- The Stamp Act
- The Declaratory Act
- The Townshend Revenue Act
- The Intolerable Acts
- Edmund Burke
- King George III
- John Dickinson
- Benjamin Franklin
- Thomas Jefferson
- Patrick Henry
- Thomas Paine
By the late 1500s, after centuries of petty fighting among the many noble families of Europe, four nations had emerged that were stable and wealthy enough to turn their attention to overseas exploration. These nations were Spain, Portugal, France, and England (also known as Britain or Great Britain). They all looked to the vast and unknown wilderness of the North American continent as an exciting opportunity for exploration. For the most part, their motive was profit.
The English (also called British) focused their early efforts on the...
(The entire section is 1535 words.)
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The Stamp Act
Issued by British Parliament
Passed on March 22, 1765; excerpted from Documents of American History, 1958
"There shall be raised, levied, collected, and paid unto his Majesty, his heirs, and successors, throughout the colonies and plantations in America, which now are, or hereafter may be, under the dominion of his Majesty, his heirs and successors, … for every pack of … cards, the sum of one shilling."
From the Stamp Act
In 1764, Great Britain's twenty-seven-year-old king, George III (1738–1820), had ruled for only four years. (George became king in 1760 when his father, George II [1683–1760], died). George III was said to be not very bright—he was eleven years old before he learned to read. As often happened when a new king or queen ascended the British throne, George faced power struggles among the important men who surrounded him. The struggles would decide who had influence over the king and would therefore gain power themselves. In his early days on the throne, George III was more interested in establishing his power and settling on advisers than in dealing with any restlessness in the American colonies. Unfortunately, he did not always appoint the most capable people to advise him.
The king's first man in charge of money matters...
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The Declaratory Act
Issued by British Parliament
Passed on March 18, 1766; excerpted from Documents of American History, 1958
"The King's majesty … had, hath, and of right ought to have, full power to make laws and statutes of sufficient force and validity to bind the colonies and people of America, subjects of the crown of Great Britain, in all cases whatsoever."
From the Declaratory Act
In March 1765, the British Parliament passed the Stamp Act to raise money in America to help pay for British soldiers stationed there. The Stamp Act, scheduled to go into effect on November 1, 1765, taxed printed matter such as newspapers, legal documents, and even dice and playing cards. Much to Parliament's surprise, Americans protested the tax in the strongest terms, in many cases resorting to violence against British officials in America. They also refused to buy British goods.
It became clear that more British soldiers would have to be sent to America to enforce an act that did not promise to raise much money anyway. British merchants suffered from Americans' refusal to buy their goods. Trade between England and America came to a standstill, and merchants protested to Parliament.
Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790), sixty years old in 1765 and...
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The Townshend Revenue Act
Issued by British Parliament
Passed on June 29, 1767; excerpted from
Documents of American History, 1958
"There shall be raised, levied, collected, and paid, unto his Majesty, his heirs, and successors, for upon and the respective Goods herein after mentioned, which shall be imported from Great Britain into any colony or plantation in America…. "
From the Townshend Revenue Act
The Stamp Act of 1765 was passed by Parliament to help pay for British soldiers on duty in America. It raised money by taxing printed matter such as newspapers, legal documents, and even the sale of dice and playing cards. After the colonies expressed their outrage, Parliament repealed the tax. But England still needed money from the colonies to help pay for the soldiers. Charles Townshend (1725–1767), an adviser for King George III (1738–1820), informed the king and Parliament that he had figured out a way to tax the colonies without their objecting. Not only would his proposals raise money, Townshend said, they would also demonstrate Parliament's power over the colonies. Parliament passed the Townshend Acts on June 29,1767. They included the Townshend Revenue Act, which is excerpted later; an act setting up a new board of customs commissioners (customs are taxes on imported and exported...
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The Intolerable Acts
Issued by British Parliament
Passed on March 31, 1774, and June 2, 1774;
excerpted from Documents of American History,
1958, and American Journey (CD-ROM), 1995
"… dangerous commotions and insurrections have been fomented and raised in the town of Boston, in the province of Massachuset's Bay, in New England, by divers ill-affected persons, to the subversion of his Majesty's government, and to the utter destruction of the public peace, and good order of the said town…."
From the Boston Port Act, one of the Intolerable Acts
The Tea Act of 1773, which was soon followed by the Intolerable Acts, was passed because Parliament was trying to save the British-owned East India Company from going out of business. The company was ailing because Americans were refusing to import British tea (instead, it was being smuggled in from Holland). Parliament decided to impose small, secret taxes on East India tea (the taxes would be paid in London before the tea reached the colonies). Parliament thought that even with the secret tax, the tea would still be so cheap Americans would prefer to buy it rather than the more expensive tea they were smuggling in from elsewhere.
But Americans saw through this trick. They still objected to paying...
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First published on March 22, 1775;
excerpted from The Spirit of Seventy-Six, 1995
"An Englishman is the unfittest person on earth to argue another Englishman into slavery…. "
Edmund Burke, from "On Conciliation"
Although King George III (1738–1820) seemed to have surrounded himself with advisers who went along with his vengeful feelings toward the colonies, one member of Parliament stood apart as a champion of colonial rights. He was Edmund Burke (1729–1797), born in Dublin, Ireland. From 1765 to 1782, Burke was private secretary to Charles Watson-Wentworth, the marquis of Rockingham (1730–1782), author of the Declaratory Act of 1766. The Declaratory Act affirmed the right of Parliament to make laws (including tax laws) that would bind the colonists "in all cases whatsoever."
Burke was elected to Parliament in 1766, so he observed firsthand all the talk about the troubles with the American colonies. In early 1775, he gave a famous speech on the topic in Parliament. Afterwards called "On Conciliation," the speech described Burke's views on what ought to be the relationship between England and America. At the time, the Revolutionary War had not yet broken out, but tensions were high. British troops were stationed...
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King George III
Proclamation of Rebellion
First published August 23, 1775; excerpted from Documents of American History, 1958
"All our Officers, civil and military, are obliged to exert their utmost endeavours to suppress [the colonies'] rebellion, and to bring the traitors to justice, [and] all our subjects … are bound by law … to disclose and make known all traitorous conspiracies and attempts against us, our crown and dignity…. "
King George III, from the Proclamation of Rebellion
In February 1775, King George III (1738–1820) and Parliament declared Massachusetts to be in a state of rebellion. Two months later the first shots of the Revolutionary War rang out in Lexington, Massachusetts. The Americans created the Continental Army, and preparations for war moved forward.
News of continued American resistance infuriated King George. Never before had any British king had to endure disobedience on this scale from his subjects, who were mere commoners. In August 1775, King George issued a Proclamation of Rebellion, which declared all the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. This was the same thing as an official declaration of war against America.
King George opened his proclamation by summarizing relations between Great...
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Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies
First published in 1767–68; excerpted from reprint edition, 1903
"Benevolence towards mankind excites wishes for their welfare, and such wishes endear the means of fulfilling them. Those can be found in liberty alone, and therefore her sacred cause ought to be espoused by every man, on every occasion, to the utmost of his power…. "
John Dickinson, from Letters from a Farmer …
Mob violence had greeted Parliament's attempts to raise money in the colonies. Apart from the violence, though, many stirring words were written and spoken in response to Parliament's actions. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania to the Inhabitants of the British Colonies, written by John Dickinson (1732–1808), were among the most eloquent early objections to British policies. Dickinson was a lawyer and a retired farmer. He studied law in both Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and London, England. Because of his legal training, he was one of the first to understand that measures like the Townshend Acts posed a danger to colonial liberty. He believed that it was wrong and illegal to impose taxes on people without their consent, given personally or through their representatives.
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Benjamin Franklin: Edict of the King of Prussia
"An Edict by the King of Prussia"
First published September 5, 1773; excerpted from Benjamin Franklin's Writings, 1987 "
And whereas the Art and Mystery of making Hats hath arrived at great Perfection in Prussia, and the making of Hats by our remote Subjects ought to be as much as possible restrained."
Benjamin Franklin, from "An Edict by the King of Prussia"
The years leading up to the start of the Revolutionary War were full of tension and disagreement. But there were some humorous moments, too, thanks in large part to American politician Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). Along with British citizens, Franklin contributed letters to London newspapers, expressing his views about the demands being made on the colonies. The following excerpt from Franklin's "An Edict by the King of Prussia" appeared in a London newspaper in 1773.
An edict is a formal announcement issued by an authority. In this case, the authority is the king of Prussia, Frederick II (1712–1786), also known as Frederick the Great. Prussia was a state in north central Germany (Prussia was dissolved in 1947 and divided among East and West Germany; Poland; and the former Soviet Union, now fifteen independent republics, the largest of which is Russia).
(The entire section is 2916 words.)
A Summary View of the Rights of British America
First published in 1774; excerpted from The Portable Thomas Jefferson, 1975
"Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day; but a series of oppressions begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly prove a deliberate and systematical plan of reducing us to slavery."
Thomas Jefferson, from A Summary View of the Rights of British America
In 1774, Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was busy in London, England, trying to get his friends in Parliament to see that trouble was brewing in America over British taxes. Opposition to measures such as the Stamp Act, the Declaratory Act, and the Intolerable Acts was reaching crisis proportions. The Stamp Act of 1765 taxed printed matter such as newspapers, legal documents, and even dice and playing cards. The Declaratory Act affirmed the right of Parliament to make laws that would bind the colonists "in all cases whatsoever." The Intolerable Acts closed the Port of Boston, gave the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts complete control of town meetings, ordered that British officials who committed major crimes in the colonies would be tried in Great Britain, and required that the colonists house British...
(The entire section is 2869 words.)
"Give me liberty, or give me death!"
Speech given March 23, 1775; excerpted from Patrick Henry, 1966
"Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!"
On December 16, 1773, a group of patriots from Boston, Massachusetts, disguised as Indians, dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor to show their disgust over British taxes. The act became known as the Boston Tea Party. In early 1774, Great Britain passed the Intolerable Acts to punish Boston and Massachusetts for the Tea Party. One of the Intolerable Acts closed the port of Boston. To show their sympathy for the citizens of Boston, who were suffering from having the port closed, members of the Virginia House of Burgesses (the colony's lawmaking body) declared a day of mourning. In response, the British-appointed governor of Virginia, John Murray (1732–1809), known as Lord Dunmore, dissolved the House of Burgesses. The House of Burgesses was still dissolved in early 1775, but its members continued to meet in secret.
Six months earlier, on September 5, 1774, delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies met at the First...
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Thomas Paine: Common Sense
First published January 9, 1776; excerpted from The Spirit of Seventy-Six, 1995
"Everything that is right or reasonable pleads for separation. The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ' 'Tis time to part.'"
Thomas Paine (1737–1809) first arrived in the American colonies from England in November 1774. This was the same year the Intolerable Acts were passed by Parliament to punish Boston and all of Massachusetts for dumping British tea into Boston Harbor (the Boston Tea Party, December 1773). The Intolerable Acts closed the Port of Boston, gave the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts complete control of town meetings, ordered that British officials who committed major crimes in the colonies would be tried in Great Britain, and required that the colonists house British soldiers in dwellings belonging to private citizens. Boston was suffering from the closure of its port, and the colonies were in an uproar. Colonists wondered who would be next to feel the wrath of Parliament. To show their support and sympathy for Massachusetts, in September 1774, twelve of the thirteen colonies had sent delegates to the First Continental Congress to discuss what to do about deteriorating relations with Great Britain.
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Great Congressional Documents
- The Continental Association
- Wartime Proclamations
- The Declaration of Independence
- Articles of Confederation
Beginning in 1765, the British government, which was heavily in debt, had tried to tax the American colonies to help pay the bills. The taxes met with increasing resistance until finally, in December 1773, Bostonians dumped 342 chests of British tea into Boston Harbor. This episode became known as the Boston Tea Party. In 1774, the British government passed the Intolerable Acts to punish Boston for the tea party. The Intolerable Acts closed the Port of Boston, gave the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts complete control of town meetings, ordered that British officials who committed major crimes in the colonies would be tried in Great Britain, and required that the colonists house British soldiers in dwellings belonging to private citizens.
Before the passage of the Intolerable Acts, the colonies had gone their separate ways and there had been little sense of unity among them. But as they watched Boston suffer from the closing of its port, the other colonies wondered if they might be the next to suffer from the British...
(The entire section is 1027 words.)
The Continental Association
Adopted by the First Continental Congress
Enacted October 20, 1774; excerpted from Documents of American History
"To obtain redress of [our] grievances, which threaten destruction to the lives, liberty, and property of his majesty's subjects, in North-America, we are of the opinion, that a nonimportation, nonconsumption, and nonexportation agreement, faithfully adhered to, will prove the most speedy, effectual, and peaceable measure…. "
From the Continental Association
Ever since 1765, the British had been trying to tax the colonies to pay British bills, and discontent gradually spread throughout America. Matters came to a head in December 1773 when Bostonians dumped 342 chests of British tea into Boston Harbor. To punish them, the British Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in 1774. The Intolerable Acts closed the Port of Boston, gave the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts complete control of town meetings, ordered that British officials who committed major crimes in the colonies would be tried in Great Britain, and required that the colonists house British soldiers in dwellings belonging to private citizens.
The colonies had been established by British merchants as trade ventures and at first the colonies could not have survived...
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Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
The Olive Branch Petition
Adopted by the Second Continental Congress July 1775; excerpted from Documents of American History
"We are reduced to the alternative of chusing an unconditional submission to the tyranny of irritated ministers, or resistance by force.—The latter is our choice."
From the Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms
In London, when King George III (1738–1820) heard of the goings-on in the colonies, he wrote to Lord Frederick North (1732–1792), his prime minister: "The New England governments are in a state of rebellion, blows [war] must decide whether they are to be subject to this country or independent."
George's declaration that "blows must decide" the issue of the colonies' relationship with England ensured that a Second Continental Congress would meet. Since the king would not listen to the colonists' grievances, members of Congress assembled for the second time on May 10, 1775. Massachusetts politician John Hancock (1737–1793) was elected president of the Congress.
The first shots of the American Revolution had been fired at the Battle of Lexington and Concord less than a month...
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The Declaration of Independence
Adopted by the Second Continental Congress
Enacted July 3, 1776; excerpted from the National Archives and Records Administration
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness."
From the Declaration of Independence
By the spring of 1776, the Second Continental Congress was still debating over the next step to take in light of the decision of King George III (1738–1820) that "blows [war] must decide" the disagreement with the colonies. Independence from Great Britain was still considered an extreme step by many delegates. Congressmen wondered how they would explain the disagreement to the public, who were still loyal to King George, if not to Parliament. But finally, on June 7, 1776, Virginia statesman Richard Henry Lee (1732–1794) urged Congress to declare independence, presenting a motion that had been adopted by his home state. The motion said:
Resolved, that these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the state of...
(The entire section is 4361 words.)
Articles of Confederation
Issued by the Second Continental Congress
Agreed to November 15, 1777; ratified and in effect March 1, 1781
Excerpted from American Memory (CD-ROM)
"The said States hereby severally enter into a firm league of friendship with each other, for their common defense, the security of their liberties, and their mutual and general welfare, binding themselves to assist each other, against all force offered to, or attacks made upon them, or any of them, on account of religion, sovereignty, trade, or any other pretense whatever."
From the Articles of Confederation
Before the United States declared its independence in July 1776, each colony ran its own affairs. The closest thing the colonies had to a national government was the British Parliament. After their bad experiences with Parliament, which led to the outbreak of revolution, the colonies were not inclined to trust a strong national government; they preferred to keep power for themselves. But after declaring independence from England and its laws, Congress knew itself to be just a group of men without clearly defined authority or a constitution that would make Congress a legal body. This was going to make it very difficult to run a war.
Clearly, some kind of...
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Scandal and Betrayal
- Thomas Hutchinson
- Benjamin Franklin: Letter to Thomas Cushing
- Resolves of the House of Representatives, Respecting the Letters of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and Others
- Benjamin Franklin: Public Statement on Hutchinson Letters
- Americans' Reactions to Benedict Arnold's Treason
Beginning in 1765, Great Britain tried to collect taxes in America to pay its own bills. Americans grew increasingly angry. They claimed that Parliament, Great Britain's lawmaking body, had no right to tax people who had no representation in Parliament. Men who were supposed to collect the taxes were abused by the colonists and had their property damaged or destroyed. A major center for this kind of activity was Boston, Massachusetts, where mobs rioted in the streets and total disorder resulted. Finally, fearful that they were losing their hold over America, the British sent armed soldiers to keep the peace in Boston. Bostonians resented the presence of the soldiers, and in 1770, the tension led to the event known as the Boston Massacre, in which five Americans were killed by British soldiers. The tension continued to...
(The entire section is 488 words.)
Letters of Thomas Hutchinson
Published in 1768–69; excerpted from The Life of Thomas Hutchinson, Royal Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
"I never think of the measures necessary for the peace and good order of the colonies without pain…. there must be a great restraint of natural liberty."
At the time he wrote the two letters that follow, Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) held two important government offices at the same time: lieutenant governor of Massachusetts (in August 1769, he would become governor) and chief justice of the Massachusetts superior court. He was a scholarly, intelligent, law-abiding person, the man in charge of making sure that British laws were obeyed in Massachusetts. The tax laws had so angered Americans that when British-appointed agents and British soldiers tried to collect taxes, they were threatened and attacked by mobs. As far as Hutchinson was concerned, the taxes might be unpopular, but they were the law, and it was his job to uphold the law. Hutchinson was dismayed by the violent mobs who were protesting British taxes. He remarked: "The people seem to me in a state of absolute dementation [madness]."
Hutchinson's letters were written to a Mr. Thomas Whately, private secretary to...
(The entire section is 3771 words.)
Benjamin Franklin: Letter to Thomas Cushing
Letter to Massachusetts Speaker of the Assembly Thomas Cushing
Written on December 2, 1772; excerpted from The Papers of Benjamin Franklin
"As to the Writers …when I find them bartering away the Liberties of their native Country …calling for Troops …; when I see them exciting Jealousies in the Crown, and provoking it to Wrath against a great Part of its faithful Subjects; …I cannot but doubt their Sincerity even in the political Principles they profess….
While Governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) was trying, without success, to keep the peace in Boston, Massachusetts, American statesman Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) was serving in London, England, as a colonial agent for Massachusetts. Agents were men appointed by lawmaking bodies in the colonies to live in London, circulate among important people, and report back on what was happening in Parliament. The agents made sure Parliament knew what the colonies' needs and wishes were as Parliament prepared to make laws that affected the colonies.
Since the 1760s, Franklin had spent most of his time in London, watching as relations between England and America soured. He loved both countries and he could not understand why Parliament seemed so determined to upset and anger the colonies. One day...
(The entire section is 1890 words.)
Resolves of the House of Representatives …
Adopted by the Massachusetts Assembly
Enacted June 16, 1773; excerpted from The Life of Thomas Hutchinson, Royal Governor of the Province of Massachusetts Bay
"…The writer of these letters, signed Thomas Hutchinson, has been thus exerting himself, by his 'secret confidential correspondence,' to introduce measures, destructive of our constitutional liberty, he has been practising every method among the people of this province, to fix in their minds an exalted opinion of his warmest affection for them…. "
From Resolves of the House of Representatives …
In the spring of 1773, the so-called Hutchinson letters (discussed earlier) were read at a meeting of the Massachusetts Assembly (also known as the House of Representatives). The letters had been written between 1767 and 1769 by Governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780), Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver (1706–1774), and others, to friends in England. The letters commented on colonial reactions to British taxation policies.
When they heard the letters, the Massachusetts representatives were just as outraged as the public had been. Especially outrageous was Hutchinson's statement that "there must be a great restraint of natural liberty!" How dare Hutchinson urge British authorities to take away...
(The entire section is 2057 words.)
Benjamin Franklin: Public Statement on Hutchinson Letters
Public Statement on the Hutchinson Letters
December 25, 1773; excerpted from Benjamin Franklin's Writings
"Finding that two Gentlemen have been unfortunately engaged in a Duel, about a transaction and its circumstances of which both of them are totally ignorant and innocent, I think it incumbent on me to declare …that I alone am the person who obtained and transmitted to Boston the letters in question."
While Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790) waited for King George III's (1738–1820) Privy Council to discuss the Massachusetts petition to remove Governor Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780) and Lieutenant Governor Andrew Oliver (1706–1774) from office (discussed in previous entry), a duel took place in England. Remember that the Hutchinson letters had been written to Thomas Whately, now dead. How Franklin came to have the letters, no one knows; someone probably stole them and gave them to Franklin. The brother of the dead Mr. Whately accused a man named John Temple of stealing the Hutchinson letters and giving them to Franklin. In the duel between Whately and Temple on December 11, 1773, Whately was wounded. Horrified, Franklin caused a notice to be published in the newspaper.
The notice explained that after hearing about the duel...
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Americans' Reactions to Benedict Arnold's Treason
"Treason of the blackest dye was …discovered. General Arnold …lost …every sense of honor, of private and public obligation…. "
In colonial America, there were many men who were just as eager to get ahead as Thomas Hutchinson (1711–1780; see earlier entries in this chapter). For a man like Benedict Arnold (1741–1801), whose father had left him no money, one of the best and fastest ways to get noticed was by advancing through the military ranks. More than a few Revolutionary-era figures first came to national attention in that way, but not many were as famous as Arnold, both before and after his betrayal of his country.
By all accounts, Arnold was an outstanding military leader. He was loved by his men and exhibited tremendous courage and daring in battle. In 1775, he nearly took Quebec (Canada) with the intention of making it a fourteenth colony. That campaign involved a terrible march through the freezing wilderness; at one point his starving men were reduced to eating boiled candles. After that failure, he went on to save America from defeat at the hands of the British on several occasions. He played an important part in the American victory at Saratoga, New York, in 1777. That victory marked the beginning of the end of British control of the colonies, but...
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Notes from the Battlefronts
- Lord Dunmore
- Joseph Plumb Martin
- Thomas Paine
- Eliza Wilkinson
- Horace Walpole
- George Washington
Ever since 1765, the British government (Parliament) had been trying to collect taxes in America to pay British bills. Americans protested right from the beginning that Parliament had no right to tax people who had no representation in Parliament. Some Americans voiced their objections to British taxation in newspapers and pamphlets. Others, like Samuel Adams (1722–1803) and his Sons of Liberty, protested violently and spoke early, openly, and illegally about independence from Great Britain. The last straw for the British was the Boston Tea Party of December 1773, when Boston patriots dumped 342 chests of British tea into Boston Harbor. To punish Boston, which was the center of the most violent protests, and to let Boston serve as an example to the other colonies, Parliament passed the Intolerable Acts in 1774. The Intolerable Acts closed the port of Boston, gave the British-appointed governor of Massachusetts complete control of town meetings,...
(The entire section is 1188 words.)
Declaration of Martial Law in Virginia
Issued on November 7, 1775; excerpted from Annals of America, 1968
"I do require every person capable of bearing arms to resort to His Majesty's standard, or be looked upon as traitors to His Majesty's crown and government…. "
In March 1775, radical patriot Patrick Henry (1736–1799) stood up in front of the Virginia House of Burgesses (its lawmaking body) and made a passionate speech in support of his call for military preparations against the British. He ended his speech with the famous cry, "Give me liberty, or give me death." Virginia's House met illegally because the short-tempered royal governor of Virginia, John Murray (1732–1809), known as Lord Dunmore, had dissolved the legislature in 1773 and 1774 for the openly anti-British sentiments expressed by some of its members. It was still dissolved in 1775 when Henry gave his speech.
After Henry's speech, events in Virginia moved swiftly to armed conflict. As the Massachusetts patriots had done at Concord, Henry and others in Virginia had been stockpiling gunpowder in Williamsburg, Virginia. On May 2, 1775, just as he was about to leave for Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to attend the Second Continental Congress, Henry learned that Dunmore...
(The entire section is 1118 words.)
Joseph Plumb Martin
A Narrative of Some of the Adventures, Dangers, and Sufferings of a Revolutionary Soldier
Originally published in 1830 and most recently republished as
Yankee Doodle Boy in 1995
Excerpted from Witnessing America, 1996
"My grandsire told [my grandma] that he supposed I was resolved to go into the service in some way or other and he had rather I would engage in the land service if I must engage in any."
Joseph Plumb Martin
Ayoung Connecticut farm boy, Joseph Plumb Martin (1760–1850), had been aware since 1774 that war with Great Britain was a strong possibility. At first, he vowed to himself to have nothing to do with it. But army recruiters came to his town in the spring of 1775, just after the war had unofficially begun in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts. The recruiters offered a payment to anyone who would enlist to fight the British. Some of the new recruits stayed at Martin's grandfather's home before they departed to fight in Boston or New York City. Fired up by the conversations he heard and the chance to earn some money, Martin changed his mind and resolved to become a soldier. He was too young then, but in the summer of 1776, Martin enlisted.
For seven years, Martin served in the Continental Army, led by General...
(The entire section is 2032 words.)
Thomas Paine: The Crisis
First published on December 19, 1776; excerpted from Common Sense and Other Political Writings, 1953
"These are the times that try men's souls."
One of the greatest writers of the Revolutionary era was Thomas Paine (1737–1809), whose Common Sense is described in chapter 1. Paine was born and raised in England. He tried his hand at several different jobs before he turned to writing. He had only been in America for a few months when he was first asked to use his writing talent in the cause of American independence. His first effort, Common Sense, was quite successful. Two years after his arrival in America, Paine wrote the first of The Crisis papers.
Paine joined General George Washington's (1732–1799) army in New Jersey in December 1776. By then, Washington was a desperate man. He had just been soundly defeated in New York and forced to flee across New Jersey, with British soldiers hot on his heels. As they passed through New Jersey, both British and American soldiers looted and pillaged New Jersey farms and homes. On December 8, Washington's army crossed the Delaware River and set up camp on the Pennsylvania shore.
Americans were shocked, disgusted, and angry at the reports they...
(The entire section is 1433 words.)
Account of the Looting of Her Sister's Home by British Soldiers
Originally published in 1839; most recently published in 1969 Excerpted from Voices of 1776, 1972
" I heard the horses of the inhuman Britons coming in such a furious manner that they seemed to tear up the earth…. "
Until 1779, the American Revolution was fought mostly in the north. Then it moved far to the south, where some of the fiercest fighting of the war took place. The south, especially Georgia and South Carolina, was home to more Loyalists (colonists who were loyal to King George III [1738–1820]) than the north. Part of the overall British plan to win the war was to secure the support of those Loyalists, making full use of black slaves. Once the south was in their hands, the British planned to use it as a base to conquer the north.
General Sir Henry Clinton (1738–1795) was placed in command of British forces for the southern operation. One of his first actions was to make an announcement similar to the Declaration of Martial Law in Virginia by John Murray (1732–1809), known as Lord Dunmore (see entry on p. 217), but applying to the entire south. The British promised freedom to slaves who came over to their side.
Tens of thousands...
(The entire section is 1145 words.)
Letter to the Earl of Strafford about the Surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown
Written on November 27, 1781; excerpted from The Best Letters of Horace Walpole, 1911
"Oh, my Lord, I have no patience with my country, and shall leave it without regret! Can we be proud when all Europe scorns us?"
In 1779, the war's action moved from the north to the south. By then, the French had agreed to openly assist the American cause. With the help of the French navy, the Americans finally achieved a stunning victory at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781.
Back in England, the news of the surrender at Yorktown came as a complete (and unwelcome) surprise. For two years, all London had been hearing was news of a string of southern victories. Parliament, the British lawmaking body, was scheduled to return from a recess on November 27, 1781. Everyone wanted to hear what would be said about the loss at Yorktown. But King George III (1738–1820) had written his speech before he received news of the loss, and he apparently saw no reason to change it. He spoke to Parliament without mentioning the surrender. At the time, King George planned to pursue the war, but he was soon forced to give up that plan, because Parliament and British public opinion had...
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Farewell Address to the Armies of the United States
Issued on November 3, 1783; excerpted from George Washington's Writings, 1997
"The unparalleled perseverance of the Armies of the U States, through almost every possible suffering and discouragement for the space of eight long years, was little short of a standing miracle."
After the British surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, on October 19, 1781, the village lay in ruins. Victorious American soldiers looted British stockpiles, seizing food, guns, ammunition, swords, and British and German flags (German soldiers were hired to fight alongside the British). Six thousand British and German soldiers were marched off to prison camps in Virginia and Maryland, but their commanding officers returned to England. There still remained a large number of British soldiers at their headquarters in New York City.
Americans were ecstatic over General George Washington's (1732–1799) spectacular victory at Yorktown. They considered the war over, but Washington was not so sure. All the news from England indicated that King George III (1738–1820) wanted to continue the war. Washington warned Congress that it should be ready for new confrontations in 1782. To be on the safe side, Congress ordered...
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