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Causes and Early Troubles
By the middle of the 18th cent., differences in life, thought, and interests had developed between the mother country and the growing colonies. Local political institutions and practice diverged significantly from English ways, while social customs, religious beliefs, and economic interests added to the potential sources of conflict. The British government, like other imperial powers in the 18th cent., favored a policy of mercantilism; the Navigation Acts were intended to regulate commerce in the British interest. These were only loosely enforced, however, and the colonies were by and large allowed to develop freely with little interference from England.
Conditions changed abruptly in 1763. The Treaty of Paris in that year ended the French and Indian Wars and removed a long-standing threat to the colonies. At the same time the ministry (1763–65) of George Grenville in Great Britain undertook a new colonial policy intended to tighten political control over the colonies and to make them pay for their defense and return revenue to the mother country. The tax levied on molasses and sugar in 1764 caused some consternation among New England merchants and makers of rum; the tax itself was smaller than the one already on the books, but the promise of stringent enforcement was novel and ominous.
It was the Stamp Act, passed by the British Parliament in 1765, with its direct demand for revenue that roused a violent colonial outcry, which was spearheaded by the Northern merchants, lawyers, and newspaper publishers who were directly affected. Everywhere leaders such as James Otis, Samuel Adams, and Patrick Henry denounced the act with eloquence, societies called the Sons of Liberty were formed, and the Stamp Act Congress was called to protest that Parliament was violating the rights of trueborn Englishmen in taxing the colonials, who were not directly represented in the supreme legislature. The threat of boycott and refusal to import English goods supported the colonial clamor. Parliament repealed (1766) the Stamp Act but passed an act formally declaring its right to tax the colonies.
The incident was closed, but a barb remained to wound American feelings. Colonial political theorists—not only radicals such as Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Josiah Quincy (1744–75), and Alexander McDougall but also moderates such as John Dickinson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin—asserted that taxation without representation was tyranny. The teachings of 18th-century French philosophers and continental writers on law, such as Emmerich de Vattel, as well as the theories of John Locke, were implicit in the colonial arguments based on the theory of natural rights. The colonials claimed that Parliament had the sovereign power to legislate in the interest of the entire British Empire, but that it could only tax those actually represented in Parliament.
Trouble flared when the Chatham ministry adopted (1767) the Townshend Acts, which taxed numerous imports; care was taken to levy only an “external” or indirect tax in the hope that the colonials would accept this. But this indirect tax was challenged too, and although the duties were not heavy, the principle was attacked. Incidents came in interrupted sequence to make feeling run higher and higher: the seizure of a ship belonging to John Hancock in 1768; the bloodshed of the Boston Massacre in 1770; the burning of H. M. S. Gaspee in 1772.
The First Continental Congress
The repeal of the Townshend Acts in 1770 did no more than temporarily quiet the turmoil, for the tax on tea was kept as a sort of token of Parliament's supremacy. Indignation in New England at the monopoly granted to the East India Company led to the Boston Tea Party in 1773. Despite the earnest pleas of William Pitt the elder (see Chatham, William Pitt, 1st earl of) and Edmund Burke, Parliament replied with coercive measures.
These (and the Quebec Act) the colonials called the Intolerable Acts, and resistance was prompt. The Sons of Liberty and individual colonials were already distributing statements of the colonial cause to win over merchant and farmer, worker and sailor. Committees of correspondence had been formed to exchange information and ideas and to build colonial unity, and in 1774 these committees prepared the way for the Continental Congress.
The representatives at this First Continental Congress, except for a few radicals, had not met to consider independence, but wished only to persuade the British government to recognize their rights. A plan of reconciliation offered by Joseph Galloway was rejected. It was agreed that the colonies would refuse to import British goods until colonial grievances were righted; those grievances were listed in petitions to the king; and the congress adjourned.
Indecision and Declaration
The war was on in earnest. Some delegates had come to the Congress already committed to declaring the colonies independent of Great Britain, but even many stalwart upholders of the colonial cause were not ready to take such a step. The lines were being more clearly drawn between the pro-British Loyalists and colonial revolutionists. The time was one of indecision, and the division of the people was symbolized by the split between Benjamin Franklin and his Loyalist son, William Franklin.
Loyalists were numerous and included small farmers as well as large landowners, royal officeholders, and members of the professions; they were to be found in varying strength in every colony. A large part of the population was more or less neutral, swaying to this side or that or else remaining inert in the struggle, which was to some extent a civil war. So it was to remain to the end.
Civil government and administration had fallen apart and had to be patched together locally. In some places the result was bloody strife, as in the partisan raids in the Carolinas and Georgia and the Mohawk valley massacre in New York. Elsewhere hostility did not produce open struggles.
In Jan., 1776, Thomas Paine wrote a pamphlet, Common Sense, which urged the colonial cause. Its influence was tremendous, and it was read everywhere with enthusiastic acclaim. Militarily, however, the cause did not prosper greatly. Delegations to the Canadians had been unsuccessful, and the Quebec campaign (1775–76) ended in disaster. The British gave up Boston in Mar., 1776, but the prospects were still not good for the ill-trained, poorly armed volunteer soldiers of the Continental army when the Congress decided finally to declare the independence of the Thirteen Colonies.
The Declaration of Independence is conventionally dated July 4, 1776. Drawn up by Thomas Jefferson (with slight emendations), it was to be one of the great historical documents of all time. It did not, however, have any immediate positive effect.
The British under Gen. William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Howe, came to New York harbor. After vain attempts to negotiate a peace, the British forces struck. Washington lost Brooklyn Heights (see Long Island, battle of), retreated northward, was defeated at Harlem Heights in Manhattan and at White Plains, and took part of his dwindling army into New Jersey. Thomas Paine in a new pamphlet, The Crisis, exhorted the revolutionists to courage in desperate days, and Washington showed his increasing military skill and helped to restore colonial spirits in the winter of 1776–77 by crossing the ice-ridden Delaware and winning small victories over forces made up mostly of Hessian mercenaries at Trenton (Dec. 26) and Princeton (Jan. 3).
Saratoga and Valley Forge
In 1777 the British attempted to wipe out the flickering revolt by a concerted plan to split the colonies with converging expeditions concentrated upon the Hudson valley. Gen. William Howe, instead of taking part in it, moved into Pennsylvania, defeated Washington in the battle of Brandywine (Sept. 11), took Philadelphia, and beat off (Oct. 4) Washington's attack on Germantown. Meanwhile the British columns under Gen. John Burgoyne and Gen. Barry St. Leger had failed (see Saratoga campaign), and Burgoyne on Oct. 17, 1777, ended the battle of Saratoga by surrender to Gen. Horatio Gates. The victory is commonly regarded as the decisive battle of the war, but its good effects again were not immediate.
The Continental army still had to endure the hardships of the cruel winter at Valley Forge, when only loyalty to Washington and the cause of liberty held the half-frozen, half-starved men together. Among them were three of the foreign idealists who had come to aid the colonials in their struggle—Johann Kalb, Baron von Steuben, and the marquis de Lafayette. At Valley Forge, Steuben trained the still-raw troops, who came away a disciplined fighting force giving a good account of themselves in 1778. Sir Henry Clinton, who had succeeded Howe in command, decided to abandon Philadelphia for New York, and Washington's attack upon the British in the battle of Monmouth (see Monmouth, battle of) was cheated of success mainly by the equivocal actions of Gen. Charles Lee.
Vincennes to Yorktown
The warfare had meanwhile shifted from the quiescent North to other theaters. George Rogers Clark by his daring exploits (1778–79) in the West, climaxed by the second capture of Vincennes, established the revolutionists' prestige on the frontier. Gen. John Sullivan led an expedition (1779) against the British and Native Americans in upper New York.
The chief fighting, however, was now in the South. The British had taken Savannah in 1778. In 1780, Sir Henry Clinton attacked and took Charleston (which had resisted attacks in 1776 and 1779) and sent Gen. Charles Cornwallis off on the Carolina campaign. Cornwallis swept forward to beat Horatio Gates soundly at Camden (Aug., 1780), and only guerrilla bands under Francis Marion, Andrew Pickens, and Thomas Sumter continued to oppose the British S of Virginia.
Another low point had been reached in American fortunes. Bitter complaints of the inefficiency of the Congress, political conniving, lack of funds and food, and the strains of long-continued war had engendered widespread apathy and disaffection, and the British tried to take advantage of the division among the people. In 1780 occurred the most celebrated of the disaffections, the treason of Benedict Arnold. Lack of pay and shortages of clothing and food drove some Continental regiments into a mutiny of protest in Jan., 1781.
The dark, however, was already lifting. A crowd of frontiersmen with their rifles defeated a British force at Kings Mt. in Oct., 1780, and Nathanael Greene, who had replaced Gates as commander in the Carolina campaign, and his able assistant, Daniel Morgan, together with Thaddeus Kosciusko and others, ultimately forced Cornwallis into Virginia. The stage was set for the Yorktown campaign.
Now the French aid counted greatly, for Lafayette with colonial troops held the British in check, and it was a Franco-American force that Washington and the comte de Rochambeau led from New York S to Virginia. The French fleet under Admiral de Grasse played the decisive part.
Previously naval forces had been of little consequence in the Revolution. State navies and a somewhat irregular national navy had been of less importance than Revolutionary privateers. Esek Hopkins had led a raid in the Bahamas in 1776, John Barry won a name as a gallant commander, and John Paul Jones was one of the most celebrated commanders in all U.S. naval history, but their exploits were isolated incidents.
It was the French fleet—ironically, the same one defeated by the British under Admiral Rodney the next year in the West Indies—that bottled up Cornwallis at Yorktown. Outnumbered and surrounded, the British commander surrendered (Oct. 19, 1781), and the fighting was over. The rebels had won the American Revolution.
The Treaty of Paris (see Paris, Treaty of) formally recognized the new nation in 1783, although many questions were left unsettled. The United States was floundering through a postwar depression and seeking not too successfully to meet its administrative problems under the Articles of Confederation (see Confederation, Articles of).
The leaders in the new country were those prominent either in the council halls or on the fields of the Revolution, and the first three Presidents after the Constitution of the United States was adopted were Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Some of the more radical Revolutionary leaders were disappointed in the turn toward conservatism when the Revolution was over, but liberty and democracy had been fixed as the highest ideals of the United States.
The American Revolution had a great influence on liberal thought throughout Europe. The struggles and successes of the youthful democracy were much in the minds of those who brought about the French Revolution, and most assuredly later helped to inspire revolutionists in Spain's American colonies.
The stirring events of the country's birth have been often represented in U.S. literature. It has given dramatic material to playwrights from William Dunlap to Maxwell Anderson, to novelists from James Fenimore Cooper and William G. Simms to S. Weir Mitchell, Paul Leicester Ford, Kenneth Roberts, and Howard Fast. Older histories, still read for their literary value, are those of George Bancroft, John Fiske, and G. O. Trevelyan.
Countless excellent studies have been made of particular aspects and incidents; some examples are H. E. Wildes, Valley Forge (1938); R. B. Morris, ed., The Era of the American Revolution (1939); C. Van Doren, Secret History of the American Revolution (1941); L. Montross, Rag, Tag and Bobtail: The Story of the Continental Army (1952); C. Berger, Broadsides and Bayonets: The Propaganda War of the American Revolution (1961); A. Heimert, Religion and the American Mind (1966); and J. W. Tyler, Smugglers and Patriots (1986).
For works of more general interest, see C. H. McIlwain, The American Revolution: A Constitutional Interpretation (1923, repr. 1973); J. F. Jameson, The American Revolution Considered as a Social Movement (1926, new ed. 1961); J. C. Miller, Origins of the American Revolution (1943, new ed. 1959); C. R. Ritcheson, British Politics and the American Revolution (1954); L. H. Gipson, The Coming of the Revolution (“New American Nation” series, 1954); E. S. Morgan, The Birth of the Republic, 1763–89 (1956); H. S. Commager and R. B. Morris, ed., Spirit of 'Seventy-Six (1958); S. F. Bemis, The Diplomacy of the American Revolution (rev. ed. 1957); H. Peckham, The War for Independence (1958); R. R. Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution (1959); B. Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (1967); R. B. Morris, The American Revolution Reconsidered (1967, repr. 1979) and The American Revolution, 1763–1783 (as ed., 1971); J. P. Greene, ed. The Reinterpretation of the American Revolution (1968); M. Jensen, The Founding of a Nation (1968); J. R. Alden, A History of the American Revolution (1969); G. S. Wood, The Creation of the American Republic, 1776–1787 (1969, repr. 1998), The Radicalism of the American Revolution (1992), The American Revolution (2002), Revolutionary Characters (2006), and The Idea of America (2011); D. Higginbotham, The War of American Independence (1971); P. Maier, From Resistance to Revolution (1972); S. G. Kurtz and J. H. Hutson, Essay on the American Revolution (1973); K. Silverman, A Cultural History of the American Revolution (1976, repr. 1987); T. Draper, A Struggle for Power (1995); A. J. O'Shaughnessy, An Empire Divided (2000) and The Men Who Lost America (2013); J. J. Ellis, Founding Brothers (2000), American Creation (2007), and Revolutionary Summer (2013); J. Rhodehamel, ed., The American Revolution: Writings from the War of Independence (2001); D. H. Fischer, Washington's Crossing (2005); D. McCullough, 1776 (2005); S. Weintraub, Iron Tears (2005); J. Rakove, Revolutionaries (2010); T. N. Breen, American Insurgents, American Patriots (2010); J. Ferling, Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free (2011); M. Jasanoff, Liberty's Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary War (2011); K. Philips, 1775: A Good Year for Revolution (2012); C. Saunt, West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776 (2014); K. DuVal, Independence Lost: Lives on the Edge of the American Revolution (2015); A. Taylor, American Revolutions: A Continental History, 1750–1805 (2016); H. Hoock, Scars of Independence (2017); R. Atkinson, The British Are Coming (2019); S. R. Taaffe, Washington's Revolutionary War Generals (2019); T. Cole Jones, Captives of Liberty (2020).
See also bibliographies by T. R. Adams (2 vol., 1980) and R. L. Blanco (1983).
(in Russian, War of Independence in North America of 1775-83), the revolutionary liberation war of the 13 British colonies in North America against British colonial domination, during which an independent state was established—the United States of America.
The American Revolution was prepared for by the entire preceding socioeconomic history of the colonies. The development of capitalism in the colonies and the formation of the North American nation contradicted the policy of the mother country, which considered the colonies a source of raw materials and a market. After the Seven Years’ War (1756-63) the British government intensified its pressure on the colonies, in many ways hindering the further development of industry and trade. The colonization of lands west of the Allegheny Mountains was prohibited (1763), and new taxes and customs duties were introduced, which were contrary to the interests of all the colonists. Separate, uncoordinated uprisings and disturbances, which later developed into war, began in 1767. There was no unity among the participants in the liberation movement. Farmers, artisans, workers, and the urban petite bourgeoisie, who made up the democratic wing of the liberation movement, linked their struggle against the colonial yoke with hopes for free access to land and political democratization. However, the leading position in the camp of the advocates of independence (Whigs) belonged to the representatives of the right wing. They expressed the interests of the upper strata of the bourgeoisie and plantation owners, who were seeking a compromise with the mother country. The opponents of the liberation movement in the colonies and the open supporters of the mother country were the Tories, or Loyalists. Among them were big land-owners as well as persons who were connected with British capital and administration.
The First Continental Congress of representatives from the colonies met in 1774 in Philadelphia and called for a boycott of British goods. At the same time, the congress attempted to reach a compromise with the mother country. During the winter of 1774-75 the first armed detachments of colonists arose spontaneously. In the first battles at Concord and Lexington on Apr. 19, 1775, the British troops suffered heavy losses. Soon 20,000 insurgents formed a so-called camp of liberty near Boston. In the Battle of Bunker Hill on June 17, 1775, the British again suffered serious losses.
On May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress convened; the predominant influence in it was gained by the radical wing of the bourgeoisie. The congress proposed that all the colonies create new governments to replace the colonial regime. Regular armed forces were organized, and Washington was made commander in chief (June 15, 1775).
On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the revolutionary Declaration of Independence, which was written by Jefferson. The declaration proclaimed the separation of the 13 colonies from the mother country and the formation of an independent state—the United States of America (USA). It was the first legal document in history that formally proclaimed the sovereignty of a people and the principles of bourgeois democratic liberties. The decrees on the confiscation of Loyalists’ property (1777) and lands belonging to the crown and the Anglican Church were very significant.
Military action during 1775-78 unfolded primarily in the northern part of the country. The British command endeavored to suppress resistance in New England, which was the center of the revolutionary movement. An American expedition to capture Canada did not achieve its intended goal. The Americans besieged Boston and captured it on Mar. 17, 1776. However, in August 1776 the British commander W. Howe inflicted a grave defeat on Washington’s troops in Brooklyn, and on September 15 he captured New York. In December the British Army inflicted another serious defeat on the Americans near Trenton. Although Washington soon succeeded in capturing Trenton and routing a British detachment at Princeton on Jan. 3, 1777, the position of the American army remained difficult.
The armies that were encountering each other in the American Revolution differed in their composition, equipment, and combat experience. The American insurgent army was initially an ill-trained and poorly organized people’s militia. However, the morale and political level of its soldiers, who were fighting for their own land and vital interests, was considerably higher than the British Army’s. By improving their tactics in waging war, the rebels were able to achieve important advantages. Avoiding major battles and cooperating with partisan detachments, the American army harassed the enemy with sudden thrusts. The American army was the first to use the tactics of an extended formation, against which the linear combat formation of the British proved powerless. At sea, where the British Navy prevailed, American ships also used the tactics of sudden raids, attacking British ships and carrying out campaigns near the shores of Great Britain.
The weakness of central authority in the republic played a considerable role in prolonging the war. The first constitution of the USA, the Articles of Confederation, which was adopted by the congress in 1777 and ratified by the states in 1781, preserved the sovereignty of the states on the most important questions. In addition, the War of Independence was a class struggle within the colonies themselves. Tens of thousands of Loyalists fought in the British Army. The bourgeoisie and plantation owners, who were leading the struggle for independence, were opposed to carrying out the democratic demands of the soldiers, farmers, and workers. The victory of the revolution was possible only because of the participation of the broad masses of the people. Among the poor of New England egalitarian demands ripened for a limit on property ownership and the introduction of ceiling prices on foodstuffs. The Negro people took an active part in the revolution, and Negro regiments were established.
The British plan of military action in 1777 was to cut New England off from the other states. On Sept. 26, 1777, Howe captured Philadelphia, the capital of the USA. However, a British army under the command of J. Burgoyne, which was proceeding from Canada to join Howe, was surrounded, and it surrendered on Oct. 17, 1777, at Saratoga. The victory at Saratoga, which was won by American troops under the command of General H. Gates, improved the international position of the young republic. The USA managed to take advantage of the contradictions between Great Britain and other European powers. Sent to Paris as the representative of the USA, B. Franklin concluded a military alliance in 1778 with France—Great Britain’s colonial rival. In 1779, Spain joined the war against Great Britain. Russia took a friendly position toward the USA, and in 1780 it headed the so-called League of Armed Neutrality, which brought together a number of European countries who were opposed to Great Britain’s attempt to prevent neutral countries from trading with Britain’s enemies.
In June 1778, General H. Clinton, who had replaced Howe, abandoned Philadelphia. During 1779-81 the British shifted their military activity to the southern states, counting on the support of the plantation aristocracy. In December 1778 they captured Savannah, and in May 1780 they took Charleston. The talented general and former blacksmith N. Greene was made head of the southern American army. In fighting against the British troops Greene successfully combined the action of the insurgent army and the partisans. The British were compelled to withdraw their troops to the port cities. After a naval battle of Sept. 5-13, 1781, the French Navy cut the main British forces off from the sea at Yorktown. Washington surrounded them on land, and on Oct. 19, 1781, he forced them to surrender. Under the Versailles Peace Treaty of 1783, Great Britain recognized the independence of the USA.
The American Revolution was a bourgeois revolution that led to the overthrow of the colonial yoke and the formation of an independent American national state. The former prohibitions by the British Parliament and royal authority, which had hampered the development of industry and trade, were abolished. Also eliminated were the large estates of the British aristocracy, as well as vestiges of feudalism (fixed rent, entail, and primogeniture). In the northern states Negro slavery was limited and gradually eliminated. The transformation of the western lands, which had been expropriated from the Indians, into national property by the Ordinance of 1787 and their subsequent distribution created a base for the accumulation of capital. Thus, the essential prerequisites for the development of capitalism in North America were created. However, not all the problems that confronted the American revolution were resolved. Slavery was not abolished in the South, and a high property qualification for voters was maintained in all the states. The estates of Loyalists and western lands were distributed in large pieces, and they fell into the hands of speculators.
The American Revolution, which in its own time was the model of a revolutionary war, exerted an influence on the struggle of the European bourgeoisie against feudal absolutist regimes. Approximately 7,000 European volunteers fought in the ranks of the American army, including the Frenchmen the Marquis de Lafayette and H. Saint-Simon and the Pole T. Kosciuszko. During the Great French Revolution the insurgents made use of the organizational experience and revolutionary military tactics of the Americans. The victory of the North Americans in the American Revolution promoted the development of the liberation movement of the peoples of Latin America against Spanish domination. The revolution was hailed by the progressive people of many countries, including Russia, where A. N. Radishchev celebrated it in the ode “Liberty.”
REFERENCESMarx, K. Kapital, vol. 1, ch. 25. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23.
Engels, F. “Rabochee dvizhenie v Amerike.” Ibid., vol. 21.
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Engels, F. N. F. Daniel’sonu, 17 okt. 1893. (Letter.) Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin, V. I. Novye dannye o zakonakh razvitiia kapitalizma v zemledelii, part 1: “Kapitalizm i zemledelie v Soedinennykh Shtatakh Ameriki.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 27.
Lenin, V. I. “Pis’mo k amerikanskim rabochim.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Lenin, V. I. “Agrarnaia programma sotsial-demokratii v pervoi russkoi revoliutsii 1905-1907 godov.” Ibid., vol. 16.
Ocherki novoi i noveishei istorii SShA, vol. 1. Moscow, 1960.
Foner, P. Istoriia rabochego dvizheniia v SShA, vol. 1. Moscow, 1949. (Translated from English.)
Foster, W. Negritianskii narod v istorii Ameriki. Moscow, 1955. (Translated from English.)
Fursenko, A. A. Amerikanskaia burzhuaznaia revoliutsiia XVIII v. Moscow-Leningrad, 1960.
Aptheker, H. Istoriia amerikanskogo naroda [vol. 2], Amerikanskaia revoliutsiia 1763-1783. Moscow, 1962. (Translated from English.)
The American Nation: A History, vols. 8-10. New York .
Bemis, S. F. The Diplomacy of the American Revolution. New York, 1935.
Hardy, J. The First American Revolution. New York, 1937.
Morais, H. The Struggle for American Freedom. New York, 1944.
Jensen, M. The New Nation: A History of the United States During the Confederation, 1781-1789. New York, 1950.
Gipson, L. The Coming of the Revolution, 1763-1775. New York, 1954.
I. I. DEMENT’EV