American Revolution

Friction between Great Britain and its American colonies began as early as the 1650s when the British Parliament passed the Navigation Acts, which sought to regulate American trade. Britain's global wars with France, which lasted from 1697 to 1763 and spread to North America, heightened tensions and American resentment toward its colonial master. Britain's imperial policy after its victory in the French and Indian War in 1763 marked the beginning of overt American opposition to British authority. Facing an enormous national debt and a vast new colonial empire to administer and defend, Parliament began enacting legislation designed to get the American colonies to shoulder part of the burden of their own defense. Starting with the Sugar Act in 1764, Parliament imposed a series of taxes and restrictions on the American colonies that increasingly aroused the ire of the colonists. The Stamp Act (1765), the Quartering Act (1765), and the Townshend Acts (1767) were particularly offensive, and the colonists began to resist, particularly those in Massachusetts. The Boston Massacre in 1770, the Tea Act and Boston Tea Party in 1773, and the "Intolerable Acts" in 1774 led to the creation of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia and inspired Patrick Henry's "Give me liberty or give me death" speech in the spring of 1775. The first armed violence of the Revolutionary War occurred at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts in May. In January 1776, colonies began to write new state constitutions, beginning on the road to a declaration of independence. In March, the Continental Army under the command of George Washington forced the British to evacuate Boston, giving the colonies full control of all thirteen colonies. In July, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

Declaring independence was one thing; securing it was another, and that would require the Americans to defend independence on land and at sea. The British had no intention of losing its prized possession, and in July 1776, General William Howe launched a massive offensive, capturing New York City and chasing Washington's army through New Jersey and across the Delaware River. Victories at Trenton and Princeton, New Jersey in January 1777, restored American confidence, but the British held the initiative. In 1777, General John Burgoyne led a combined British-Canadian army from Canada to isolate and capture the New England states, but Howe, instead of moving north to help Burgoyne, moved on Philadelphia. Howe captured Philadelphia, but the Americans defeated Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga. This victory convinced France to come into the war as America's ally.

In 1778, the British shifted its locus of operations to the South, capturing Savannah in 1778 and Charleston in 1780. British victories at the battles of the Waxhaws (May 1780) and Camden (August 1780) found Lord Charles Cornwallis, commander of British forces in the South, ready to invade North Carolina. American victories at the battles of King's Mountain (October 1780) and Cowpens (January 1781) turned the tide, forcing Cornwallis to abandon plans for an invasion and retreat to Virginia. Cornwallis established his base of operations at Yorktown; in October 1781, a combined American-French force surrounded Cornwallis, forcing him to surrender on October 19, 1781.

Cornwallis's defeat at Yorktown and the loss of his army to all intents and purposes ended the fighting in the American Revolution. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 formally ended hostilities, the British recognizing American independence and sovereignty.

Gordon S. Wood, The American Revolution: A History (New York: Modern Library, 2002); Bernard Bailyn, Faces of Revolution: Personalities and Themes in the Struggle for American Independence (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990); Gordon S. Wood, The Radicalism of the American Revolution: How a Revolution Transformed a Monarchical Society into One Democratic One Unlike Any That Had Ever Existed (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992); Bernhard Knollenberg, Origin of the American Revolution: 1759-1766 (New York: Macmillan Co., 1960; revised, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002); Bernhard Knollenberg, Growth of the American Revolution (New York: Free Press, 1975; revised, Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003); Merrill Jensen, The Founding of a Nation: A History of the American Revolution, 1763–1776 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1968); Harry V. Jaffa, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000), 1-152.