The French and Indian War
As the colonies grew, they put up with a lot from England. They were proud to be English citizens, but were beginning to become upset about England mistreating them.
More trouble came in the French and Indian War of 1754 – 1763. France and England were at war with one another, and the war spread to the British and French colonies in North America.
American colonists helped the British defeat the French in North America. Native American Indian tribes fought for both the French and the British, with many colonists caught in between. Benjamin Franklin proposed a plan to unite the colonies to fight the French. Franklin’s plan, the Albany Plan of Union, called for the colonies to unite against the French. Franklin told the colonies to “join, or die;” meaning together they could defeat France, separate, they could only lose. However, the King of England did not allow this to happen. The king feared that if the colonies ever united, they would decide they did not need England anymore and rebel.
After almost ten years of war, the French lost the French and Indian War. In the Treaty of Paris (1763), the French lost all of their land in North America. Giving everything east of the Mississippi River to the British, and everything west of the Mississippi River to the Spanish, who had helped them in the war against England.
The French and Indian War changed everything for the American colonists. The English had huge debts from the war they had to pay. Their answer was to increase taxes on the colonists. This hurt the economy of the colonists. Also, the king of England feared that if he let the colonists travel beyond the Appalachian Mountains, they would run into the Indians, causing him to need to pay for soldiers to protect them. In fact, the king really did not want the settlers to go beyond the Appalachian Mountains. If they did, he might lose control of them. To keep this from happening, the king of England issued the Proclamation of 1763.
The Proclamation of 1763 forbade the colonists from settling west of the Appalachian Mountains. It also called for 10,000 British troops to man the Proclamation Line to stop settlers moving west. To add to this insult, and not wanting to pay for it himself, the king ordered the colonists to pay a third of the $1,000,000 cost of paying for the troops to man the Proclamation Line. The land west of the Appalachian Mountains, all the way to the Mississippi River was to be left to the Indians. This angered many colonists. In their minds, they had fought for this land in the French and Indian War for England, now they could not settle it! Furthermore, farmlands east of the Appalachian Mountains were becoming scarce. The lands just past the Appalachian Mountains were fertile river valleys, perfect for growing crops, and room for the settlers to grow. Tensions began to rise in the colonies against England.
From Bad to Worse
For the next twelve years, tensions between the colonies and England went from bad to worse. England, trying to make more money off of the colonies to pay for their wars, and trying to keep their suddenly unruly colonies in line, began to tax the colonies severely, and take away colonists liberties.
At first, the English increased taxes to pay for the French and Indian War. England enacted the Sugar Act in 1764. The Sugar Act taxed all sugar and molasses sold in the colonies. It also took away the colonists’ right to a trial by a jury of their peers, a right the colonist believed that they had had since the Magna Carta in 1215. Though the colonists called this tyranny, rule by an evil king, the law was enforced.
Next, the English placed a tax on paper used in official documents. Called the Stamp Act, this tax required a special stamp be bought for all paper used in official documents. The colonists did not like this law. Samuel Adams formed the Sons of Liberty that protested the Stamp Act and burned paper with the stamps, and tried to intimidate British tax collectors trying to collect the taxes. In the Virginia House of Burgesses, Patrick Henry helped write the Virginia Resolves, denying England’s right to collect taxes without allowing the colonies to be represented in parliament.
The colonists met in the Stamp Act Congress. There in the colonists’ first show of unity, the colonists called for a boycott, agreeing to refuse to buy goods from England in order to hurt the British economy and make England change its policies toward the colonies.
Seeing trouble brewing in the colonies, the king had parliament pass the Quartering Act. The Quartering Act required the colonists to allow British troops, called Redcoats, to stay in their homes without paying rent. These troops would make sure the colonists behaved and paid their taxes. Yet, the colonists still complained. The colonists argued that the 1628 English Petition of Rights had made it illegal for England to quarter troops in their homes. Still, England placed troops in the colonists’ homes. Anger towards England continued to grow.
By 1766, England began to see that the colonies were getting angry. Fearing things might grow worse, England repealed, took away, the Stamp Act. The colonies rejoiced, their boycott had worked and the English were backing down. However, they failed to notice that at the same time, the English parliament passed the Declaratory Act. The Declaratory Act stated that parliament could pass any law it wanted against the colonies, and tax them without representation, any time they wanted!
England still wanted to make more money from their colonies. Charles Townshend in England had a plan. He thought he could tax what the colonies bought the most of and needed most. The Townshend Duties taxed tea (the most popular drink of the colonists), glass, lead, paint, and paper (which the colonists needed, but could not make on their own). Again, the colonists were not happy! The colonists argued that these new taxes were no fairer than the old taxes. Sam Adams and the Sons of Liberty urged the Massachusetts legislature to send letters to all the colonies calling for another boycott of English goods. Colonists were especially mad at the British Writs of Assistance. The Writs of Assistance had been added to the Townshend Duties and took away the colonists’ rights to privacy. Under the Writs of Assistance, the British troops could enter any colonist’s home or business and search for goods that had not been taxed without a search warrant. Again, this violated the colonists’ rights as English citizens.
Bitterness between the colonists and British was bound to cause trouble, and in 1770 it did. In 1768, England had sent more troops to America to keep the colonists in line and paying their taxes. There were four thousand British troops in Boston alone, living in the colonists’ houses, and irritating the colonists. Tempers were getting short. On March 5th, 1770, bloodshed erupted. A group of young boys and men descended upon a lone British guard guarding a British customs house. At first, they only threw snowballs and called the soldier names. But soon, someone started throwing rocks. The soldier called for help, and a nearby British patrol under Captain Preston responded. Captain Preston ordered the colonist to go home, but by now, the group had grown to a mob. The British soldiers grew nervous; there were more colonists than they had soldiers. It was a dangerous situation. Someone, we still do not know who, yelled “fire!” British troops were well trained not to fire until ordered. But in the tense situation, and hearing the order to fire from someone, the British all fired at once. Five colonists were killed; many others were wounded in the confusion. Among the dead was Crispus Attucks, an African-American freeman and former slave, Crispus had just gone to see what all the commotion was about when the British fired and he became the first man to die for American liberty.
The shooting became known as the Boston Massacre. Silversmith and publisher Paul Revere printed up thousands of copies of a local artists’ drawing of the massacre, at first named “The Bloody Massacre.” Copies of “The Bloody Massacre” were used as propaganda, showing the British troops shooting unarmed colonists were sent all over the colonies making the colonists even madder at England.
The Boston Massacre
On the same day that the Boston Massacre occurred, England had already decided to repeal, or take away, the Townshend Duties. English merchants had seen their sales to the colonies drop 38%. The boycott had worked. England repealed all the taxes, except on tea to try to settle down tensions in the colonies. However, this was too little, too late.
For the next three years, England tried in vain to smooth over relations with her colonies. England did not pass any more taxes, or take away any more colonists’ rights. But, it was too late. Sam Adams helped other Massachusetts towns to establish Committees of Correspondence that spread the word of British aggression. The Committees of Correspondence wrote letters detailing every British abuse of the colonists. The letters circulated the colonies keeping the colonists mad at England even as England was trying to patch up their problems.
Trouble again came in 1773. English investors in the East India Tea Company were about to lose all their money. Colonists were illegally buying Dutch tea to avoid paying the British tax on British tea. If the company went bankrupt, the British investors would be broke. To stop this, the English passed the Tea Act. The Tea Act forbade colonist to buy any tea except from the East India Tea Company, and to pay heavy taxes for it! The colonists rebelled. In Boston, this led to the Boston Tea Party. Colonists dressed up like Mohawk Indians and boarded the English ships and destroyed the tea by dumping it in the ocean before it could be unloaded.
Of course, England was furious. They had to punish the colonies for their rebellious behavior. So, in 1774, England passed the Coercive Acts, known to the colonists as the Intolerable Acts because this was something intolerable to the colonists. The Coercive Acts closed the port of Boston until Boston paid for the tea that had been destroyed, something they could not afford. It also took away Massachusetts’s self-government and placed the colony under British military rule, allowed for British troops that committed crimes in the colonies to be tried in England, where they would not be found guilty of crimes against colonists, and issued a stronger Quartering Act, putting more Redcoats in colonists’ homes. The Quebec Act that followed took away the colonists right to a trial by jury as well.
In response, the colonists called the First Continental Congress. The First Continental Congress called for all the colonies to boycott all British goods again in an effort to hurt England and make them repeal the Coercive Acts. It also told Massachusetts to reform its self-government, against England’s orders, collect its own taxes, and form a militia, a civilian army, to defend against British aggression. The First continental Congress also wrote a Declaration of Grievances detailing British abuses of their rights, and stating that their rights as Englishmen were being violated.
Storm Clouds of War
The First Continental Congress did not want war with England. They only wanted England to treat them fairly and to have representation in parliament. Some people in England realized that they needed to treat the colonists better, and urged parliament to repeal the Coercive Acts before it was too late.
However, King George III of England was not about to allow a bunch of colonists to dictate to him, he was the king after all. King George III declared that the colonies were already in a state of rebellion because they had denied his wishes. With the King and parliament trying to punish the colonies, and the colonies forming militias to defend themselves, trouble was not far away.
In Virginia, Patrick Henry urged the House of Burgesses, and the rest of the colonies to act.
“Gentlemen, we may cry peace, peace – but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! The next gale that sweeps from the north will bring to our ears the clash of resounding arms! Our brethren are already in the field! Why stand we here idle . . . 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 might take, but as for me, give me liberty or death!”
Patrick Henry was saying what others were feeling. The time to negotiate with England was quickly ending. In his famous speech above, Patrick Henry was saying that freedom is worth dying for, and it would be better to die fighting for freedom, than to live as no more than a slave to England. And the fight he sought was not long in coming.
The Road to Revolution
In Boston, British General Gage heard of a supply of weapons and gunpowder the colonists were storing in Concord, Massachusetts. Though he was under orders not to start trouble with the colonists, he thought if he could get the colonists gunpowder, they could not start a revolution. So, on April 18th, 1775, Gage sent 700 soldiers to Concord to capture the gunpowder and capture Sam Adam, the founder of the Sons of Liberty and John Hancock., who had both been causing the British so much trouble.
News of the impending attack spread and the colonists prepared to stop the British. Paul Revere and William Dawes waited across the bay from Boston, waiting to see what route the British took so as to try to stop them. In Boston, high up in a bell tower a colonial spy watched to see if the British to the land route to Concord, or the sea route across the bay. He was to signal “one if by land, two if by sea” with lanterns to alert Revere and Dawes. As the night grew dark, Revere and Dawes saw the signal! Two lanterns burned in the old church bell tower! Quickly, Revere and Dawes rode from town to town, alerting the colonial militia and minutemen, militia that had to be ready to fight the British at a minute’s notice and carried their guns and supplies with them everywhere.
Revere and Dawes rode through the Night yelling, “The British are coming! The British are coming!” Alerted, the militias and minutemen ran to Concord and Lexington, a city on the road to Concord.
The Battles of Lexington and Concord are sometimes called the “shot heard round the world.” It wasn’t that the gunshots were loud; it was that for the first time a colony stood up to its “home” country. This idea of fighting for liberty still lives on today.
By dawn, the British troops had reached Lexington, there, 70 brave minutemen stood in the way of the 700 British soldiers. To this day, no one knows who fired the first shot. With that first shot fired, the battle was joined. The Battle of Lexington was a quick battle. The British Army was the best-trained army in the world. Our poor minutemen were just farmers and townspeople with guns. In minutes, the minutemen fled to Concord, leaving eight minutemen dead, and another ten wounded. Still, the Battle of Lexington delayed the British long enough for more minutemen to get to Concord to defend the gunpowder, and allowed Sam Adams and John Hancock to flee, and escape capture by the British.
As the British soldiers marched towards Concord, the colonial minutemen and militia sped to Concord to defend the gunpowder and weapons. When the British reached Concord, about 4,000 minutemen and militia awaited them. The 700 British soldiers put up a brave fight, but were too outnumbered and forced to flee back to Boston.
As the British marched back to Boston, they were pursued and continually attacked by the colonial minutemen and militia. The colonists did not fight like the British. The British Army formed into ranks of men, and marched into battle in rows. Our colonial militias fought like the Indians did, from behind trees, and using ambushes, rather than standing in the open as did the British. Though the British thought this a dishonorable and unfair way to fight, the colonists used it to their advantage against the British.
While driving the British troops back to Boston, the colonial soldiers sand the song “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” The song was originally a song made up by the British soldiers to make fun of the American colonists. However, as the colonists sung it back at the British troops being chased back to Boston, the song took on a new meaning, that the British troops had better not make fun of the colonists, because now we were fighting back! “Yankee Doodle Dandy” became a song Revolutionary War soldiers would sing proudly.
Most of the British troops made it back to Boston where British General Gage waited with even more British troops. Hearing of the great victory at Lexington and Concord, many thousands of colonial militia and minutemen came to Boston and held the British under siege. Soon 16,000 militiamen were bottling up the British soldiers in Boston. However, the British in Boston were well trained, had cannons, and the huge British navy to defend them there. Though the British could have evacuated Boston, they did not. The British feared that the colonists would see taking Boston as a huge victory, and cause even more colonists to want to fight for independence. Yet, the militiamen were untrained and lacked firepower; they could not take Boston by force. The siege of Boston lasted eleven months.
The English now knew that the colonists meant business. So they sent three of their best generals to the colonies to put down the rebellion.
The Battle of Bunker Hill
British troops under the command of General Howe saw that the colonists had taken up a position on top of Breed’s Hill, later mistaken for Bunker Hill, and the battle was therefore called the Battle of Bunker Hill. From this hill, the British feared the Americans would place cannons that could shoot into Boston and hit the British troops there. The British had to take that hill from the colonists.
On June 17, 1775, 2,400 British Redcoats charge up the hill at the 1,600 colonist defending it. The British soldiers charged up the hill in their battle formations, each carrying their heavy rucksacks, ammunition, gear, and Brown Bess muskets. Because of the weight and formations, they moved slowly up the steep hill. Atop the hill, the colonial commander, Israel Putnam, had his patriots, people who supported a revolution from England; wait to fire until they could “see the whites of their eyes.” Putnam knew his militia men were good shots. By letting the British troops get near, he knew every shot would count. Putnam also selected his best shots, and instructed them to only shoot the British officers. This was considered unfair by the British. In European warfare, officers were not supposed to be shot; they were supposed to be allowed to live, so as to manage the battle. Killing officers was considered dishonorable.
However, Putnam knew that while the British were the best trained army in the world, without their officers telling them what to do, the British soldiers could not fight effectively. Putnam put this weakness to the test.
As the British charged up the hill, Putnam’s men shot them to pieces. In the end, the British troops were just too much for the untrained militiamen. Soon, the militiamen began to run out of ammunition and other became afraid and fled from the battle, and the British took Bunker’s Hill. However, the battle was seen as a victory for the colonists. For the first time, the colonists had stood and fought the British, unlike at Concord, where they mainly attacked from ambushes. Also, Putnam’s men had killed more than 1,000 of the attacking British, half the soldiers sent against them, and 40 percent of the officers that charged up the hill. The British took the hill, but it scared them. They could not afford to “win” battles this way, losing this many men.
Also, the Battle of Bunker Hill affected the way the British generals would fight for the rest of the war. General Howe lost many men in the battle using a frontal attack, standing in rows and marching into the attack across open ground. He lost more men as the rebels fled. As the rebel militiamen fled, they set up more ambushed from behind trees and rocks. As the British soldiers followed the rebels, they would be shot at by colonists hiding in ambush. As soon as they chased away that group, another would ambush them! Never again would General Howe use his best tactic, the frontal assault, fearing losing too many men and officers. Also, he would never finish off the rebels when they broke and ran, fearing ambushes. This allowed the colonial militiamen, and later the Colonial Army, to many times lose a battle, but escape without being totally wiped out.
Altogether, the Battle of Bunker Hill was seen as a moral victory for the colonists. Though they had lost the battle, the colonists killed many more British than the colonists lost, we had stood up to the British, and we changed the way the British would fight against us in the future to our advantage.
The Second Continental Congress Meets
Meanwhile, the Second Continental Congress was meeting in Philadelphia. They had agreed to meet after the First Continental Congress, should the British not repeal the Coercive Acts and restore the colonist’s rights. Now, the Second Continental Congress, who had never wanted war with England, only for England to restore their rights, was faced with and unscheduled, and unwanted war. The Second Continental Congress adopted that the New England militia, already fighting the British around Boston, become the new Continental Army, and selected George Washington as it commander in chief. The Second Continental Congress also drafted the Olive Branch Petition. The Olive Brach Petition was a last attempt to remain at peace with England.
In the Olive Branch Petition, the Second Continental Congress promised to stop fighting England, and remain loyal to the king, if England agreed to restore the colonists’ rights as Englishmen. Unfortunately, King George III already had decided that the colonies were in a state of rebellion. He thought that the colonists needed to be taught a lesson, and tore up the Olive Branch Petition.
Commander of the Continental Army
George Washington left Philadelphia to go to Boston where the militia was engaged in fighting the British to take command. The Second Continental Congress had chosen its new commander well. George Washington was well respected as a military leader, having won fame with his exploits in the French and Indian War. He had been a land surveyor, so, unlike the British, he knew the colonies well, and how to use the land to his army’s advantage. Washington had served for fifteen years in the Virginia House of Burgesses, so he respected representative government and would fight to bring the colonies to freedom. However, Washington would have a hard time turning thousands of untrained militiamen into a trained and effective army.
When Washington arrived at Boston, he was troubled by what he saw there. The militiamen were untrained and undisciplined, hardly good enough to go against the British Army, the best army in the world. He immediately appointed officers to lead the men, and began training them as best he could.
Washington soon had a moment of success. The Continental Army had recently captured some cannons from the British. Washington placed these cannons on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston. From these hills, the colonists could shoot cannon balls into Boston. With cannon balls raining down on them, and fearing the worst, the British troops in Boston under General Howe were forced to have their navy evacuate them.
The British troops sailed to Nova Scotia in Canada. With them, they took over 1,000 loyalists, colonists who remained loyal to the King of England. However, more British troops were in New York City. Washington took his brand new army to New York to attack the British there.
Common Sense leads to the Declaration of Independence
While Washington took his army to New York, another patriot, Thomas Paine contributed to the revolution. Thomas Paine had written a short book called Common Sense. The book Common Sense explained to the colonists in simple language the wrongs England had committed against the colonists. It explained how the colonists’ rights had been trampled by England, and told the colonists that their only option was to revolt from England and create a new nation.
Many colonists read Common Sense. Soon everyone was talking about revolting from England. The Second Continental Congress at Philadelphia began to receive thousands of letters from colonists demanding that the Second Continental Congress declare its independence from England.
Richard Henry Lee spoke before the Second Continental Congress and presented a resolution that they declared their independence, as was the will of the people of the colonies. The Second Continental Congress selected a committee to write a declaration. In the end, Thomas Jefferson was selected to write the Declaration of Independence.
Thomas Jefferson was the perfect person to craft the Declaration of Independence. He was well educated, believed in the rights of man, and that man had natural rights to freedom, property, and self-government. So, in late June of 1776, Thomas Jefferson began to work on one of America’s most important documents.
The Declaration of Independence begins with the Preamble. The Preamble explains the why the Declaration of Independence was written. Jefferson explains that history and respect makes it necessary for the colonists to explain why they felt they needed to separate from England.
Next, Jefferson explained what the colonists believed. He said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” meaning that all men were equal and that none should be elevated as a king over other men. “. . . that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights (a right that cannot be taken away by the government); that among these rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” meaning that the colonists believed that God had given all men rights to live without fear of what the king might do to them with unjust laws, to be free to govern themselves, and to own property and pursue their lives without unfair taxes or laws imposed by a tyrant.
Then Jefferson explained that people made governments to guarantee their rights, not to take them away as England had done. And, that any government that did not protect the people’s rights was a government that the people had a right to destroy, and make a new government that would protect their rights.
Then, Jefferson listed twenty-six grievances (complaints) against the King of England. Among these were complaints about unfair taxation without representation, quartering troops in our homes, illegally searching our homes, arresting colonist without cause and imprisoning colonists without benefit of a jury trial, for inciting the Indians to attack our settlements, and hiring mercenaries from German countries to fight the colonists. In all, Jefferson listed abuse after abuse of the King against the colonies. Anyone reading the Declaration of Independence would wonder how the colonists had ever put up with England!
The final part of the Declaration of Independence announced that from this moment forward, the colonies of the United States of America considered themselves independent form England.
On July 4th, 1776, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence by a unanimous vote. As the delegates lined up to sign the Declaration, each man knew he was signing his death warrant. Having signed the document, which would be sent to England and to the King, King George would surely order the signers to be hung for treason. Yet, they lined up without hesitation. John Hancock signed first. He signed in bold, large letters, announcing that surely the King could read his name! William Ellery paused a second before he signed, his had shook with fear of what he was about to do, still he said, “My hand trembles, but my heart does not,” and signed the Declaration. All fifty-six delegates to the Second Continental Congress lined up and signed the Declaration. America was now officially at war with England!