Unit 3 - Period Review (Part A)
Part A - The Revolutionary Period
At the conclusion of the Seven Years War (1756-1763), Great Britain dominated North America. In the Treaty of Paris (1763), France surrendered all its holdings and the Spanish were forced to the western side of the Mississippi River. In addition, the American colonists seemed content in the British imperial system. Mercantilism rested lightly on them as they enjoyed a strong measure of home rule. George III and Parliament controlled external matters, but the colonial assemblies made many local decisions.
Statutory Neglect Ends
All that changed in 1763; the war had doubled Britain’s national debt. It had started in America, and British leaders believed the colonies should pay the cost of their defense. Further, the Ottawa chief Pontiac went on a rampage and killed two thousand settlers. An inexpensive new Indian policy emerged with the Proclamation of 1763, which forbade colonial settlement on the western side of the Appalachian Mountains. The Americans ignored the restriction, however, because they believed it violated their rights to travel and property. This was the first overt breach between the colonies and their mother country.
The American mindset changed even more as Parliament modified salutary neglect after 1763. For many years, English writers such as John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon warned that the Crown and Parliament were becoming too powerful and were encroaching on the liberty of the people. These ideas were an extension of the writings of John Locke, who had warned of the dangers of an unrestrained government in the seventeenth century. The colonists increasingly accepted the Whig view of politics that placed Parliament in a conspiracy of oppression and tyranny. As Parliament took a more active role in colonial affairs, the colonists grew to believe their rights as Englishmen were under attack and must be defended.
Significant trouble began in 1764 over money and taxes. Parliament passed the Sugar Act, which regulated trade and raised revenue. The next year, a bombshell exploded—the Stamp Act. This law placed a tax on over fifty items, and the colonists reacted strongly. Some colonial leaders, such as John Dickinson, acknowledged Parliament’s authority to regulate trade but challenged its right to tax only for revenue purposes. Samuel Adams, a more radical leader, denied that Parliament had any rights over the colonies at all.
In response to the Stamp Act, the colonists organized. Nine of the colonies sent representatives to a Stamp Act Congress, which petitioned the king and organized a boycott of British goods to pressure Parliament to repeal the tax. The Sons of Liberty formed to intimidate British officials, enforce boycotts, and destroy the property of people who supported the crown. Parliament repealed the act in 1766, after British merchants felt the financial hardship the boycott inflicted. The Stamp Act was a significant step towards separation. Revolutionary rhetoric emerged (“no taxation without representation,” etc.), and radicals such as Sons of Liberty were emboldened. Moreover, the face-saving Declaratory Act (1766) could not cover up that Parliament’s will had been tested and faltered.
The British quest to raise money in the colonies without provoking colonial resistance continued but failed. The Townshend Acts (1767) taxed various imported items such as paper, paint, and tea. When the colonists protested and boycotted, Parliament repealed the taxes on all items except tea in 1770. However, the lawlessness and unrest these laws provoked prompted Britain to move troops into some colonial cities after 1768. This resulted in a confrontation and the death of five colonials at the Boston Massacre in March 1770.
In 1773, the final crisis arrived with the Boston Tea Party. Hoping to provoke the crown, the Sons of Liberty destroyed 342 chests of tea at the Boston Harbor. Parliament played into the radicals’ hands by retaliating with the Coercive Acts in 1774. This series of laws punished the entire colony of Massachusetts and unified the other colonies in defense of New England. During the next two years, the First and Second Continental Congresses met in Philadelphia, where they petitioned the king, called for boycotts of British goods, organized an army, and finally issued the Declaration of Independence.
The War for Independence
The British hoped to crush the rebellion with their 32,000-man army and the world’s strongest navy. They also counted on colonial Loyalists to help subdue the rebels. Making up 20 percent of the colonial population, this group had enormous military potential. The British plan was to divide the colonies along the Hudson River Valley and cut off troublesome New England. This strategy resulted in spectacular failure at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, where 6,000 British troops were trapped and surrendered to American forces.
Colonial military success hinged on two factors. First was George Washington’s ability to maintain his army until Great Britain grew weary and agreed to independence. In addition, the Americans needed foreign help. This was achieved after Saratoga when France signed a treaty with the colonies in 1778. This alliance doomed Britain’s hope of keeping possession of the colonies.
By 1781, the British had not crushed Washington’s army despite inflicting major defeats on him at New York City in 1776 and around Philadelphia in 1777. The British underestimated the colonials and were stretched too thin around the world after 1778. The English people became restless, and when another British army surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia, in 1781, independence seemed assured.
Results of the Revolution
The Treaty of Paris settled the American Revolution and marked another truce in the long struggle between England and France. The Americans achieved their goals: total independence, the right to settle most of the land west of the Appalachian Mountains and east of the Mississippi, and fishing rights off Newfoundland. All this was accomplished despite French and Spanish scheming to keep America pinned east of the Appalachian Mountains. American diplomats led by John Jay succeeded in playing England and France off each other and gaining this diplomatic triumph.
While the Revolution marked a major political upheaval—the transition from monarchy to confederation—it had a muted social impact. African Americans played a small role in the conflict, with about 5,000 serving the colonial cause in return for their freedom. Despite Lord Dunmore’s similar attempt to recruit slaves for the British, only about 2,000 answered the call. Most significantly, the Revolution did not end slavery. Although all states north of the Mason-Dixon line began gradual emancipation between 1777 and 1804, the South made no wholesale changes. By the 1790s, revolutionary idealism was spent, and southern slavery seemed permanent.
Women also experienced little change in their lives after the Revolution. From 1763 to 1783, they supported boycotts, made homespun clothing, and nursed the troops. In 1783, however, they could not vote or hold office, nor did they have their sphere of activity expanded beyond the home. Overall, women and African Americans found little new in their day-to-day lives as a result of independence.