sons of Liberty
The origins and founding of the Sons of Liberty is unclear, but history records the earliest known references to the organization to 1765 in the thriving colonial port cities of Boston and New York.

Through the use of mob rule, tactics of fear, force, intimidation, and violence such as tar and feathering, and the stockpiling of arms, shot, and gun powder, the Sons of Liberty effectively undermined British rule, paving the way to America's independence.

Incited by the Sons of Liberty, thousands gathered and a sign was placed on the effigy of Andrew Oliver(official in charge of enforcing the Stamp Act) declaring, “He that takes this down is an enemy to his country.” The riotous, angry, and alcohol fueled crowd paraded the effigy through the streets of Boston inciting supporters of the Patriot cause throughout the city.

The crowd, with the Sons of Liberty leading the way, marched on the home of Andrew Oliver. The fence around Oliver's home was torn down, windows were smashed, furnishings destroyed, and the home looted - most notably Oliver's personal wine cellar. The ironic truth of the matter was Andrew Oliver privately was not a proponent of the Stamp Act. Rather, he was an obvious and easy target for the Sons of Liberty to take out their anger over the Stamp Act and accuse him of duplicity. As a result, on August 17, Oliver publicy resigned his commission and on December 17, the Sons of Liberty made him publicly swear an oath he would never again serve as a stamp master.

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  • The Indemnity Act (1767) was the first attempt by Parliament to save the British East India Company which was one of England's largest companies, but was on the verge of collapse due to much cheaper smuggled Dutch tea. Part of the purpose of the entire series of Townshend Acts was to save the company from imploding.
  • The biggest market for illicit tea was England-by the 1760s the East India Company was losing £400,000 per year to smugglers in Great Britain
  • At the time of the Boston Tea Party American colonists consumed, on average, 2 to 3 cups of tea each day. This equaled approximately two million pounds of tea among 3 million colonists each year.
  • It was estimated that approximately 90% of the tea being drank by American colonists was smuggled.
  • The Tea Act(1773) eight years after the failed Stamp Act 1765, was not a tax. Tea sold in the colonies prior to the Tea Act(1773) was required to travel to Britain first for export, where it was taxed. Then shipped to the colonies were it was taxed again. The Tea Act allowed the tea most of which came from China or India to be shipped directly to the US, thus cutting the effective tax in half and lowering overall the consumer cost significantly.
  • Shipping companies who purchased tea from the East India Company for distribution to Colonial Merchants had tons of rotting tea in colonial warehouses which they could not sell due to colonial hostilities over taxes. Tea Act(1773) allowed the East India Company to dump this tea onto the market at rock bottom prices, undercutting all illegal competition.
  • Tea Act(1773) so reduced the cost of British tea within the colonial marketplace that it made British tea cheaper than smuggled tea.
  • The Boston Tea Party(Dec 16th, 1773) was in reaction to the Tea Act(May 10, 1773)
  • The Son's of Liberties Leader who organized the Boston Tea Party was Samuel Adams cousin of John Adams the second President of the United States.
  • Samuel Adams was strongly associated with the another founding father and tea smuggler, John Hancock. A joke at the time was the two were so close that when Samuel Adams wrote a letter, John Hancock licked the stamp.
  • John Hancock was a wealthy shipping magnate, who made the bulk of his money illegally by smuggling tea, and almost single handedly financed all of the early protests against Britain in Boston and would become President of the Continental Congress and the first signature on the Declaration of Independence. (top row of signatures, center of the page, largest signature on the page)

Declaration of Independence
The first and most famous signature on the engrossed copy was that of John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress.

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The first domino which caused the American Revolution was the Tea Act of 1773. This made legal British tea more competitive in the market than smuggled tea. It meant that a key founding father (John Hancock) who was the president of the Continental Congress and first signer of the Declaration of Independence, also a tea smuggler, would loose market share and money to the now more competitive British East India Company. The British East India Company had the British tea monopoly in the Colonies, and now also had a cheaper product.

The Tea Act(1773), reformed the British tax policy, made their disbursement more efficient, and undercut the price of the dominant black market tea which controlled 90% of the colonial market. The British Parliament hoped to both recapitalize the economically important British East India Company and increase the crowns control over the Colonies. Increase control because the Tea Act(1773) shifted the use of the existing Colonial Tea Tax, which now was substantially reduced, to fund British expenses in the Colonies. The British thought this was both reasonable and would not draw down the protests which defined the earlier Stamp Act 1765.

One of the "expenses" which the tea act was to fund was the salaries of royally appointed local officials, such as Governors. Governors salaries were traditionally paid for by the colonial legislatures. By paying these officials directly from the crown, although still with colonial money, the Sons of Liberty believed the local legislatures were weakened as now their governorships were more loyal to London than their Colonies.

The Sons of Liberty: Who Were They and What Did They Do?

“A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practised at Boston,” print, circa 1774. Print shows two men tarring and feathering a British customs officer and forcing him to drink tea. The man holding the teapot is wearing a hat with number 45 on it, a symbol referring to the John Wilkes case of 1763. The other man is holding a noose and carrying a club. The large bow in his hat indicates his membership in the Sons of Liberty.

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A New Method of Macarony Making, as practiced at Boston in North America
A satire on the treatment given to John Malcom or Malcomb, an unpopular Commissioner of Customs, at Boston, as recorded in the English newspapers shortly before its publication. On Jan 27 1774 he had been tarred and feathered, led to the gallows with a rope round his neck, on the way there being forced as a torture to drink enormous quantities of tea. His offense was in attempting to collect Customs duties; it was not connected with the Boston Tea Party.

Wilkes was a national hero in the colonies and "45" a patriotic symbol. "Liberty Tree" at Boston was reported to be decorated with "Number 45, Wilkes and liberty".

Another print, a folio line engraving, was issued by Carington Bowles on 2 June 1775 with the same title as and the verses quoted above. Macomb is being lowered by ropes from the window of his house into a cart, before receiving his "American suit"

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The response the Son's of Liberty lead by Samuel Adams, funded by John Hancock, was to threaten and physically intimidate colonial merchants not to accept the cheap tea. This was very effective and no colonial merchants would risk taking delivery of this legal and now inexpensive tea. The tea could not even be offloaded from the ships which brought it to the colonies. This lead to the British tea being consolidated in ships in Boston Harbor for weeks unable to be offloaded. Being thus consolidated it was a target for the Son's of Liberty and resulted in the Boston Tea Party (December 16, 1773). If the East India Company's legal tea was permitted to reach the Colonies market, it would undercut the lucrative black market enterprise of the Son's of Liberty's primary benefactor, John Hancock. John Hancock who made his fortune selling smuggled goods, especially tea, would become the first and most prominent signer of the Declaration of Independence just under 3 years removed from the Boston Tea Party. It would have also strengthened the crown's control over the Colonies at the expense of Colonial legislatures and Colonial merchants.

The British reaction to the Boston tea party likewise contributed to the Revolution. Previously when the Colonies stood up to the British Crown like the demonstrations over the unpopular Stamp Act 1765, the Crown backed down and repealed the legislation quickly. ( 1 year almost to the day). But now with the Tea Act(1773) and the destruction of British Property they decided to take a new and harder position.

The British Parliament would reconsider their long policy of appeasement to the Colonies mob eruptions, and respond with the Coercive Acts(1774). The Colonies would call them the "Intolerable Acts".

  • The Intolerable Acts
    On April 22, 1774, Prime Minister Lord North defended the Coercive Acts in the House of Commons, saying:

The Americans have tarred and feathered your subjects, plundered your merchants, burnt your ships, denied all obedience to your laws and authority; yet so clement and so long forbearing has our conduct been that it is incumbent on us now to take a different course. Whatever may be the consequences, we must risk something; if we do not, all is over.

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The Coercive Acts:

  • Boston Port Act (March 31, 1774) Closed Boston Harbor until the Boston Tea Party destroyed goods were paid for
  • Massachusetts Government Act (May 20, 1774) Modified Massachusetts charter of 1691 to end local participation in government.
    • Put Massachusetts under Military rule, and outlawed town meetings.
  • Administration of Justice Act (May 20th, 1774), Allowed British Official charged with capital crimes in the Colonies to be tried for these crimes back in Britain and not answerable to Colonial Courts.
  • Quartering Acts (June 2, 1774), Allowed the British Military confiscate occupied buildings in the colonies for their use.
  • The Quebec Act (June 22, 1774), removed all the territory and fur trade between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers from possible colonial jurisdiction and awarded it to the province of Quebec.

And the Colonial reaction to the Intolerable acts was War, and eventually the Declaration of Independence.

Timeline To War

  • Tea Act(May 10, 1773)
  • Boston Tea Party(Dec 16, 1773),
  • Parliament responds with The Coercive or Intolerable Acts
    • Boston Port Act (March 31, 1774)
    • Massachusetts Government Act (May 20, 1774)
    • Administration of Justice Act (May 20th, 1774)
    • Quartering Acts (June 2, 1774)
    • Quebec Act (June 22, 1774)
  • First meetings of the Continental Congress(Sept 5 - Oct 26, 1774)
  • The shot heard around the world, at Lexington and Concord (April 18, 1775)
  • Congress creates the Continental Army (June 14, 1775)

( The Virginian George Washington is nominated to be the Leader of the Continental Army by Bostonian John Adams, His leadership makes the Continental Army in Boston a united Colonial Effort. Not just a New Englander revolt. At least that was the Adams, Hancock motivation behind championing his appointment.)

  • George Washington arrives at the Siege of Boston and takes command of the Continental Army, July 3, 1775
  • King George then issued a Proclamation of Rebellion(Aug 23, 1775)
  • British Evacuate Boston (Mar 18, 1776)
  • General Howe begins landing troops in New York City (July 2, 1776)
  • Declaration of Independence is ratified (July 4 1776)

Sources:

  • Stamp Act 1765
  • Boston Massacre(March 5, 1770)
  • Tea Act 1773
  • Townshend Acts
  • Samuel Adams
  • Boston Tea Party(Dec 16, 1773)
  • Boston Tea Party Facts
  • First Continental Congress
  • John Hancock
  • John Adams
  • Indemnity Act
  • Sons of Liberty
  • The Boston Tea Party :Aftermath
  • Boston Tea Party Historical Society
  • The Intolerable Acts
    • Boston Port Act (March 31, 1774)
    • Massachusetts Government Act (May 20th, 1774)
    • Administration of Justice Act (May 20th, 1774)
    • Quartering Acts (June 2, 1774)
    • Quebec Act (June 22, 1774)
  • Declaration of Independence
  • British East India Company
  • American Revolution
  • Proclamation of Rebellion(Aug 23, 1775)
  • British Evacuate Boston (Mar 18, 1776)
  • George Washington in the American Revolution
  • Siege of Boston
  • Sons of Liberty
  • John Wilkes
  • The Sons of Liberty: Who Were They and What Did They Do?
  • A New Method of Macarony Making, as practised at Boston in North America

Related Question:

  • What was the perception of the average British person of the Boston Tea Party?

They key to the timing of the American Revolution was the end of the Seven Years War. The Seven Years war was a global war fought primarily between France and Britain. Britain's victory made it the undisputed maritime power around the globe. The part of this war that was fought in North America is called the French And Indian War.

Up to this point, Britain's relationship with the thirteen colonies was very laxed. It was primarily a dumping ground for its population and excess merchandise, as well as a source of natural resources. The colonists enjoyed a lot of liberty in their new place. After the Seven Years War, Britain was saddled with debt at a time when it had acquired a heretofore unseen amount of overseas possessions. These things compounded into a financial crisis, and there was also a post war recession happening in Europe. Its possessions were most enlarged in America, where they tripled. This created the need to assert its control in this part of the empire in a way that it had not done before. This, but more so the financial distress caused it to treat the colonies in a way that created the revolution. Obviously, it wouldn't have pursued such an unpopular taxation strategy if it wasn't desperate.

Britain gained New France East of the Mississippi, minus Louisiana, while everything to the West went to Spain. Britain's North American diplomacy became a dance between the colonists, the natives further west, and the Quebecers. The only ones who were appeased were the Quebecers, who did not rebel throughout the American Revolution. They were formally allowed to be Catholic, but more importantly, all of New France down to Louisiana was attached to that provence.

Ostensibly to appease the natives, which it didn't, they barred the colonists from settling West of the Applachias, in the newly conquered land. This was a huge betrayal to the colonists. The French and Indian war had been fought largely by them. In exchange for their services, many had arranged to receive land in the newly conquered territory. One of these people was George Washington. Britain's backing out of the deal was a major source of discontent that led to the revolution.

Britain passed the Sugar Act in 1764. Widespread rebellion began with the Stamp Act of 1765, though. On top of the preexisting taxes, the Stamp Act had a broader application then any previous tax, and was of a more authoritative nature. The Sons of Liberty emerged as violent group to oppose the Stamp Act. Britain compromised with the colonists at this time, and war was averted. The Quartering act of 1765, mandating that British Troops be given room and board, furthered the unpopularity of British rule.

In addition to the Crown, the East India company was also broke. Around this period was when the Crown began to take over the Company, a process which would eventually create British India. The Tea Act that triggered the Revolution was a bail out of the East India Company. It allowed for tea to be imported directly into the colonies tax free. This undercut the tea bootleggers (up to 90% of tea in the colonies was contraband), who were actually the one's who rallied the call to action. In addition to the Sons of Liberty, the Sons of Neptune was created by Isaac Sears, a shipper and tea merchant. The Sons of Neptune was a group of seagoing merchants who were vested in the protection of their Atlantic routes. Another important aspect of the revolution was the participation of James DeLancey, of the formidable New York DeLancey family.

The Boston Tea Party, which was actually a widespread boycott of British Tea, escalated the situation. Britain passed the Coercive Acts (or the Intolerable Acts) to punish Massachussetts for its role in the plot. Thomas Gage, British Commander In Chief of North America, was made Governor of Massachusetts. He enforced the Coercive Acts, but also was accused letting the rebels exist. On April 14, 1775, he received orders from Britain to commence hostilities against the Rebels. This started skirmishes that led to the Battles of Lexington and Concord on April 19, and the siege of Boston commenced that night.


What started the American Revolution? - History

The Battle of Bunker Hill took place on June 17, 1775, just a few months after the start of the American Revolutionary War.

Boston was being besieged by thousands of American militia. The British were trying to keep control of the city and control its valuable seaport. The British decided to take two hills, Bunker Hill and Breed's Hill, in order to gain a tactical advantage. The American forces heard about it and went to defend the hills.

Where did the battle take place?

This seems like the easiest question ever, doesn't it? Well, not really. There were two hills that the British wanted to take in order to be able to bombard the Americans from a distance. These were Breed's Hill and Bunker Hill. The Battle of Bunker Hill actually took place mostly on Breed's Hill. It's only called the Battle of Bunker Hill because the army thought they were on Bunker Hill. Sort of a funny mistake and it makes for a good trick question.


Bunker Hill Monument by Ducksters
You can visit Bunker Hill and climb to the top of
the monument for a view of the city of Boston

The British were led up the hill by General William Howe. The Americans were led by Colonel William Prescott. Maybe this should have been called the Battle of the Williams! Major John Pitcairn was also one of the British leaders. He was in command of the troops that started the fighting at Lexington that began the Revolutionary War. From the American side, Israel Putnam was the General in charge. Also, leading patriot Dr. Joseph Warren was part of the battle. He was killed during the fighting.

What happened at the battle?

The American forces learned that the British were planning on taking over the hills around Boston in order to gain a tactical advantage. As a result of this information, the Americans secretly moved their troops onto Bunker and Breed's Hill, two unoccupied hills just outside of Boston in Charlestown, Massachusetts. They built up fortifications during the night and prepared for battle.

The next day, when the British realized what had happened, the British attacked. Their commander William Howe led three charges up Breed's Hill. The Americans fought back the first two charges, but started to run out of ammunition and had to retreat at the third charge. The British gained the hill, but their costs were great. Around 226 British were killed and 800 wounded while the Americans did not suffer nearly as many casualties.

Although the British won the battle and gained control of the hills, they paid a heavy price. They lost hundreds of soldiers including several officers. This gave the Americans the courage and confidence that they could stand up to the British in battle. Many more colonists joined the army after this battle and the revolution continued to grow in strength.


Bunker Hill Cannon Ball by Ducksters
A cannon ball dug up from Bunker Hill

The American Revolution: A World War

This website is based on an exhibition that was on view at the National Museum of American History from June 2018 to July 2019.

"A compleat History of the American War. is nearly the History of Mankind for the whole Epocha of it. The History of France Spain Holland, England and the Neutral Powers, as well as America are at least comprized in it."

The American Revolution was far more than an uprising of discontented colonists against the British king. It was a world war that involved multiple nations fighting battles on land and sea around the globe. This broader conflict ultimately determined the outcome in America. The Revolution’s origins lay as much in the Seven Years’ War as in colonists’ discontent. Major American victories, especially the final one at Yorktown, required extensive support from allies. Once won, the Revolution’s consequences echoed far beyond American shores.

By the early 1700s, leading European nations were competing around the world for wealth and power, establishing far-flung colonies or trading outposts. The British colonies in North America were just one example. Note the details in this remarkable 1719 map, which illustrates the imperial worldviews of European rulers of the era as well as the limits of their knowledge.


II. Changes in Government/Society (The Early Modern Era)

Historians in recent decades have argued that from a worldwide standpoint, the most important feature of the early modern period was its globalizing character. The period witnessed the exploration and colonization of the Americas and the rise of sustained contacts between previously isolated parts of the globe. New economies and institutions emerged, becoming more sophisticated and globally articulated over the course of the early modern period. Other notable trends of the early modern period include the development of experimental science, accelerated travel due to improvements in mapping and ship design, increasingly rapid technological progress, secularized civic politics, and the emergence of nation states. Historians typically date the end of the early modern period when the French Revolution of the 1790s began the “late modern” period.


What started the American Revolution? - History

Please note: The audio information from the video is included in the text below.

The Battles of Lexington and Concord signaled the start of the American Revolutionary war on April 19, 1775. The British Army set out from Boston to capture rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock in Lexington as well as to destroy the Americans store of weapons and ammunition in Concord. The colonists were warned however, by riders including Paul Revere, that the British Army was approaching. Sam Adams and John Hancock were able to escape and the local militia was able to hide much of their ammunition and weapons.

The Battle of Lexington was a very small fight. You could hardly call it a battle, but it's important because it's where the Revolutionary War started. When the British arrived, there were only around 80 American militiamen in the town. They were led by Captain John Parker. They were up against a much larger British force led by Major John Pitcairn. Neither side expected to actually fight, but in the midst of the confusion a gunshot went off forcing the British to attack. Some of the colonists were killed and the rest fled.

The gunshot was the first shot of the American Revolution and the start of the war. It was called the "shot heard around the world" by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem Concord Hymn. No one is actually sure who fired the first shot or if it was an American or British soldier.

After the Americans fled from Lexington, the British marched to the city of Concord. When they first got to Concord, they met little resistance and began to search the town for the militia's hidden stash of weapons and munitions. The Americans had retreated to the outskirts of Concord and observed the British from other side of the North Bridge. As the Americans waited, more and more local militiamen arrived making their forces stronger and stronger.

The Americans decided to cross the North Bridge back into Concord. They defeated the British troops at the North Bridge, giving the Americans renewed confidence. Soon the British commander, Colonel Francis Smith, realized that the American militia resistance was rapidly growing and it was time to retreat.

Once the British decided to retreat, they began the long march back to the city of Boston. The Americans continued to gain forces and continued to attack and harass the British during their retreat. By the time the British reached Boston they had lost 73 men and 174 were wounded. The Americans lost 49 men and 41 were wounded.

With these battles, the American Revolution had officially begun. Shots had been fired, thousands of militiamen surrounded Boston, and the Americans felt they had pushed back the British giving them the courage to continue to unite and fight.


Declaration of Independence by Amos Doolittle

Why the American Revolution Matters

The American Revolution was shaped by high principles and low ones, by imperial politics, dynastic rivalries, ambition, greed, personal loyalties, patriotism, demographic growth, social and economic changes, cultural developments, British intransigence and American anxieties. It was shaped by conflicting interests between Britain and America, between regions within America, between families and between individuals. It was shaped by religion, ethnicity and race, as well as by tensions between rich and poor. It was shaped, perhaps above all else, by the aspirations of ordinary people to make fulfilling lives for themselves and their families, to be secure in their possessions, safe in their homes, free to worship as they wished and to improve their lives by availing themselves of opportunities that seemed to lie within their grasp.

No one of these factors, nor any specific combination of them, can properly be said to have caused the American Revolution. An event as vast as the American Revolution is simply too complex to assign it neatly to particular causes. Although we can never know the causes of the American Revolution with precision, we can see very clearly the most important consequences of the Revolution. They are simply too large and important to miss, and so clearly related to the Revolution that they cannot be traced to any other sequence of events. Every educated American should understand and appreciate them.

First, the American Revolution secured the independence of the United States from the dominion of Great Britain and separated it from the British Empire. While it is altogether possible that the thirteen colonies would have become independent during the nineteenth or twentieth century, as other British colonies did, the resulting nation would certainly have been very different than the one that emerged, independent, from the Revolutionary War. The United States was the first nation in modern times to achieve its independence in a national war of liberation and the first to explain its reasons and its aims in a declaration of independence, a model adopted by national liberation movements in dozens of countries over the last 250 years.

Second, the American Revolution established a republic, with a government dedicated to the interests of ordinary people rather than the interests of kings and aristocrats. The United States was the first large republic since ancient times and the first one to emerge from the revolutions that rocked the Atlantic world, from South America to Eastern Europe, through the middle of the nineteenth century. The American Revolution influenced, to varying degrees, all of the subsequent Atlantic revolutions, most of which led to the establishment of republican governments, though some of those republics did not endure. The American republic has endured, due in part to the resilience of the Federal Constitution, which was the product of more than a decade of debate about the fundamental principles of republican government. Today most of the world’s nations are at least nominal republics, due in no small way to the success of the American republic.

Third, the American Revolution created American national identity, a sense of community based on shared history and culture, mutual experience and belief in a common destiny. The Revolution drew together the thirteen colonies, each with its own history and individual identity, first in resistance to new imperial regulations and taxes, then in rebellion, and finally in a shared struggle for independence. Americans inevitably reduced the complex, chaotic and violent experiences of the Revolution into a narrative of national origins, a story with heroes and villains, of epic struggles and personal sacrifices. This narrative is not properly described as a national myth, because the characters and events in it, unlike the mythic figures and imaginary events celebrated by older cultures, were mostly real. Some of the deeds attributed to those characters were exaggerated and others were fabricated, usually to illustrate some very real quality for which the subject was admired and held up for emulation. The revolutionaries themselves, mindful of their role as founders of the nation, helped create this common narrative as well as symbols to represent national ideals and aspirations.

American national identity has been expanded and enriched by the shared experiences of two centuries of national life, but those experiences were shaped by the legacy of the Revolution and are mostly incomprehensible without reference to the Revolution. The unprecedented movement of people, money and information in the modern world has created a global marketplace of goods, services and ideas that has diluted the hold of national identity on many people, but no global identity has yet emerged to replace it, nor does this seem likely to happen any time in the foreseeable future.

Fourth, the American Revolution committed the new nation to ideals of liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenship and made them the basis of a new political order. None of these ideals was new or originated with Americans. They were all rooted in the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome, and had been discussed, debated and enlarged by creative political thinkers beginning with the Renaissance. The political writers and philosophers of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment disagreed about many things, but all of them imagined that a just political order would be based on these ideals. What those writers and philosophers imagined, the American Revolution created—a nation in which ideals of liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenship are the basis of law and the foundation of a free society.

The revolutionary generation did not complete the work of creating a truly free society, which requires overcoming layers of social injustice, exploitation and other forms of institutionalized oppression that have accumulated over many centuries, as well as eliminating the ignorance, bigotry and greed that support them. One of the fundamental challenges of a political order based on principles of universal right is that it empowers ignorant, bigoted, callous, selfish and greedy people in the same way it empowers the wise and virtuous. For this reason, political progress in free societies can be painfully, frustratingly slow, with periods of energetic change interspersed with periods of inaction or even retreat. The wisest of our revolutionaries understood this, and anticipated that creating a truly free society would take many generations. The flaw lies not in our revolutionary beginnings or our revolutionary ideals, but in human nature. Perseverance alone is the answer.

Our independence, our republic, our national identity and our commitment to the high ideals that form the basis of our political order are not simply the consequences of the Revolution, to be embalmed in our history books. They are living legacies of the Revolution, more important now, as we face the challenges of a world demanding change, than ever before. Without understanding them, we find our history incomprehensible, our present confused and our future dark. Understanding them, we recognize our common origins, appreciate our present challenges and can advocate successfully for the revolutionary ideals that are the only foundation for the future happiness of the world.

Above: Detail of Liberty by an unidentified American artist, ca. 1800-1820, National Gallery of Art.


Causes of the American Revolution

Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier Memorial

In the beginning, the colonies were proud to be British. There were small instances of Parliament’s control that bothered the colonists, like the Currency Acts of 1751 and 1764. But when the French and Indian War took place (1754 – 1763), King George III lost a great deal of money due to buying expensive supplies for his army and the colonies. In order to pay off his debt, he imposed taxes on the colonies without their consent.

This outraged the colonists.

It’s an old saying that you should always look for the money trail. The Protestant Reformation had one, and money was certainly one of the major causes of the American Revolution.

The colonists did not like being taxed for things that had always had free. They immediately began a boycott of British goods.

Now it was the king’s turn to be furious.

King George wasted no time in sending soldiers across the Atlantic to make sure the colonies were behaving as they should.

Soon, what is perhaps the most famous of the causes of the American Revolution came to pass. A young ship owner brought over a ship full of taxed tea from Britain and declared he would see it unloaded …

Causes of the American Revolution:The Boston Tea Party

Boston Tea Party, 1774

The colonists decided they would see none of the tea leave the ship. A group of colonists dressed as American Indians boarded the ship at night and threw the tea overboard into the harbor, ruining all of it. When they saw one of their comrades trying to stuff some in his pockets, they stripped the tea from his grasp and sent him home without his pants. They then stripped the ship owner of his clothes and tarred and feathered him.

This event is now known as the Boston tea party.

I can’t resist reminding you of Mr. Banks’ comment in the movie Mary Poppins that when the tea was thrown into the harbor, it became “too weak for even Americans to drink.”

Causes of the American Revolution:The Intolerable Acts

In response to the Boston Tea Party, the king imposed the “Intolerable Acts.”

One of the more major causes of the American Revolution, the Intolerable Acts were …

  • The Boston Port Act, closing the port of Boston until the Dutch East India Company had been repaid for the destroyed tea
  • The Massachusetts Government Act, putting the government of Massachussets almost entirely under direct British control
  • The Administration of Justice Act, allowing royal officials to be tried in Britain if the king felt it necessary for fair justice
  • The Quartering Act, ordering the colonies to provide lodging for British soldiers
  • The Quebec Act, expanding British territory in Canada and guaranteeing the free practice of Roman Catholicism.

The Quartering Act incensed the colonies most. The king and parliament revived an old law requiring colonists to house British soldiers in their homes. Because of the Boston Massacre (4 years earlier, in 1770), the colonists were afraid of the soldiers in their homes. They would lay awake at night with fear for their children embedded in their hearts like a knife.

This is when the colonies decided that something must be done.

Causes of the American Revolution:The First Continental Congress

Out of the Intolerable Acts the First Continental Congress was born.

In this congress 55 delegates representing 12 of the 13 colonies—Georgia withheld—argued back and forth as to whether or not they should separate from Britain for killing their people, firing cannons on their cities, closing down Boston’s sea port, and, primarily, imposing the intolerable acts.

The congress was in session for two solid months in September and October of 1774. After much dissension, they decided to send a “Declaration of Rights and Grievances” to King George, hoping their demands would be met. At this point, the colonists still could not foresee separating from Britain.

More ominously, they also endorsed the “Suffolk Reserves,” resolutions passed by Suffolk county in Massachusetts—certainly one of the causes of the American Revolution.

Massachusetts was the colony worst hit by the Intolerable Acts. The Suffolk Reserves warned General Thomas Gage that Massachussets would not tolerate their enforcement and that they would retain possession of all taxes collected in Massachusetts.

After sending the Declaration of Rights and Grievances, the First Continental Congress separated to await Britain’s reply.

Causes of the American Revolution:The Battles of Lexington and Concord

Tension was far too high for the king to respond favorably. The colonists began to amass arms and prepare for what they felt was an inevitable battle with the oppressive British army.

Amos Doolittle engraving of Battle of Lexington published in 1775

It came soon enough. Paul Revere’s ride on April 19, 1775 was to announce the approach of British soldiers to stamp out colonist resistance in the towns of Lexington and Concord.

Lexington was first. The British met only 77 minutemen, and at first were pleased to allow them to leave. However, from some unknown place a shot was fired, and the British opened up on the Americans. Eight were killed, ten wounded, and the British suffered but one minor casualty.

It was made up for at Concord. There the colonists were prepared.

400 minutemen sent the British troops scurrying back to Lexington, completely unprepared to be fired on from the woods during their retreat. Apparently, guerilla tactics were considered ungentleman-like in that day and age.

Ungentlemanly or not, they were effective, and the Americans routed the British all the way back to Boston. There were nearly 300 British casualties, including 73 dead and 23 missing. The Americans suffered less than 100.

Second Continental Congress voting for independence

Causes of the American Revolution:The Second Continental Congress

It was time to do something. The Continental Congress gathered again in May of 1775, where they would become and remain the government of the colonies until the end of the Revolutionary War.

They quickly made an attempt at peace, sending the Olive Branch Petition to King George declaring their loyalty. When it reached the King he pushed it aside and didn’t even read it, and in response he sent a proclamation to the Congress saying that they would all hang for their defiance to the crown.

The Olive Branch Petition

I thought you might be interested in the proposition the 2nd Continental Congress made to King George III:

“Attached to your Majesty’s person, family, and Government, with all devotion that principle and affection can inspire connected with Great Britain by the strongest ties that can unite societies, and deploring every event that tends in any degree to weaken them, we solemnly assure your Majesty, that we not only most ardently desire the former harmony between her and these Colonies may be restored, but that a concord may be established between them upon so firm a basis as to perpetuate its blessings, uninterrupted by any future dissensions, to succeeding generations in both countries, and to transmit your Majesty’s name to posterity.”

This united the colonies and birthed the Declaration of Independence, which bore us to war with Britain.


American Revolution Battles

April 19, 1775-March 17, 1776 - Siege of Boston - Massachusetts

June 11-12 - Battle of Machias - Massachusetts (Maine)

September 17-November 3 - Siege of Fort St. Jean - Canada

September 19-November 9 - Arnold Expedition - Maine/Canada

December 9 - Battle of Great Bridge - Virginia

February 27 - Battle of Moore's Creek Bridge - North Carolina

September 16 - Battle of Harlem Heights - New York

October 28 - Battle of White Plains - New York

December 26 - Battle of Trenton - New Jersey

January 2 - Battle of the Assunpink Creek - New Jersey

July 7 - Battle of Hubbardton - Vermont

September 11 - Battle of Brandywine - Pennsylvania

September 19 & October 7 - Battle of Saratoga - New York

September 21 - Paoli Massacre - Pennsylvania

September 26-November 16 - Siege of Fort Mifflin - Pennsylvania

October 4 - Battle of Germantown - Pennsylvania

October 6 - Battle of Forts Clinton & Montgomery - New York

October 22 - Battle of Red Bank - New Jersey

December 19-June 19, 1778 - Winter at Valley Forge - Pennsylvania

July 3 - Battle of Wyoming (Wyoming Massacre) - Pennsylvania

August 29 - Battle of Rhode Island - Rhode Island

July 24-August 12 - Penobscot Expedition - Maine (Massachusetts)

September 16-October 18 - Siege of Savannah - Georgia

September 23 - Battle of Flamborough Head (Bonhomme Richard vs. HMS Serapis) - waters off Britain


American Revolution

The American Revolution was an epic political and military struggle waged between 1765 and 1783 when 13 of Britain’s North American colonies rejected its imperial rule. The protest began in opposition to taxes levied without colonial representation by the British monarchy and Parliament. As the political disagreements grew, they triggered a perpetual cycle of defiant acts and punitive laws that led to open rebellion. With the assistance of France, the American colonies were able to defeat the British, achieve independence and form the United States of America.

1754 – 1776: Prelude to Independence

The Implementation of Taxes
From 1754 until 1763, the British colonies and France fought an expensive land war on the North American continent known as “The French and Indian War.” To recoup these expenses and raise funds to replenish their coffers, the British government enacted a series of new taxes. Until the Stamp Act of 1765, some taxes were proposed, and others were enacted and withdrawn. This was the first tax imposed directly on the 13 American colonies. Benjamin Franklin testified before Parliament that the tax was too high and that the colonies had already done more than enough to support the French and Indian War. That same year, the group known as the Sons of Liberty was established.

The Consequences of Unrest
In 1767, Parliament imposed the Townshend Acts, which placed a duty on several essential goods, including tea. A year later, the Liberty, a sloop owned by John Hancock, was seized on suspicion of smuggling. The growing unrest following this event led to the Occupation of Boston by British troops in 1768. The tensions in Boston came to a head on March 5, 1770, as a mob gathered around a group of soldiers guarding the Custom House. The unruly protestors threw snowballs and other debris at the soldiers. Amid the chaos and without a direct order, the soldiers fired into the crowd, killing five men and wounding six others in what would be known as the Boston Massacre. John Adams successfully defended the soldiers, but patriots like Samuel Adams, John’s cousin, used the event to garner support for the independence movement.

Faneuil Hall in 1775, Contributor:Hall, Charles Bryan, Specific Material Type: 1 print : engraving, Published Date: 1899 – 1906, Source: © Boston Public Library

No Taxation Without Representation
The Tea Act was passed in 1773 to financially assist the struggling British East India Company (EIC) by placing a small tax on tea. Many colonists opposed the tax and continued to support James Otis Jr.’s position of “taxation without representation is tyranny.” The EIC secured passage of the tea via consignees in the American colonies. Seven ships were sent to the colonies carrying the cursed tea. While attempts in other cities were successful to send these ships back to England, three ships landed in Boston. Over a three week period, many town meetings were held to discuss the volatile standoff between citizens and Governor Hutchinson. On December 16, 1773, the final town meeting moved from Faneuil Hall to Old South Meeting House because of the overwhelming crowd size. Numerous speakers, including Samuel Adams, debated the issue. Toward the end of the meeting, after sensing no resolution, the crowd headed to Griffin’s Wharf. Members of the Sons of Liberty, some loosely disguised as Mohawk Indians, climbed aboard the ships and threw 340 tea chests overboard. This act of defiance later became known as the Boston Tea Party.

Responses From All Around
The British responded to the Boston Tea Party by passing the Coercive, or Intolerable Acts, as they were known in the American colonies. Not everyone agreed with Boston’s actions, causing the other colonies to rally in defense. Patrick Henry would give a speech in Spring of 1774 in the Virginia House of Burgesses supporting the cause of freedom, which included the oft-quoted passage, “Give me liberty or give me death.” The cause of independence was also championed in later writings, such as Thomas Paine’s 1776 pamphlet, Common Sense.

1775: Fighting for Independence

Erupting in Battle
The growing tensions prompted the British monarch to declare Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion and ordered that the American patriots be disarmed. A British unit left Boston Common and marched on nearby Lexington to capture rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock as well as their cache of weapons and ammunition. A prearranged signal of light from the steeple of the Old North Church, “One if by land, two if by sea,” alerted Paul Revere and William Dawes to ride toward Lexington and Concord to spread the alarm that the British soldiers were on the way. Minutemen first engaged the British in open combat on April 19, 1775 on Lexington Green where “the shot heard ‘round the world” was fired. Prior to this skirmish, Captain John Parker uttered the phrase, “if they mean to have a war, let it begin here.”

Continuing the Fight
Two months later, colonists fortified Bunker Hill in Charlestown. During the assault by British forces, the Continental Army soldiers were steadied with the order, “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.” A lack of ammunition forced the colonists to withdraw. It was during the battle that Joseph Warren, the physician who sent Paul Revere on his ride, was killed. George Washington assumed leadership of the Continental Army on the Cambridge Common on July 3, 1775.

Cannons and Fortifications during the Revolution
British troops finally evacuated Boston several years later. After Benedict Arnold and Ethan Allen captured Fort Ticonderoga, large cannons were transported overland to emplacements on Dorchester Heights overlooking the city. These cannons and fortifications made it impossible to penetrate the city of Boston, so British forces withdrew. Before becoming a traitor, Arnold would also rally American troops to victory at the Battle of Saratoga, which encouraged Spain to join France in fighting against Britain.

1776 – 1778: Defending Independence

The Declaration of Independence
As war broke out, the governments of each colony formally declared their independence. On June 7, 1776, Richard Henry Lee made a motion for independence before the Second Continental Congress. Four days later, a committee was selected to write a document explaining the reasons for separating from Britain. Congress voted to ratify the Declaration of Independence that was drafted primarily by Thomas Jefferson and prominently signed by John Hancock on July 4, 1776. The new country was called the United States of America.

Drawing Inspiration From Prose
As the war continued, the Continental Army experienced challenges and hardships as well as a number of notable victories. After several defeats in New York, General Washington led the army across the icy Delaware River on Christmas night 1776 to attack Trenton. Before the battle, the troops listened to a passage from The Crisis, a pamphlet written by Thomas Paine. They drew inspiration from his stirring prose that described the challenges ahead. Paine wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”

Building Alliances
The victory inspired new and much needed confidence in the Continental Army that they would use the following winter when they made camp at Valley Forge. Although the army faced severe hardships during the winter encampment, they became an effective fighting force through the training they received under the skillful direction of Baron Friedrich von Steuben. At the end of this horrific winter, France signed an alliance, negotiated by Benjamin Franklin, to aid the United States monetarily and militarily. The British would evacuate Philadelphia in June 1778.

Continentals Versus Loyalists
Early in the war, the British controlled Charleston and Savannah. They had hoped that a strong number of loyalists in the South would rally around the Crown. Despite losing at the Battle of Camden, the Continental Army waged a successful guerrilla war against the British in Georgia and the Carolinas. Patriot victories at the Battles of King’s Mountain and Cowpens, led by Nathaniel Greene and the “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion, kept loyalists from joining British forces. This forced General Cornwallis to move north into North Carolina and finally Virginia.

Taking the Fight to Sea
While the Continental Army was fighting on land, the fledgling Continental Navy was engaged at sea. Although mainly using privateers, the United States did have a few ships of its own. It was during a sea battle between his ship, the Bonhomme Richard, and the British warship Serapis that Captain John Paul Jones uttered his famous quote, ”I have not yet begun to fight,” when asked if he intended to surrender his floundering vessel. Along with the French Navy led by Comte de Grasse, naval forces helped to trap Cornwallis at Yorktown.

1780-1783: Final Victory

Joining Forces for One Last Attack
In 1780, a 5,500-man French expeditionary force under Comte de Rochambeau landed at Newport, Rhode Island. Washington devised a plan to feign an attack on New York, which would enable Rochambeau to join forces with the Continental Army. The combined force would join with troops commanded by the Marquis de Lafayette and attack Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis had maneuvered his forces into the Tidewater Region expecting to be evacuated by the British Navy. The evacuation did not happen because Comte de Grasse’s naval forces defeated the British fleet sent for relief during the Battle of the Chesapeake. Washington then led his combined force in laying siege to Yorktown in late September 1781. The surrender of Cornwallis and his army in October of that year convinced the British government to negotiate an end to the war and recognize America’s independence. The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, which marked the end of the Revolutionary War.


Timeline of the American Revolution

The American Revolution took place between 1765 and 1783 but there were many important events that lead up to it as well as a few that followed.

Here are the events of the American Revolution as they happened:

1754-1763:
♠ The French and Indian War takes place

October 1763:
♠ The Proclamation of 1763

March 1765:
♠ The Stamp Act
♠ The Quartering Act of 1765

The Stamp Act Denounced, illustration published in Lossing’s History of the United States of America, circa 1913

March 1766:
♠ The Stamp Act repealed
♠ The Declaratory Act

June 1767:
♠ The Townshend Revenue Act

October 1768:
♠ British troops arrive in Boston to enforce customs laws

Lithograph of the Boston Massacre by John Bufford, circa 1856

June 1772:
♠ The Gaspee Affair

May 1773:
♠ The Tea Act

Boston Tea Party, engraving by W.D. Cooper, circa 1789

March 1774:
♠ Boston Port Act, part of the “Intolerable Acts”

May 1774:
♠ Administration of Justice Act, part of the “Intolerable Acts”
♠ Massachusetts Government Act, part of the “Intolerable Acts”

June 1774:
♠ Quartering Act of 1774, part of the “Intolerable Acts”
♠ Quebec Act, part of the “Intolerable Acts”

April 1775:
♠ The rides of Paul Revere and William Dawes
♠ The Battle of Lexington
♠ “The shot heard ’round the world” takes place at the Battle of Concord.
♠ The Siege of Boston begins

June 1775:
♠ The British win the Battle of Bunker Hill

“View of the attack on Bunker’s Hill, with the burning of Charles Town, June 17, 1775” engraving by John Lodge circa 1783

July 1775
♠ The Continental Congress adopts the Olive Branch Petition

September 1775
♠ King George III rejects the Olive Branch Petition proposed by the Continental Congress

January 1776:
♠ Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” published

March 1776:
♠ The British evacuate Boston, bringing the Siege of Boston to an end

July 1776:
♠ Declaration of Independence ratified by Congress

August 1776:
♠ The British defeat the Americans in the Battle of Long Island

September 1776:
♠ The British occupy New York City

December 1776:
♠ Washington crosses the Delaware and captures Trenton from Hessians

January 1777:
♠ The Americans win the Battle of Princeton

July 1777:
♠ The Americans lose Fort Ticonderoga to the British
♠ Marquis De Lafayette arrives in Philadelphia

September 1777:
♠ The British win the Battle of Brandywine

October 1777:
♠ The British win the Battle of Germantown
♠ The British occupy Philadelphia
♠ Americans capture Burgoyne and his army at Saratoga, NY

November 1777:
♠ The British capture Fort Mifflin, Pennsylvania

December 1777:
♠ Washington’s army spends winter at Valley Forge

February 1778:
♠ The United States and France sign the French Alliance

June 1778:
♠ The British abandon Philadelphia and return to New York

June 1779:
♠ Spain declares war on Great Britain

May 1780:
♠ British troops capture Charleston, SC

October 1781:
♠ American and French troops win the Battle of Yorktown against the British

December 1782:
♠ British troops leave Charleston, SC

September 1783:
♠ The United States and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris

November 1783:
♠ British troops leave New York City

December 1783:
♠ George Washington resigns as Commander and returns to private life

August 1786 – January 1787:
♠ Shay’s rebellion squashed by state militia

September 1787:
♠ U.S. Constitution signed

June 1788:
♠ U.S. Constitution adopted after New Hampshire ratifies it

December 1791:
♠ United States Bill of Rights ratified

Sources:
“Timeline of the American Revolution.” U.S. History, www.ushistory.org/declaration/revwartimeline.html
“Timeline of the Revolution.” PBS, Twin Cities Public Television, www.pbs.org/ktca/liberty/chronicle_timeline.html


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