American Revolution and War for Independence (39398)

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American Revolution and War for Independence

Introduction

This paper is dedicated to the history of American Revolution and the War for Independence. The primary purpose of the survey given here is to carry out an analysis of the events of the late 18th century in the British colonies in North America on the basis of vast historical material published in the United States. The process that took place before and during the 1776-1783 period when 13 British colonies’ aspiration for independence broke out into the so-called War for Independence is very remarkable for it’s many unique features, on the one hand, and for many historical parallels that took place a century later when the world-wide spreaded colonial system began to collapse.

John Adams, second President of the United States, declared that the history of the American Revolution began as far back as 1620. "The Revolution," he said, "was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people." The principles and passions that led the Americans to rebel ought, he added, "to be traced back for two hundred years and sought in the history of the country from the first plantation in America."

As a practical matter, however, the overt parting of the ways between England and America began in 1763, more than a century and a half after the first permanent settlement had been founded at Jamestown, Virginia. The colonies had grown vastly in economic strength and cultural attainment, and virtually all had long years of self-government behind them. Their combined population now exceeded 1,500,000-a six-fold increase since 1700.

The implications of the physical growth of the colonies were far greater than mere numerical increase would indicate. The 18th century brought a steady expansion from the influx of immigrants from Europe, and since the best land near the seacoast had already been occupied, new settlers had to push inland beyond the fall line of the rivers. Traders explored the back country, brought back tales of rich valleys, and induced farmers to take their families into the wilderness. Although their hardships were enormous, restless settlers kept coming, and by the 1730s frontiersmen had already begun to pour into the Shenandoah Valley.

Down to 1763, Great Britain had formulated no consistent policy for her colonial possessions. The guiding principle was the confirmed mercantilist view that colonies should supply the mother country with raw materials and not compete in manufacturing. But policy was poorly enforced, and the colonies had never thought of themselves as subservient. Rather, they considered themselves chiefly as commonwealths or states, much like England herself, having only a loose association with authorities in London.

At infrequent intervals, sentiment in England was aroused and efforts were made by Parliament or the Crown to subordinate the economic activities and governments of the colonies to England's will and interest - efforts to which the majority of the colonists were opposed. The remoteness afforded by a vast ocean allayed fears of reprisal the colonies might otherwise have had.

Added to this remoteness was the character of life itself in early America. From countries limited in space and dotted with populous towns, the settlers had come to a land of seemingly unending reach. On such a continent natural conditions stressed the importance of the individual.

1. Frontier situation

The colonists-inheritors of the traditions of the Englishman's long struggle for political liberty-incorporated concepts of freedom into Virginia’s first charter. This provided that English colonists were to exercise all liberties, franchises, and immunities "as if they had been abiding and born within this our Realm of England." They were, then, to enjoy the benefits of the Magna Charta and the common law.

In the early days, the colonies were able to hold fast to their heritage of rights because of the King's arbitrary assumption that they were not subject to parliamentary control. In addition, for years afterward, the kings of England were too preoccupied with a great struggle in England itself - a struggle which culminated in the Puritan Revolution - to enforce their will. Before Parliament could bring its attention to the task of molding the American colonies to an imperial policy, they had grown strong and prosperous in their own right.

From the first year after they had set foot upon the new continent, the colonists had functioned according to the English law and constitution - with legislative assemblies, a representative system of government, and a recognition of the common-law guarantees of personal liberty. But increasingly legislation became American in point of view, and less and less attention was paid to English practices and precedents. Nevertheless, colonial freedom from effective English control was not achieved without conflict, and colonial history abounds in struggles between the assemblies elected by the people and the governors appointed by the King.

Still, the colonists were often able to render the royal governors powerless, for, as a rule, governors had “no subsistence but from the Assembly”. Governors were sometimes instructed to give profitable offices and land grants to influential colonists to secure their support for royal projects but, as often as not, the colonial officials, once they had secured these emoluments, espoused the popular cause as strongly as ever.

The recurring clashes between governor and assembly worked increasingly to awaken the colonists to the divergence between American and English interests. Gradually, the assemblies took over the functions of the governors and their councils, which were made up of colonists selected for their docile support of royal power, and the center of colonial administration shifted from London to the provincial capitals. Early in the 1770s, following the final expulsion of the French from the North American continent, an attempt was made to bring about a drastic change in the relationship between the colonies and the mother country.

2. British and French conflict

While the British had been filling the Atlantic coastal area with farms, plantations, and towns, the French had been planting a different kind of dominion in the St. Lawrence Valley in eastern Canada. Having sent over fewer settlers but more explorers, missionaries, and fur traders, France had taken possession of the Mississippi River and, by a line of forts and trading posts, marked out a great crescent-shaped empire stretching from Quebec in the northeast to New Orleans in the south. Thus they tended to pin the British to the narrow belt east of the Appalachian Mountains.

The British had long resisted what they considered "the encroachment of the French." As early as 1613, local clashes occurred between French and English colonists. Eventually, there was organized warfare, the American counterpart of the larger conflict between England and France. Thus, between 1689 and 1697, “King William’s War” was fought as the American phase of the European "War of the Palatinate." From 1702 to 1713, “Queen Anne’s War” corresponded to the "War of the Spanish Succession." And from 1744 to 1748, “King George’s War” paralleled the "War of the Austrian Succession." Though England secured certain advantages from these wars, the struggles were generally indecisive, and France remained in a strong position on the American continent.

In the 1750s, the conflict was brought to a final phase. The French, after the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle in 1748, tightened their hold on the Mississippi Valley. At the same time, the movement of English colonists across the Alleghenies increased in tempo, stimulating a race for physical possession of the same territory. An armed clash in 1754, involving Virginia militiamen under the command of 22-year old George Washington and a band of French regulars, ushered in the “French and Indian War” - with the English and their Indian allies fighting the French and their Indian allies. This was destined to determine once and for all French or English supremacy in North America.

Never had there been greater need for action and unity in the British colonies. The French threatened not only the British Empire but the American colonists themselves, for in holding the Mississippi Valley, France could check their westward expansion. The French government of Canada and Louisiana had not only increased in strength but had also in prestige with the Indians, even the Iroquois, the traditional allies of the British. With a new war, every British settler wise in Indian matters knew that drastic measures would be needed to ward off disaster.

3. First stirrings of unity

At this juncture, the British Board of Trade, hearing reports of deteriorating relations with the Indians, ordered the governor of New York and commissioners from the other colonies to call a meeting of the Iroquois chiefs to frame a joint treaty. In June 1754, representatives of New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, and the New England colonies met with the Iroquois at Albany. The Indians aired their grievances, and the delegates recommended appropriate action.

The Albany Congress, however, transcended its original purpose of solving Indian problems. It declared a union of the American colonies "absolutely necessary for their preservation," and the colonial representatives present adopted the Albany Plan of Union. Drafted by Benjamin Franklin, the plan provided that a president appointed by the King act with a grand council of delegates chosen by the assemblies, each colony to be represented in proportion to its financial contributions to the general treasury. The government was to have charge of all British interests in the west - Indian treaties, trade, defense, and settlement. But none of the colonies accepted Franklin's plan, for none wished to surrender either the power of taxation or control over the development of the west.


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