The Revolutionary War

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How did the colonists break ties with Britain, win the Revolutionary War, and form a national identity?

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The colonists did not entirely sever ties with Great Britain, as Great Britain continued to be the United States's chief trading partner after the American Revolution. The United States was successful in its war with Britain due to its ability to make Britain fight a longer war than it anticipated. The United States was able to capitalize in shorter supply lines than the British.

The United States also had powerful allies in France, Spain, and the Netherlands who wanted a victory over the British more than they wanted the colonies to succeed in gaining self-rule. Britain lost the Revolutionary War due to a lack of will and the possibility of fighting yet another expensive war with other European powers.

The United States was already starting to form a national identity before the American Revolution. American colonists already had different patterns of speech than people from Britain. Americans were also starting to form their own culture. Religious freedom became important in the colonies and later in the United States as religious groups such as the Baptists and Lutherans came to America in order to find freedom. In time, different denominations arose from these smaller religious sects.

Criticizing political leadership also became a key part of the American culture as the American newspaper industry grew exponentially between the end of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Compared to Europeans, most Americans were quite politically aware and involved. This focus on freedom and a willingness to criticize officials were key parts of the American identity.

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In 1775, fighting broke out in Massachusetts between the British and patriots. There were battles at Lexington and Concord and at Bunker Hill. The colonies faced a stark choice: try to reconcile with Britain or declare independence. Thomas Paine's pamphlet, Common Sense, argued for independence, but many loyalists were opposed to that idea. The Declaration of Independence (July 4, 1776) settled the question and broke the colonies' ties with Britain.

Winning the war against Britain was extremely difficult, however. Britain was the world's greatest power; it had the largest navy and a professional army. George Washington's army lost numerous battles, and American prospects seemed dim. At this point, the British miscalculated, and an entire British army surrendered at Saratoga in 1777. Saratoga showed that the patriots had a chance to win, so France decided to join the war against its old enemy, Britain. French assistance was crucial in Washington's great victory at Yorktown in 1781. Britain had lost the war, and America was independent.

America did not have a strong national identity at the time of its inception as a nation. The thirteen colonies had had a great deal of independence, and they were reluctant to give that up to a national government. The Founding Fathers, however, created the Constitution of the US in 1787 after compromises were made to placate the doubters. Washington became the first president of the new nation.

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There was unrest in the Thirteen Colonies for many years before the Revolutionary War.  New taxes, such as the Sugar Act and the Stamp Act, were considered unfair.  The Colonists were not represented in Parliament, and because of this they had no one to speak on their behalf.  The Townshend Revenue Act of 1967 taxed tea and other common commodities.  All of the taxes were eventually repealed except for the one on tea.  Protests in Boston led to British troops occupying the city.  The unrest continued, and led to the Boston Massacre.

The Tea Act was made to benefit the East India Company, which was having financial difficulties.  They had an overstock of tea, which was to be sold cheaply in Boston.  Concern that this would have a negative impact on local merchants combined with the unrest led to the Boston Tea Party.  Tea from ships in the Boston Harbor were thrown into the water in protest.  

Troops were quartered in private homes and buildings, which led to further dissatisfaction with the British government.  Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Paine, Paul Revere, and other people began to talk of independence from Britain.  The Sons of Liberty and other organizations were formed.  Local militias were established.  Shots were fired at Lexington and Concord and the Revolutionary War began in 1775.

In 1776, the Second Continental Congress made the decision to officially declare independence from Great Britain.  On July 4th, 1776, the Declaration was Signed.  The Revolutionary War raged on until 1783 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris.  General George Washington and other generals led troops into battle over a period of eight years.  Though the Patriot troops were initially less organized, less trained, and had less supplies, they fought on with determination.  The fact that the Thirteen Colonies spanned a large area filled with countryside benefitted the Patriot troops.  Also, the Patriots did not have a national capital.  A capital could have been captured and would have been a difficult blow to recover from.  The British wore bright red uniforms, which were easy to spot from a distance.  The Patriot troops wore ordinary clothing, and thus looked similar to Loyalist civilians.   Other countries, such as France, also sent troops to fight alongside the Patriots.

Once the war was over, the independent Thirteen Colonies  had to decide exactly what sort of nation they wanted to be.  Many signers of the Declaration of Independence and other men met in 1787 to write the U.S. Constitution.  There were disagreements, but decisions were made.  It was decided that the United States would have a system of checks and balances with three branches of government.  They did not want the tyranny they had experienced under King George III to occur again in their nation.  The Constitution also emphasized personal liberties, which was an uncommon idea at this time.  General George Washington was elected President.  In another decision to set themselves apart from other nations, the founders of the United States decided against having a king.  Instead, they wanted a leader who was elected by the citizens.

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