The Revolutionary Period 1750-1800

Yesterday, the greatest question was decided which ever was
debated in America; and a greater perhaps never was, nor will
be, decided among men. A resolution was passed without one
dissenting colony, that these united colonies are, and of right
ought to be, free, and independent states.
John Adams
John Adams became
the second President of
the United States. The
previous quote was
written by him in a
letter to his wife on the
eve of the signing of
the Declaration of
The signing of the
Declaration on July
4, 1776, capped
more than a decade
of controversy
between England
and the American
More than a decade of struggle to establish the new nation
followed. During those years – indeed, during the entire
second half of the eighteenth century - American literature
was largely political.
So dominant was the question of our relationship to England,
and so talented and literate were the statesmen of the
emerging nation, that some of the most notable writers of
the period were the founders of the republic.
 It is easy to forget
how long the 13
original states had
been colonies.
 By 1750 there were
fourth and fifth
Americans of
European descent
living in Virginia
and New England.
 Year by year, decade
by decade,
experience in the
art of selfgovernment.
 As late as the early
1760’s, however, few
Americans had
given much
thought to the
prospect of
 Between 1765 and 1775, the
attitudes of the colonists
changed dramatically…
 King George III and
parliament imposed a
number of unwise
regulations the threatened
the liberties of the
 With each succeeding
measure, the outrage in
America grew, finally
erupting in war.
 The 18th century is often
characterized as the Age of
Reason, or the
 This movement was spurred
on by the work of 17th century
scientists such as Galileo and
Sir Isaac Newton
 These writers and thinkers of
the Enlightenment valued
reason over faith
 Unlike the Puritans, they had
little interest in the hereafter,
believing instead in the power
of reason and science to
further human progress.
 They spoke of a social contract that forms the basis of democratic
 Above all, they believed that people are by nature good, not evil.
 Among the most influential figures of the Enlightenment were the
French writer, Voltaire; the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau;
the English political historian John Locke, and the Scottish historian
David Hume
 Educated readers in the American colonies were familiar with the
writings of these men….
 The American
Revolution was
preceded by the
French and Indian
War (a struggle
between England and
France over control of
North America
 When the French and
Indian War officially
ended in 1763, France
gave up its claims to
North American
 The British
wanting to raise
revenue in the
colonies to pay their
war debt, make a
series of
decisions which
sets the stage for
 The Stamp Act of 1765
 Required buying and
affixing stamps on 54
kinds of items:
Playing cards
Legal documents
 Colonists responded by:
 Burning stamps
 Beating stamp
 Destroying shops
 No deaths > Act was
repealed within 6 months
 Townshend Acts 1767
 Taxed:
 Paper
 Paint
 Glass
 Lead
 Tea
 Colonists boycotted
 British sent troops to
 “Boston Massacre”
 “Redcoats” fired on a
taunting mob, killing
five people
 Repealed all Townshend taxes except for tea
 Tea Act (1773)
 Gave a monopoly of the American tea trade to an English
 Bostonians (dressed as Mohawks) dumped a tea shipment
into the Boston harbor – “The Boston Tea Party”
 As punishment the Coercive Acts were imposed
 Coercive Acts (1773-74)
 AKA: Intolerable Acts
 Closed port of Boston until the East India Tea Co. was
reimbursed for their shipment
 “Royal” governor took control of MA
 Sheriffs and juries became “Royal” employees
 British imposed the right to quarter (house) soldiers
 This united the Colonists against the British
 Colonial leaders met in Philadelphia for the first
Continental Congress.
 April 18, 1775
 Shots were fired in Lexington, Mass.
 Eight Americans killed
 Redcoats continued to Concord, Mass.
 Two Americans were killed
 Three Redcoats killed
 “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World”
 Key Battles
 Battle of Bunker Hill –
killed or wounded
1,000+ British soldiers;
the Second
Continental Congress
meets in Philadelphia
and appoints the first
official Commander in
Chief of the American
Army; this, of course, is
George Washington
 Battle of Saratoga –
after this victory,
France began to
commit troops to the
aid of the American
 The war finally comes to an end at Yorktown, Virginia,
on October 19, 1781
 General Cornwallis surrenders seeing that escape is
 Unlike the Puritans,
writing during the
Revolutionary period or
“Age of Reason” was not
focused on private soulsearching. Rather, it was
public writing
 The mind of the nation
was on politics and so was
the writing/rhetoric
 The writing of permanent
importance from the
Revolutionary era is mostly
political writing.
 Patrick Henry
 Speech against the Stamp Act
 Speech at the Virginia
 Expressed ideas of
independence from Britain
 Thomas Paine
 Most influential
 “Common Sense” pamphlet
 Jan. 1776
 Sold 100,000 copies in three
 Thomas Jefferson
 Declaration of
 The Constitution
 Alexander Hamilton,
James Madison, John
 The Federalist
 Letters to NY
 Later published as a
collection of essays
 America was beginning to separate
itself culturally from England;
however, there were still no notable
American novels or plays
 The modern short story still had not
been invented
 Sound, clear arguments in support of
causes were considered the great
literary works of the day
 Most writing written work was in the
form of:
 Pamphlets
 Political documents
 Speeches
 During this period,
America began to
establish a cultural
identity of its own…
 Theaters were built from
New York to
 A number of new
colleges were established
after the war…
 By the early 1800s…
America could boast a
small body of national
 Native Americans had
contributed haunting
poetry and legends
through their oral
 The Puritans had written a
number of powerful,
inward-looking works…
 The statesmen of the
Revolutionary period
produced political
documents for the ages
 The raw materials for a great national literature were at
hand, waiting to be used.
 The nation stood on the threshold of a territorial and
population explosion unique in the history of the world.