Unit 2: A Nation is born

American Literature
By 1750 there were fourth and fifth generations
of Americans.
In 1760 – most colonists had not given thought to
the prospect of independence.
Between 1760 and the mid-1770s attitudes
towards King George III changed dramatically.
Parliament in England imposed a number of
regulations that threatened the liberties of the
The 18th century is often characterized as ‘The
Enlightenment’ or ‘The Age of Reason.’
Great 17th century thinkers: Galileo, Sir Isaac
Newton, Voltaire, Rousseau, and John Locke.
Writers of this time valued reason over faith.
Believed in the possibility of a perfect society
because man was naturally good, not evil.
Political writers include Franklin, Paine, and
These writers not only believed in the philosophy
of the time, but put it into practice.
The American Revolution was preceded by the
French and Indian War.
This was a struggle between England and France
for control of North America.
England won and there was joy in the colonies.
However, in order to pay for this war, the king
began to impose taxes in the colonies.
Stamp Act of 1765: this added a cost to 54
ordinary items.
Colonists were outraged-it was eventually
The Townshend Acts of 1767: taxed paper, paint,
glass, lead, and tea.
This prompted the Boston Massacre – this Act
was repealed.
The Tea Act: gave England a monopoly on the
distribution of tea.
This prompted the Boston Tea Party.
A full shipment of tea was dumped into the Boston
As punishment, the Coercive Acts were passed,
which shut down the Boston Harbor and insisted
that English soldiers be housed in colonial homes.
This quickly became known as the Intolerable Acts.
April 19, 1775: 700 British troops met 70 colonial
minutemen on the Lexington green.
A musket shot was fired and shortly after 8
Americans lay dead.
The troops then headed to Concord.
This is the official start of the American
Revolution – “American blood had been spilled
on American soil.”
Battle of Bunker Hill: Americans wounded over
1000 British soldiers.
Most fighting till now took place in
Massachusetts – but the revolt involved all of the
Two days before Bunker Hill, the Americans
named a commander in chief for the American
Army – George Washington.
More than a year passed before the Americans
declared their independence.
More than six years passed before the war ended.
In 1777 at the battle of Saratoga in upstate New York,
the Americans were surround by the British and 5700
were forced to surrender.
This was a turning point, because upon hearing this
in France, they recognized the colonies as a
sovereign nation and sent aid in the form of troops.
The final battle was at Yorktown, Virginia on
October 19, 1781.
With the aid of the French and enlisted African
Americans, General George Washington’s army
surrounded an 8000 man troop under the force
of General Cornwallis.
Seeing that escape was impossible – Cornwallis
The path to self government is not always
Articles of Confederation established a “League
of Friendship”
There were three main issues with the AofC: They
did not have the ability to raise an army, there
was no monetary structure, and there was no
ability to raise taxes.
Contrary to the soul searching literature of the
Puritans – Revolutionary writing was public.
By the time of Washington’s inauguration, there
were nearly forty magazine publications.
Journalists and printers provided a forum for the
expression of ideas.
Topics focused on relations with Great Britain
and political writing.
1770s and 1780s were very tumultuous – this time
shaped not only our country, but the world.
Patrick Henry was an amazing orator who
brought cries of ‘treason!’
His speech to the Virginia Convention expressed
rising sentiment for independence. “Give me
liberty or give me death!”
Thomas Paine was perhaps more influential that
any other writer in swaying public opinion.
He wrote a pamphlet in 1776 titled Common
Sense, which was written to the common man
and swept the colonies, selling 100,000 copies in
three months.
The Declaration of Independence was first
drafted by Thomas Jefferson in June of 1776.
The finished document is the collaborative effort
of a committee of five statesmen including
Benjamin Franklin.
The Declaration of Independence is one of the
most influential political statements ever made.
The Constitution of the United States, drafted in
1787 was only hoped to survive a generation.
It is the foundation of a national super power of
50 states, 250 million people, and has only been
amended 27 times!
Ratification was not easy though. Delaware
ratified it first and one of the last to ratify was
New York.
Alexander Hamilton – who did not particularly
like the Constitution – still wanted it ratified in his
home state of New York.
He, along with James Madison, and John Jay,
wrote a series of essays titled The Federalist, to
persuade New Yorkers to ratify the Constitution.
These essays are recognized as authoritative
statements on the principles of American
Political writing dominated, but it wasn’t the only
form of writing published during this period.
Broadside Ballads were also published: this is a
single sheet of paper, printed on one or both
sides in verse, that deals with a current topic.
Poets to know are Phillis Wheatly: Born in Africa,
brought over as a slave, published in England
while still a young woman.
Michel-Guillaume Crevecoeur: soldier of fortune,
world traveler, and a farmer.
He published his impressions of life, from his home
in Orange County New York – Letters from an
American Farmer.
Benjamin Franklin – Poor Richard’s Almanack
became familiar in most American households.
Popular aphorisms include: No man e’er was
glorious, who was not laborious, Little strokes, fell
great Oaks, and An Ugly wife makes a great cook 
During the revolutionary period America began
to develop an identity of its own.
A number of new universities and colleges were
established during this time.
Art and Music also began to flourish.
By early 1800s America can boast of a small
national body of literature which include writings
from the Native Americans, Explorers, Puritans,
and Revolutionaries of the Enlightenment.
As the eighteenth century came to a close, the
nation stood on the threshold of a territorial and
population explosion – unique in the history of
the world.