The American Revolution (1765–1783) was a conflict between the Thirteen Colonies and Great Britain. The Thirteen Colonies felt that British rule was unfair, and they wanted independence. This led to tensions which eventually escalated into the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783), giving birth to the United States of America after roughly a decade of fighting.
Since the 17th century, Britain had been establishing colonies in the New World to boost its own economy. It did so by using an economic system called mercantilism. Under the mercantilist system, the British government could maintain tight control over the imports and exports of the American colonies. This meant that the colonies were kept under stringent regulations and were taxed heavily. The American colonists took issue with the British taxes, because they had no one to represent them in the British Parliament. There was no one in the British Isles who could speak for the colonists and make laws that would benefit them. As such, "no taxation without representation" became a rallying cry for the frustrated colonists.
In 1773, a group known as the Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams (1722-1803), dressed as Native Americans and sneaked onto ships docked at Boston Harbor. Once there, they destroyed the shipments of tea in protest of the 1773 Tea Act passed by Britain. The colonists argued that the act subjected them to unfair taxation. No one was harmed during the incident, which was later referred to as the Boston Tea Party. Many colonists objected to such an outrageous act of rebellion. Nevertheless, the Tea Party incident weakened the relationship between the American colonies and Britain.
A year later, colonial leaders gathered together in the First Continental Congress. It was a meeting meant to address their increasingly strained relationship with Britain. Some delegates wanted to boycott British goods unless their demands were met. Others preferred compromise, because they wanted to continue doing business with Britain. In the end, the decision to boycott won out. The colonists wanted Britain to overturn the harsh laws against the colonists or risk losing their profits in the colonies.
There were two major factions during the American Revolution: the Patriots, who were colonists who wanted freedom from British rule, and the Loyalists, who supported the British. The Patriots formed a rebel government and militias to fight against the Loyalists. The American Revolutionary War began when hostilities finally broke out between these two factions. Slaves, Native Americans, and foreign powers including the French joined the revolution on either side at certain points in its long history.
The Continental Army
The Continental Army, led by General George Washington (1732–1799), was organized by the Second Continental Congress. Because this new government had no authority to form or fund an army, states were asked to contribute money to pay the soldiers. Early members of the Continental Army lacked proper uniforms, weapons, experience, food, and money. Washington himself received no salary, but he put significant time and effort into building the new army.
The Revolutionary War Begins
The war opened with the Battles of Lexington and Concord in 1775, when British troops attempted to confiscate military supplies and capture Patriot leaders in Massachusetts. They soon found themselves besieged by minutemen, civilian colonists who were trained to fight as local militia; they were called minutemen because they were prepared to fight at a minute's notice. The colonists had been informed of British plans by the silversmith Paul Revere (1735–1818). This battle was not the greatest or the most tactically impressive battle of the Revolutionary War, but it laid the foundation for later developments in the war. The Patriot militias who fought in the battles became part of the U.S. Continental Army.
The next major battle of the Revolutionary War was the Battle of Bunker Hill, which took place mid-1775, at Bunker and Breed's Hill in Massachusetts. This battle ended in a British victory, but it also made the British more cautious around the revolutionaries. There were many more Loyalist casualties than there were Patriot ones. The battle showed that even an inexperienced army that was only recently assembled could hold their own against fully trained soldiers of the British Empire.
However, the British still had the advantage, because they had more money, resources, and troops. Moreover, there were many other people in America who were fighting for the Loyalist cause. Among them were hired mercenaries as well as African slaves who were promised freedom and Native Americans who wanted to drive the colonists from tribal regions.
During the winter of 1777-1778, the Continental Army became stronger and more unified. At their winter camp at Valley Forge, the continental soldiers received training from former Prussian military officer Friedrich Wilhelm Baron von Steuben (1730-1794). That winter helped to strengthen and unify the colonial fighters.
The Battle of Saratoga (1777-1778) proved to be a turning point in the war. This battle ended in a victory for the colonists, led by General Horatio Gates (1727-1806). It also encouraged France, which had been secretly aiding the colonists, to openly enter the war against Britain.
In the end, French intervention proved critical in the war. France, a longtime rival of the British Empire, entered an alliance with the American colonies and began giving the Patriots more financial and military support in 1778. French assistance was shown to be crucial in key battles such as the 1781 Battle of the Chesapeake, which was fought primarily between French and British fleets.
The Battle of the Chesapeake signaled the end of the war when colonists trapped British forces in nearby Yorktown. It paved the way for the Battle of Yorktown, which was carried out by French and Continental forces under the joint commands of the Comte de Rochambeau (1725–1807) and Washington. After nearly a month under siege, the British finally surrendered and peace negotiations began.
Aftermath and Legacy
The war officially ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, which recognized the newly formed United States of America as an independent nation. The revolution also led to the creation of key instruments of U.S. government, including its Constitution and the separation of powers.
The American victory, moreover, sent shockwaves throughout the New and Old Worlds. The United States was the first of the colonies from the Western Hemisphere to break free from foreign rule. America's War of Independence inspired other colonies to rebel against their ruling countries.
For the Loyalists remaining in the United States, however, there was little opportunity to celebrate. Many were driven out or ended up migrating elsewhere, to Canada, the West Indies, or even back to Europe. The black slaves and Native Americans who remained, however, found their rights increasingly curtailed by the new regime. In a short time, the country would descend into another conflict, the War of 1812.