The American Revolution

• The
• American Revolution
• Brotherhood
• Patriots
• Reluctant Revolutionaries
• Americans are amazingly inconsiderate toward
their own history; We know more than we credit
ourselves, but we fail to understand how unlikely,
extremely paradoxical the event was;
• We recognized Valley Forge and comprehend the
suffering of the Continental Army – but who were
these soldiers?
• Why is it that the Americans fought better and
more efficiently behind rocks and trees, but yet,
in the end aped a European Army in style and
• Who really defeated the British, the Minutemen Militia
units, the Continental Army, or the French?
• And, ultimately why was the British eventually defeated
in the Caribbean and not in America?
• Why do we praise the virtues of citizens soldiers, yet,
Washington cursed them as a rabble of misfits, scum,
and Mutineers?
• Was the revolution radical or conservative? Was it
successful – why did it not go the way of the French
• Emeritus Historian Edmund S. Morgan stated,
• “no one has ever quite understood the Revolution
and no one truly will.”
• Story of Eldridge Gerry and Benjamin Harrison—
explains the perspicacity of the unfolding events.
• They knew they were laying the foundation for
“Millions, Yet, unborn.”
• The brotherhood itself consisted of the usual
• George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, John
Adams, James Madison, Thomas Paine,
Alexander Hamilton and a coterie of leading
politicians and social leaders.
• Real star of the Revolution is the revolution
itself—we must not overlook the event—it is as
important as the people—People give a face to
the Revolution.
• Achievements: English Philosopher Alfred Lord
Whitehead compared the legacy of the American
Revolutionaries to the rule of Caesar Augustus in
• Everyone was aware of how important this event
truly was – maybe the British more than the
Americans – Certainly the Americans understood
the moment.
• Achievements:
• 1) First successful war for
colonial independence;
• 2) First enduring largescale Republic;
• 3) First nation designed on
a “Liberal Recipe” in
terms of political and
economic character.
• This new Nation combined in latent form two
seminal and seemingly contradictory ideas—
• Democracy and Capitalism, along with a radical
concept of Popular Sovereignty --• Common Ordinary People could Govern
themselves, Tax themselves, Secure their own
blessings of Liberty w/o a King or Monarchy
• Divinity lay with the People, not a title or family
• The American Revolution, in and of itself was
very different from previous revolutions and
many that followed—
• There were no Guillotines, or major
bloodletting—simply it did not devour its own.
• It was a collective achievement that eschewed a
monarchy or divine figurehead—instead opting
for a seminally democratic system of checks and
balances—that derived its authority from the
consent of the governed.
• The revolutionaries, rather than choosing to kill
one another chose to argue with one another—
• Yes, historians do point out the failures of the
Revolution—ie it did not end patriarchy (deferring
to one’s betters), nor racism, nor did it bring about
absolute equality –
• However, it did give us a vehicle, a political
mechanism that would eventually lead to these
things—’Founding Fathers’ were also a product of
their time, as we are a product of our time.
• The bigger question is how did such a sparsely
populated area produce such an impressive crop of
leaders and political elite?
• America very isolated outpost on the fringes of
wilderness and 3000 miles away from cultured
• The Scottish enlightenment, the Age of Reason,
the Reformation and Liberal idealism were
ideologies available to the Americans.
• Uniquely the 13 colonies formed a postAristocratic and Pre-Democratic society—this
offered unprecedented opportunities for those
with talent;
• The ‘Founding Fathers’ were very aware that they
were present at the Creation –
• They knew they were destined for greatness or the
• Imperial reforms of 1763
• Why a Revolution and Not Simply
• A Political Evolution?
• George III assumed the Throne as a 21 yr old -he was determined to be King, not as his father
and grandfather, who did not speak English and
ignored the political processes;
• Imposed Imperial Reform throughout the British
Empire – the War had been costly.
• King George assumed these minor reforms were
necessary– He lowered the rates to avoid
contention –
• He enforced the Proclamation of 1763, enforced
the Navigation Acts, and enacted what would
become the Declaratory Act;
• Unfortunately, Britain had essentially used
“benign Neglect” toward the colonies for over
• Proclamation of 1763:
• Effectively closed off all
westward migration west
of the Alleghany
• Americans felt hemmed
in, corralled—easier for
the British to control and
eventually enslave them;
• Early, Colonists were puzzled—why all this
concern for the colonies?
• Colonists had instituted their own legislatures,
their own churches, social groups and colonial
militias—they seemed to be doing fine without
British intervention;
• British stated precedent: Navigation Acts of 1660,
The Wool Act of 1699, Molasses Act 1733 etc …
Just needed to be better enforcement
• Americans didn’t grumble much—Smuggling
could get around the navigation and Tax duties—
• This time (1763) the British put teeth into it—after
100 years many of the colonial legislatures had
wrangled some leverage in controlling local taxes
and having some say in the Governor’s pay;
• Also in how salvage and captures were to be
disbursed – depending in whose territorial waters it
took place.
• The French and Indian War had literally left the
British economy on the verge of bankruptcy;
• They had an empire but were essentially broke;
• Passed minor legislation to offset the cost to the
British taxpayer –
• George Grenville ushered through a Stamp Tax in
1765 – sent a preliminary document to the British
Colonists …
• The Stamp Tax required all legal documents,
newspapers, college diplomas, playing cards, and
all other print trade objects to pay a revenue;
• The colonies went berserk -- they had been taxing
themselves and felt the local legislatures were the
only true form or voice they had in political
• Parliament was too far removed and did not
understand the political, social or economic
situation in America.
• Colonial Mobs threatened Stamp Tax agents,
burned tax agents in effigy, tar and feathered
anyone who tried to collect the duty;
• Coerced tax Agents to resign and tore down their
houses if they refused;
• Formed clubs of the Loyal Nine or the Sons of
Liberty; convened their own Stamp Act congress
to repeal the stamp; forced merchants to
participate in boycotting British goods.
• Pamphlets criticizing British policy widely
disseminated; tracts and broadsides such as Daniel
Dulaney’s “Considerations on the Propriety of
Imposing Taxes” (1765), John Dickinsons (1765)
“Letters from a Pennsylvania Farmer” and James
Otis tracts first coining the phrase “Taxation
without representation.” (1764).
• Otis stated that this idea went all the way back to
the Magna Carta that had instilled the notion of
Parliamentary Law.
• Parliament got the message—repealed the Stamp
Act; unfortunately to assert their political
authority They passed the Declaratory Act;
• Gives the Parliament the right in all measures to
enact legislation on Britain and British subjects;
• It also suggested to the Americans they were not
equal British subjects, but colonial settlements,
somehow beneath true Britishness– could not
have equal political rights or self-government.
• Somewhat of a cooling off period—but in 1767 the
Townshend Duties were passed;
• It imposed a scheme of taxes on all colonial
economies—but mostly imported duties;
• After all Franklin, as a colonial agent in England stated
that it was interference in internal taxes the Americans
resented—not external duties;
• This tax included lead, paint, glass, etc … external duties
– ‘Champagne Charley’ very bright, hated the
colonials—died leaving no direction in the Exchequer.
• This time the Admiralty Courts, smuggling etc
would also be dealt with—no trial by Jury –
elimination of very basic rights of English
Common Law;
• Boston and other Ports contended and rioted and
• British sent in troops to quell the volatility of the
situation– soldiers do not make good diplomats or
Police Officers.
• Why Boston” Why was Boston so cantankerous?
• Port city, duties effected it greatly—economic
recession going on—very little jobs;
• Bostonians were natural dissenters; Mostly blue
collar, merchants, mechanics, and shop owners;
• Believed in the Town Hall mentality—had left
Britain because of British atrocities and corruption
Believed what happened in Scotland and Ireland
was a prelude to what the British intended to do in
• Boston smart enough to realize they could not go
it alone—Samuel Adams was the leader and main
instigator—but always within the framework of
the law;
• Adams other than James Otis may have been the
first person to desire and scheme for
• He wrote a ‘Circular Letter’ garnering a collective
agreement among the colonies– stand firm and
support Boston and the Boycott.
• Set tone for Boston Massacre:
• March 5, 1770, the 29th Regiment opened fire on a
Boston crowd that had attacked them with
snowballs and stones and ice balls and chunks of
firewood; Five (5) Americans were killed.
• Crispus Attucks was the first killed; Britain enacted
the Boston Port Act closing the Port; initiating
martial law, and bringing troops into the city to
subdue – made Boston untenable …
• John Adams took up the
successful defense of the
Troops that fired on the Boston
Crowd; “Motley rabble of Irish
Teagues, Jack Tars, Mulattos,
and saucy Boys”
• In 1764 he took up the
American cause;
• Wrote tracts espousing
conspiracy theories concerning
British commercial and tax
• Motive to prove this cause
would be conservative and
within the parameters of
civilized law.
• Abigail Quincy Adams;
Married John in 1764—
had 10 children; while
John was in Congress she
managed the farm and the
estate—took care of real
estate issues and legal
• Wrote prodigiously to
John—traveled to Europe
with John—Abigail was
more than a wife—she
also advised him on
business, political, and
social affairs
• Antagonisms between Troops and Citizens
became more violent and open—the Rope Works
fight, the burning the of the Liberty Pole;
escalated troubles for Guy Fawkes Day—where
South end and North end Bostonians turned their
celebrated antagonisms away from each other
onto the Red Coats.
• Parliament rescinded the offensive taxes except
on Tea—the idea was to help out the East India
Tea Company—lower the tax—almost a nominal
charge – seemed coercive to colonists.
• December 16, 1773,
Liberty Boys dressed as
Mohawks boarded the
Ship in Boston harbor;
• Hutchinson had decided
the mob was not going to
rule Boston—ordered the
Tea unloaded and the tax
collected—though he
thought it crazy;
• Dumped 342 chests of
tea—Gesture Politics
• (Quiet docile act)
• George Washington—
tends to be more in our
wallets than our Hearts;
• Still very much revered in
American History;
• Became viewed as the
“First in War, First in
Peace, and first in the
hearts of his
• Washington born in 1732—fourth generation
American—doted on by his mother;
• Always wanted to be an Officer in the British
Army—he was a man of action and also sought
fame and fortune and desired to be a Great
• He decided to throw in with the Americans for
very different reasons than did Adams—who
deplored an aristocratic society and privilege at
the expense of the lower classes—Adams was 14th
in his class at Harvard for a reason.
• To be a successful planter and live the life of the
English Gentry he needed somehow to escape the
debt and bankruptcy of the British mercantile
system; indebted and enslaved to the system.
• His western lands heavily invested in during the
French and Indian Wars was given to the British or
returned to the Indians—honor the Treaty and
Proclamation of 1763.
• He argued early that speech alone was
insufficient—action and military action was
needed to get the point across to the British.
• Thomas Paine wrote
“Common Sense”
• Paine a ne’er do well left
Britain for America with
nothing but a letter of
introduction from Benjamin
• Maybe the single most
important piece of journalism
in American History.
• Openly blamed King George
for incompetence and stated
that an Island cannot rule a
continent.” Sold 100,000
copies 1yr.
• Common Sense
• “These are the times that try men’s souls. The
summer soldier and the sunshine Patriot will, in
this crisis, shrink from the service of their
country; but he who stands by it now, deserves
the love and thanks of man and woman.
• “Tyranny like hell, is not easily conquered; yet,
… the harder the conflict the more glorious the
triumph … it would be strange indeed if so
celestial an article as Freedom should not be
highly rated …”
• Prelude to Revolution
• 1754-1763 French and Indian War
• 1762—Writs of Assistance
Proclamation of 1763 inhibiting westward expansion
1765—Stamp Tax—relatively light tax
1767—Townshend Acts—duties on external goods and
suspended New York Legislator until it agreed to
authorize the Quartering of troops
1768—tension in Boston escalate until Britain enforces
martial law and closes the Port
1770 March 5—Boston Massacre
1773—Tea Act—Boston Tea Party
1774 Quebec Act and the Coercive Acts—instilled
permanent martial law and Port closure in Boston
• Quebec Act of 1774 expanded the borders of
Quebec down to the Ohio River confiscating land
belonging to several colonies charted in their
original charters—
• It also recognized Religious toleration—They
were Catholic …appointed a Royal Government…
• Coercive Acts—Boston Port Act; Massachusetts
Government Act, Administration of Justice Act
(Admiralty Courts and any royal administrator
killing a colonist would be tried in London), and
the Quartering Act of 1774.
• 1st Continental Congress Sep 1774 in response to
the Intolerable Acts(Coercive Acts);
• Endorsed the Suffolk Resolves, adopted the
Declaration of the rights and grievances, agreed to
establish a continental association;
• Suffolk Resolves– strongly worded resolutions
denouncing the coercive acts as unconstitutional—
called for the colonial militia’s to arm and utilize
economic sanctions against Great Britain
• (Suffolk County—includes Boston)
• Feb 1775—more moderate Parliament is elected
and offers a Conciliatory Proposition Parliament
would allow colonies to assume their own tax rate
if it is satisfactory and reasonable.
• Too little too late – Americans Samuel Adams and
few others are ready for a fight—they want and
desire independence – not reconciliation –
• April 1775 – they get their wish in small little
Hamlet called Lexington and Concord.
Shot Heard Around the World
• Because of Gesture Politics and other tensions in
Boston, Thomas Gage is charged with keeping the
• He requests 20,000 troops. He is charged with
imprisoning Samuel Adams and John Hancock—
supposedly leaders of this rebellion or social
• Boston defiantly elects their own official thumbing
their noses at Parliament—Gage is ordered to
locate Adams and Hancock and imprison them.
• The Militia are ready—spies are every where—
one if by land two if by sea etc …
• Paul Revere, Samuel Dawes and Samuel Prescott
are busy riding the circuit keeping the villagers
informed of troop movement and passing
• April 14 Gage received written directive from
Parliament – April 18 he sent out the Regulars
with a detachment of Marines led by Major
Pitcairn – they are to capture the Armories etc …
• No one will truly know how – but a shot was fired
• Militia on constant alert—tired, sleepy, cold and
anxious – after all, this is the greatest military
might in the world;
• Captain Parker and Lexington Militia told to make
a show, then disperse – no blood shed;
• Maj. Pitcairn told his troops to disperse into battle
lines but under no circumstance discharge their
• The British receive a very bloody nose –move
onto Concord, by now every militia unit in New
England is out – they armed and dangerous.
• British lose 273 dead and wounded and many
missing; the Americans suffer around 50 dead
severl wounded and some missing;
• The war is no on in earnest; there is no turning
back – But John Dickinson and the Philadelphia
delegates to the 2nd Continental Congress try to
quell emotions and stave off war.
• Dickinson and John Adams quarrel;
• Olive Branch Petition – avowed loyalty to King
George; suggested it was corrupt officials in
Parliament that was severing peace between King
and Subjects; asked George to protect them from
further aggressions;
• Dissenters and radicals as John and Sam Adams
put forth a Declaration of the Causes and
Necessity of Taking up Arms –freedom and
liberty were too important to be left to the whims
of a King.
• Bunker Hill or Breed’s Hill -- Israel Putnam and John
Stark are militia leaders as is Dr. Joseph Warren—all are
French and Indian War veterans.
• Gage saw that Bunker Hill was a military advantage; he
ignored it and awaited reinforcements;
• Americans seized the initiative and Bunker Hill
• Dug in and waited for the British; “Do Not fire until you
see the whites of their eyes” Putnam drew a line in the
sand—a distance when firing could begin.
• British determined to take Bunker Hill, Americans
determined to keep Bunker Hill;
• British lost 226 dead, 828 wounded (250 would
die of wounds) – many of the dead and wounded
were mid-Level officers – very difficult to replace
– replacements were 3000 miles away – many
British officers opposed the American War and
refused to serve in the American Theater –
Walpole stated – “another such victory as this and
we will lose the war …”
• The Americans had fled, but because they ran out of
• Felt elated – they had stood toe to toe and beat the British
as Col. Putnam predicted –wrong lesson to learn;
• Lessons – Too much quarreling and fragmentation
between militia officers and militia; poor logistics—they
ran out of ammunition, did not have bayonets and didn’t
know how to use; and in the end would the Americans
stand and fight – No, once the lines were breeched the
Americans fled in the face of the bayonet; and until
Washington had a European trained core of elite
Continentals – the outcome remained in doubt.
• Saratoga did change everything, but I agree with
Joseph Ellis, Valley Forge is where the Revolution
was saved and eventually won.
• It was the core group of indentured servants, poor
shop keepers and destitute people with no
prospects that made up the Continental Army;
• Washington also had the prescience to inoculate
his soldiers against small pox– the largest killer of
soldiers and civilians during the war
• Trenton and Princeton—important because it was
a psychological victory—akin to the Doolittle
Raid on Tokyo –
• Washington assumed the Fabian strategy – it is
not about victories, just don’t lose the war – keep
the army together and in tact—fight and retreat;
• Secure a foreign alliance—preferably the French;
• Why did the British continue their failed strategy
in America—afraid of a Domino Effect in the
West Indies, Spain, and then India etc …Pacific
• American resolve, British failed strategy, foreign
alliance culminated in Yorktown Oct 1781
officially ending the shooting war – no the war.
• Britain still held Charleston, Savannah and New
York while the treaty was being hashed out in
• Washington surrendered his sword to Congress;
• He also staved off a mutiny of officers “It seems
that not only have I grown old in service to my
country, but I have also become almost blind.”