AP US: The American Revolution (1775-1783)

Lexington and Concord

  • General Gage dispatched troops to Lexington and Concord to seize stores of colonial gunpowder and capture the "ringleaders", John Hancock and Sam Adams
  • shots fired, 8 colonists killed, and war began with the "shot heard 'round the world"
  • as the British retreated to Boston, "cowardly" militiamen shot at the redcoats from behind trees, walls, etc.
  • this attack will lead to the meeting of the Second Continental Congress

Second Continental Congress

  • two groups are present, those that want immediate independence and those that want a negotiated settlement
  • "Declaration of Causes and Necessities for Taking up Arms"
    • calls for an army, which will be led by Washington
    • wants to create a navy to disrupt British shipping; the colonists know they aren't strong enough to actually defeat the most powerful navy of that era
    • have a "pipe dream" of obtaining Canada
      • so, they will send a military expedition under Benedict Arnold to conquer Canada
    • no official declaration of war, but war begins
    • colonies will be governed by the Congress for the remainder of the war

Phase I: The Northern Campaign (1775-1776)

  • Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys
    • seize Fort Ticonderoga in New York
    • however, the centre of conflict is in Massachusetts
  • Bunker Hill (June 1775)
    • actually named "Breed's Hill"
    • 1000 British soldiers are killed, only 400 Americans; the British suffer 40% casualties
    • only sheer numbers (soldiers and supplies) allow the British to win
    • the colonists' morale is boosted by their ability to hold out for so long
    • will result in the Olive Branch Petition being written by the Congress

The Olive Branch Petition

  • written by the Second Continental Congress and sent to King George
  • reaffirms their loyalty to the king
  • asks the king to intercede with Parliament
  • the Petition is ignored by the king - he doesn't like his "loyal" subjects shooting his soldiers
  • Response: The Prohibitory Act
    • all colonies are declared to be in open rebellion; that is, the Crown declares war on the colonies
    • suspends all trade between British possessions and the American colonies
    • shows that efforts for negotiation have failed - it is now time for war and independence

Advantages and Disadvantages at the start of the Revolution

  • British
    • Advantages
      • Larger population - more people to produce, join army, etc.
      • Mercenaries, for example the Hessians from Germany
      • Army, Navy are far superior to the colonists' - the navy is the best in the world
      • Native Americans - mostly ally with British to stop colonists' Westward expansion (the British government tried the Proclamation of 1763, but the colonists ignored it and intruded on Indian lands)
      • Tories - colonist Loyalists; hated by the Patriots
      • Slaves - promised freedom if they fight for England
    • Disadvantages
      • Global War - Britain has to "watch their back" for threats from France, Spain, and the rest of Europe
      • Logistics - lines of supply and communication are very stretched; orders from London often take months to cross the Atlantic
      • To win, the British must completely crush the colonists
  • Americans
    • Advantages
      • Homeland defence - know the terrain, want freedom
      • Strong Ideals - Patriots have firmly believed, well-defined ideals that they are fighting for
      • Better leaders (over time) - George Washington is a great leader and a symbol of victory; the British have no such symbol
      • Extend war long enough to gain support of other nations
        • just a hope at the start of the war, but, eventually, experienced military officers such as Lafayette, Polaski, and von Steuben come to help
      • Guerilla Tactics - British weren't prepared for it
      • Hope for money and troops from other nations, but they will need to be successful first
      • Long war - wait until the British people get fed up (maybe)
      • [Many of these are simply perceived advantages, although it works out in the end]
    • Disadvantages
      • Small army - often, soldiers will leave to tend crops
        • only about 5000 regular troops
        • must rely on militias for help
      • command issue - who's in charge?
        • the Second Continental Congress is essentially in charge, but nobody really authorised them; also they can't tax, and war is expensive
      • "1/3 Issue" - one third of population are loyal, 1/3 are loyalists, 1/3 are neutral
      • little supplies - nobody can tax or make currency in order to buy them
        • results in lowered morale and deficient performance
        • American strategy calls for a long war - until the British give up - but they don't have the supplies to do so

The Declaration of Independence (4 July, 1776)

  • June 1776
    • Richard Henry Lee introduces a resolution to the Second Continental Congress, calling for the Congress to declare the colonies to be free and independent states
    • a committee, including John Adams, Washington, and Jefferson, is established to write and justify this proposal
      • Jefferson is the primary writer, while the others edit
      • Jefferson is an Enlightenment thinker, and uses ideas from this period in his work
      • work is completed in early July 1776
      • at this point, all the colonies except New York (still largely Loyalist) had approved Lee's proposal, and were only waiting for the document to be completed
      • 4 July - the document was formally approved by the Second Continental Congress
        • It was actually ready by 2 July, but approval was delayed by other matters
  • Three parts
    • Preamble
      • explains necessity for independence
      • discusses preservation of basic rights
        • "We hold these truths to be self-evident…"
        • "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness…"
      • borrows ideas from Locke's Treaties on Government and Rousseau's Social Contract
    • List of abuses
      • lists king and government's abuses
      • blame the king, not just Parliament, for their wrongs and for ignoring colonists' rights
      • justifies the colonists' actions
    • Formal declaration of war
      • for the above reasons, we have no choice: we need to be independent
  • even before the document was signed, the Second Continental Congress had formed a committee to create a constitution to govern the colonies
    • hard to run a war without a government
    • Articles of Confederation are not adopted until the war's end, because of conflict between colonies' desires

Washington's Problems

  • 1/3 Problem - population's ideals comprise three groups
    • Patriots
      • Paine's Common Sense is radically anti-monarchy and incendiary; it viewed the American struggle as symbolic for all those who are oppressed
        • sells 150,000 copies - a lot for that time
        • has always been a political inspiration
      • want consent of the governed
      • republican government for the common good is desired
    • Loyalists
      • support the crown, and don't want to break away
      • are strong in New York, Rhode Island, Norfolk, South Carolina, others
      • thought Mercantilism had brought benefits to the colonies and life was better under the king
    • Neutral group doesn't strongly favour either side
  • State/colony loyalties
    • colonies think they're sovereign states
    • loyal to their own area, not to the whole nation
    • often, wouldn't support war when battles were physically located in other colonies
    • this attitude continues for another 6 years after the war
  • Congress has no real power
    • but it has to run the war anyway
    • can't tax to raise money for the Continental Army, and colonies ignore requests for money
  • Poor training until arrival of Baron von Steuben
  • Washington is a natural leader who impresses people, but he's not much of a military talent
  • when help from France, Germany, etc. comes, the real, experienced military officers help to make it a good army

Military Strategies

  • Americans
    • attrition
      • British have a long supply line which is easily attacked
      • can't outright defeat British navy, just disrupt it
    • Guerilla tactics
      • fight an insurgent war
      • don't have to win a battle, just wear down the enemy
    • make an alliance with enemies of Britain
      • not going to be easy - Britain has beaten its enemies too often
      • colonists must demonstrate that they are serious and have a chance to win
      • the Declaration of Independence indicates that they're serious, but they still need a victory
  • British
    • divide colonies in half, north and south
    • blockade ports to stop supplies from possible allies and to stop intercolonial transport
    • "divide and conquer"
      • Loyalists vs. Patriots
      • use Loyalists to help with food, housing, information, etc.
    • [this will be almost the same strategy as that used by Scott's Anaconda Plan during the Civil War]

Phase II: New York and Pennsylvania (1777-1778)

  • not very many colonial successes during this period - the colonists usually lose badly
  • early during this period, they force the British out of Boston, but the British then centre their forces in New York, and the colonists fare poorly
    • this doesn't improve hopes of gaining allies
  • "Washington Crossing the Delaware" - painting by Leutze, 1851
    • George Washington leads attacks on Hessians at Trenton the day after Christmas
    • attack the British at Princeton shortly thereafter
    • Washington's greatest military victory up to this point
  • The British Plan
    • Burgoyne (from Canada), Howe (from New York), and St. Leger (from Lake Ontario area) would converge on Albany
    • plan to end the war with this attack
    • Howe decides to conquer Philadelphia instead - he thinks he has time to go to Philadelphia and still be able to help at Albany
      • forces the others to retreat to wait for him
      • successfully captures Philadelphia, but leaves Burgoyne isolated
    • Burgoyne - "Gentleman Johnny Burgoyne"
      • has a big ego and isn't very intelligent
      • cuts through forest in New York, but progress is slow and he is observed and hampered by the colonists, Indians, and others
        • he brings so much stuff with him that he only progresses a half mile per day
      • plans to win at Saratoga; however, his supporting armies don't come, and he is defeated
      • Battle of Saratoga 1777
        • surrounded by General Gates and forced to surrender
        • "Turning Point" of the war
          • gave France confidence in the colonists' cause, leading them to support the Revolution
          • without foreign aid and escalation into a world war, most historians agree that the Americans would have lost the war
          • Burgoyne is sent home in disgrace, and Howe is fired

The Southern Strategy

  • Gen. Sir Henry Clinton is the new British commander
    • he plans to focus fighting in the South, especially the Carolinas and Virginia, then move North
    • he is effective for 6 months, but then the colonists begin to gain the upper hand
    • the Southern colonists are, generally, better fighters, marksmen, and military leaders than those in the North
    • Americans begin to win a series of battles
  • Britain's "Southern Strategy"
    • thought there were more Loyalists in the South
    • thought the resources in the South were more valuable and worth preserving
    • Britain wins small victories, but cannot pacify the countryside
      • Guerilla fighting, for example, Nathanial Greene, the "Fighting Quaker"

Cornwallis' Surrender at Yorktown

  • The British under Cornwallis march to Yorktown, on the coast of Virginia
  • in theory, they are protected by the Royal Navy
  • the British control New York City and several Southern ports
  • the future of the Revolution is tied to Cornwallis in Virginia
  • Washington comes from the North, Lafayette from the South, and La Grasse's flotilla cuts off the British from the sea
  • 17 Oct, 1781 - Cornwallis surrenders while the British band plays "The World Turned Upside Down" (according to tradition, at least)
    • British public is tired of war, demands an end
    • Lord North, Prime Minister, resigns
    • British negotiate for peace

Treaty of Paris

  • US diplomats - Ben Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams work with France for a suitable end to the war
    • had good military relations with France, but diplomatic relations were poor
    • America is concerned that France would try to work out a settlement that ignores American independence, or one that tries to use an independent America for their own gains
    • So, America chooses to negotiate independently of the French
    • 1783 - American and British agreement; Congress ratifies the Treaty of Paris
    • two weeks later, the British, French, and Spanish agree to a separate treaty
  • Terms
    • Britain formally and unconditionally recognises US independence
    • Boundaries of new nation
      • North: Canada border, Great Lakes
      • West: Mississippi River
      • South: Northern boundary of Spanish Florida
    • American fishing access to Newfoundland is unlimited
    • US government agrees to not interfere legally with British merchants and creditors seeking to collect debts owed by Americans
      • but, they won't force them to pay
    • US would suggest compensating Loyalists whose property had been confiscated during the war; however, they won't require this compensation
    • these two clauses will cause eventual problems with Britain, who will use them as an excuse to remain on the continent
  • US Geography
    • Spain had Florida and New Orleans
    • states have land claim West of the Appalachians, but they will have to give these up

Women and Minorities

Two Revolutions: Historians' View of the Revolution

  • American Revolution can be seen as a Civil War - Patriots vs. Loyalists
  • primary goal of the fighters was to end British control
  • they also sought to make America more democratic politically and socially
  • historians see it as a conservative revolution - it's "boring"
    • battle to maintain status quo, to prevent change rather than effect it
    • colonies already had fundamentals of democracy
    • at war's end, no change other than the lack of British
  • Revolution allows colonial elite to maintain power; for example, in New York, about 30 families controlled 3/4 of the land - they're fighting to maintain that control
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