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U.S. History

6.1 Britain’s Law-and-Order Strategy and Its Consequences

U.S. History6.1 Britain’s Law-and-Order Strategy and Its Consequences
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  1. Preface
  2. 1 The Americas, Europe, and Africa Before 1492
    1. Introduction
    2. 1.1 The Americas
    3. 1.2 Europe on the Brink of Change
    4. 1.3 West Africa and the Role of Slavery
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
  3. 2 Early Globalization: The Atlantic World, 1492–1650
    1. Introduction
    2. 2.1 Portuguese Exploration and Spanish Conquest
    3. 2.2 Religious Upheavals in the Developing Atlantic World
    4. 2.3 Challenges to Spain’s Supremacy
    5. 2.4 New Worlds in the Americas: Labor, Commerce, and the Columbian Exchange
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  4. 3 Creating New Social Orders: Colonial Societies, 1500–1700
    1. Introduction
    2. 3.1 Spanish Exploration and Colonial Society
    3. 3.2 Colonial Rivalries: Dutch and French Colonial Ambitions
    4. 3.3 English Settlements in America
    5. 3.4 The Impact of Colonization
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  5. 4 Rule Britannia! The English Empire, 1660–1763
    1. Introduction
    2. 4.1 Charles II and the Restoration Colonies
    3. 4.2 The Glorious Revolution and the English Empire
    4. 4.3 An Empire of Slavery and the Consumer Revolution
    5. 4.4 Great Awakening and Enlightenment
    6. 4.5 Wars for Empire
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  6. 5 Imperial Reforms and Colonial Protests, 1763-1774
    1. Introduction
    2. 5.1 Confronting the National Debt: The Aftermath of the French and Indian War
    3. 5.2 The Stamp Act and the Sons and Daughters of Liberty
    4. 5.3 The Townshend Acts and Colonial Protest
    5. 5.4 The Destruction of the Tea and the Coercive Acts
    6. 5.5 Disaffection: The First Continental Congress and American Identity
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  7. 6 America's War for Independence, 1775-1783
    1. Introduction
    2. 6.1 Britain’s Law-and-Order Strategy and Its Consequences
    3. 6.2 The Early Years of the Revolution
    4. 6.3 War in the South
    5. 6.4 Identity during the American Revolution
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  8. 7 Creating Republican Governments, 1776–1790
    1. Introduction
    2. 7.1 Common Sense: From Monarchy to an American Republic
    3. 7.2 How Much Revolutionary Change?
    4. 7.3 Debating Democracy
    5. 7.4 The Constitutional Convention and Federal Constitution
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  9. 8 Growing Pains: The New Republic, 1790–1820
    1. Introduction
    2. 8.1 Competing Visions: Federalists and Democratic-Republicans
    3. 8.2 The New American Republic
    4. 8.3 Partisan Politics
    5. 8.4 The United States Goes Back to War
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  10. 9 Industrial Transformation in the North, 1800–1850
    1. Introduction
    2. 9.1 Early Industrialization in the Northeast
    3. 9.2 A Vibrant Capitalist Republic
    4. 9.3 On the Move: The Transportation Revolution
    5. 9.4 A New Social Order: Class Divisions
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  11. 10 Jacksonian Democracy, 1820–1840
    1. Introduction
    2. 10.1 A New Political Style: From John Quincy Adams to Andrew Jackson
    3. 10.2 The Rise of American Democracy
    4. 10.3 The Nullification Crisis and the Bank War
    5. 10.4 Indian Removal
    6. 10.5 The Tyranny and Triumph of the Majority
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  12. 11 A Nation on the Move: Westward Expansion, 1800–1860
    1. Introduction
    2. 11.1 Lewis and Clark
    3. 11.2 The Missouri Crisis
    4. 11.3 Independence for Texas
    5. 11.4 The Mexican-American War, 1846–1848
    6. 11.5 Free Soil or Slave? The Dilemma of the West
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  13. 12 Cotton is King: The Antebellum South, 1800–1860
    1. Introduction
    2. 12.1 The Economics of Cotton
    3. 12.2 African Americans in the Antebellum United States
    4. 12.3 Wealth and Culture in the South
    5. 12.4 The Filibuster and the Quest for New Slave States
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  14. 13 Antebellum Idealism and Reform Impulses, 1820–1860
    1. Introduction
    2. 13.1 An Awakening of Religion and Individualism
    3. 13.2 Antebellum Communal Experiments
    4. 13.3 Reforms to Human Health
    5. 13.4 Addressing Slavery
    6. 13.5 Women’s Rights
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  15. 14 Troubled Times: the Tumultuous 1850s
    1. Introduction
    2. 14.1 The Compromise of 1850
    3. 14.2 The Kansas-Nebraska Act and the Republican Party
    4. 14.3 The Dred Scott Decision and Sectional Strife
    5. 14.4 John Brown and the Election of 1860
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  16. 15 The Civil War, 1860–1865
    1. Introduction
    2. 15.1 The Origins and Outbreak of the Civil War
    3. 15.2 Early Mobilization and War
    4. 15.3 1863: The Changing Nature of the War
    5. 15.4 The Union Triumphant
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  17. 16 The Era of Reconstruction, 1865–1877
    1. Introduction
    2. 16.1 Restoring the Union
    3. 16.2 Congress and the Remaking of the South, 1865–1866
    4. 16.3 Radical Reconstruction, 1867–1872
    5. 16.4 The Collapse of Reconstruction
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  18. 17 Go West Young Man! Westward Expansion, 1840-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 17.1 The Westward Spirit
    3. 17.2 Homesteading: Dreams and Realities
    4. 17.3 Making a Living in Gold and Cattle
    5. 17.4 The Loss of American Indian Life and Culture
    6. 17.5 The Impact of Expansion on Chinese Immigrants and Hispanic Citizens
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  19. 18 Industrialization and the Rise of Big Business, 1870-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 18.1 Inventors of the Age
    3. 18.2 From Invention to Industrial Growth
    4. 18.3 Building Industrial America on the Backs of Labor
    5. 18.4 A New American Consumer Culture
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  20. 19 The Growing Pains of Urbanization, 1870-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 19.1 Urbanization and Its Challenges
    3. 19.2 The African American “Great Migration” and New European Immigration
    4. 19.3 Relief from the Chaos of Urban Life
    5. 19.4 Change Reflected in Thought and Writing
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  21. 20 Politics in the Gilded Age, 1870-1900
    1. Introduction
    2. 20.1 Political Corruption in Postbellum America
    3. 20.2 The Key Political Issues: Patronage, Tariffs, and Gold
    4. 20.3 Farmers Revolt in the Populist Era
    5. 20.4 Social and Labor Unrest in the 1890s
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  22. 21 Leading the Way: The Progressive Movement, 1890-1920
    1. Introduction
    2. 21.1 The Origins of the Progressive Spirit in America
    3. 21.2 Progressivism at the Grassroots Level
    4. 21.3 New Voices for Women and African Americans
    5. 21.4 Progressivism in the White House
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  23. 22 Age of Empire: American Foreign Policy, 1890-1914
    1. Introduction
    2. 22.1 Turner, Mahan, and the Roots of Empire
    3. 22.2 The Spanish-American War and Overseas Empire
    4. 22.3 Economic Imperialism in East Asia
    5. 22.4 Roosevelt’s “Big Stick” Foreign Policy
    6. 22.5 Taft’s “Dollar Diplomacy”
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  24. 23 Americans and the Great War, 1914-1919
    1. Introduction
    2. 23.1 American Isolationism and the European Origins of War
    3. 23.2 The United States Prepares for War
    4. 23.3 A New Home Front
    5. 23.4 From War to Peace
    6. 23.5 Demobilization and Its Difficult Aftermath
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  25. 24 The Jazz Age: Redefining the Nation, 1919-1929
    1. Introduction
    2. 24.1 Prosperity and the Production of Popular Entertainment
    3. 24.2 Transformation and Backlash
    4. 24.3 A New Generation
    5. 24.4 Republican Ascendancy: Politics in the 1920s
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  26. 25 Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? The Great Depression, 1929-1932
    1. Introduction
    2. 25.1 The Stock Market Crash of 1929
    3. 25.2 President Hoover’s Response
    4. 25.3 The Depths of the Great Depression
    5. 25.4 Assessing the Hoover Years on the Eve of the New Deal
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  27. 26 Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, 1932-1941
    1. Introduction
    2. 26.1 The Rise of Franklin Roosevelt
    3. 26.2 The First New Deal
    4. 26.3 The Second New Deal
    5. Key Terms
    6. Summary
    7. Review Questions
    8. Critical Thinking Questions
  28. 27 Fighting the Good Fight in World War II, 1941-1945
    1. Introduction
    2. 27.1 The Origins of War: Europe, Asia, and the United States
    3. 27.2 The Home Front
    4. 27.3 Victory in the European Theater
    5. 27.4 The Pacific Theater and the Atomic Bomb
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  29. 28 Post-War Prosperity and Cold War Fears, 1945-1960
    1. Introduction
    2. 28.1 The Challenges of Peacetime
    3. 28.2 The Cold War
    4. 28.3 The American Dream
    5. 28.4 Popular Culture and Mass Media
    6. 28.5 The African American Struggle for Civil Rights
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  30. 29 Contesting Futures: America in the 1960s
    1. Introduction
    2. 29.1 The Kennedy Promise
    3. 29.2 Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society
    4. 29.3 The Civil Rights Movement Marches On
    5. 29.4 Challenging the Status Quo
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  31. 30 Political Storms at Home and Abroad, 1968-1980
    1. Introduction
    2. 30.1 Identity Politics in a Fractured Society
    3. 30.2 Coming Apart, Coming Together
    4. 30.3 Vietnam: The Downward Spiral
    5. 30.4 Watergate: Nixon’s Domestic Nightmare
    6. 30.5 Jimmy Carter in the Aftermath of the Storm
    7. Key Terms
    8. Summary
    9. Review Questions
    10. Critical Thinking Questions
  32. 31 From Cold War to Culture Wars, 1980-2000
    1. Introduction
    2. 31.1 The Reagan Revolution
    3. 31.2 Political and Cultural Fusions
    4. 31.3 A New World Order
    5. 31.4 Bill Clinton and the New Economy
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  33. 32 The Challenges of the Twenty-First Century
    1. Introduction
    2. 32.1 The War on Terror
    3. 32.2 The Domestic Mission
    4. 32.3 New Century, Old Disputes
    5. 32.4 Hope and Change
    6. Key Terms
    7. Summary
    8. Review Questions
    9. Critical Thinking Questions
  34. A | The Declaration of Independence
  35. B | The Constitution of the United States
  36. C | Presidents of the United States of America
  37. D | U.S. Political Map
  38. E | U.S. Topographical Map
  39. F | United States Population Chart
  40. G | Further Reading
  41. Answer Key
    1. Chapter 1
    2. Chapter 2
    3. Chapter 3
    4. Chapter 4
    5. Chapter 5
    6. Chapter 6
    7. Chapter 7
    8. Chapter 8
    9. Chapter 9
    10. Chapter 10
    11. Chapter 11
    12. Chapter 12
    13. Chapter 13
    14. Chapter 14
    15. Chapter 15
    16. Chapter 16
    17. Chapter 17
    18. Chapter 18
    19. Chapter 19
    20. Chapter 20
    21. Chapter 21
    22. Chapter 22
    23. Chapter 23
    24. Chapter 24
    25. Chapter 25
    26. Chapter 26
    27. Chapter 27
    28. Chapter 28
    29. Chapter 29
    30. Chapter 30
    31. Chapter 31
    32. Chapter 32
  42. Index

Learning Objectives

By the end of this section, you will be able to:
  • Explain how Great Britain’s response to the destruction of a British shipment of tea in Boston Harbor in 1773 set the stage for the Revolution
  • Describe the beginnings of the American Revolution
A timeline shows important events of the era. In 1775, the battles of Lexington and Concord are fought and the British win a costly victory at the Battle of Bunker Hill. In 1776, Thomas Paine publishes Common Sense and the Continental Congress signs the Declaration of Independence in July; a painting depicting the presentation of the Declaration to the Continental Congress is shown. In 1777, American forces defeat General Burgoyne at the Battle of Saratoga; an engraving depicting British troops laying down their arms after their defeat is shown. In 1781, Lord Cornwallis surrenders to American and French forces at Yorktown; a painting of the surrender is shown. In 1783, the United States and Great Britain sign the Treaty of Paris; the signature page of the treaty is shown.
Figure 6.2

Great Britain pursued a policy of law and order when dealing with the crises in the colonies in the late 1760s and 1770s. Relations between the British and many American Patriots worsened over the decade, culminating in an unruly mob destroying a fortune in tea by dumping it into Boston Harbor in December 1773 as a protest against British tax laws. The harsh British response to this act in 1774, which included sending British troops to Boston and closing Boston Harbor, caused tensions and resentments to escalate further. The British tried to disarm the insurgents in Massachusetts by confiscating their weapons and ammunition and arresting the leaders of the patriotic movement. However, this effort faltered on April 19, when Massachusetts militias and British troops fired on each other as British troops marched to Lexington and Concord, an event immortalized by poet Ralph Waldo Emerson as the “shot heard round the world.” The American Revolution had begun.

ON THE EVE OF REVOLUTION

The decade from 1763 to 1774 was a difficult one for the British Empire. Although Great Britain had defeated the French in the French and Indian War, the debt from that conflict remained a stubborn and seemingly unsolvable problem for both Great Britain and the colonies. Great Britain tried various methods of raising revenue on both sides of the Atlantic to manage the enormous debt, including instituting a tax on tea and other goods sold to the colonies by British companies, but many subjects resisted these taxes. In the colonies, Patriot groups like the Sons of Liberty led boycotts of British goods and took violent measures that stymied British officials.

Boston proved to be the epicenter of protest. In December 1773, a group of Patriots protested the Tea Act passed that year—which, among other provisions, gave the East India Company a monopoly on tea—by boarding British tea ships docked in Boston Harbor and dumping tea worth over $1 million (in current prices) into the water. The destruction of the tea radically escalated the crisis between Great Britain and the American colonies. When the Massachusetts Assembly refused to pay for the tea, Parliament enacted a series of laws called the Coercive Acts, which some colonists called the Intolerable Acts. Parliament designed these laws, which closed the port of Boston, limited the meetings of the colonial assembly, and disbanded all town meetings, to punish Massachusetts and bring the colony into line. However, many British Americans in other colonies were troubled and angered by Parliament’s response to Massachusetts. In September and October 1774, all the colonies except Georgia participated in the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The Congress advocated a boycott of all British goods and established the Continental Association to enforce local adherence to the boycott. The Association supplanted royal control and shaped resistance to Great Britain.

Americana

Joining the Boycott

Many British colonists in Virginia, as in the other colonies, disapproved of the destruction of the tea in Boston Harbor. However, after the passage of the Coercive Acts, the Virginia House of Burgesses declared its solidarity with Massachusetts by encouraging Virginians to observe a day of fasting and prayer on May 24 in sympathy with the people of Boston. Almost immediately thereafter, Virginia’s colonial governor dissolved the House of Burgesses, but many of its members met again in secret on May 30 and adopted a resolution stating that “the Colony of Virginia will concur with the other Colonies in such Measures as shall be judged most effectual for the preservation of the Common Rights and Liberty of British America.”

After the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Virginia’s Committee of Safety ensured that all merchants signed the non-importation agreements that the Congress had proposed. This British cartoon (Figure 6.3) shows a Virginian signing the Continental Association boycott agreement.

An engraving shows a merchant signing a non-importation agreement outdoors on a makeshift table of barrels, surrounded by a crowd of stern-looking people holding thick sticks. Behind him, another man, forcibly held by a group of threatening-looking men, is apparently next in line to sign the agreement. In the background, a bag of tar and a bag of feathers hang from a wooden structure.
Figure 6.3 In “The Alternative of Williams-Burg” (1775), a merchant has to sign a non-importation agreement or risk being covered with the tar and feathers suspended behind him.

Note the tar and feathers hanging from the gallows in the background of this image and the demeanor of the people surrounding the signer. What is the message of this engraving? Where are the sympathies of the artist? What is the meaning of the title “The Alternative of Williams-Burg?”

In an effort to restore law and order in Boston, the British dispatched General Thomas Gage to the New England seaport. He arrived in Boston in May 1774 as the new royal governor of the Province of Massachusetts, accompanied by several regiments of British troops. As in 1768, the British again occupied the town. Massachusetts delegates met in a Provincial Congress and published the Suffolk Resolves, which officially rejected the Coercive Acts and called for the raising of colonial militias to take military action if needed. The Suffolk Resolves signaled the overthrow of the royal government in Massachusetts.

Both the British and the rebels in New England began to prepare for conflict by turning their attention to supplies of weapons and gunpowder. General Gage stationed thirty-five hundred troops in Boston, and from there he ordered periodic raids on towns where guns and gunpowder were stockpiled, hoping to impose law and order by seizing them. As Boston became the headquarters of British military operations, many residents fled the city.

Gage’s actions led to the formation of local rebel militias that were able to mobilize in a minute’s time. These minutemen, many of whom were veterans of the French and Indian War, played an important role in the war for independence. In one instance, General Gage seized munitions in Cambridge and Charlestown, but when he arrived to do the same in Salem, his troops were met by a large crowd of minutemen and had to leave empty-handed. In New Hampshire, minutemen took over Fort William and Mary and confiscated weapons and cannons there. New England readied for war.

THE OUTBREAK OF FIGHTING

Throughout late 1774 and into 1775, tensions in New England continued to mount. General Gage knew that a powder magazine was stored in Concord, Massachusetts, and on April 19, 1775, he ordered troops to seize these munitions. Instructions from London called for the arrest of rebel leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock. Hoping for secrecy, his troops left Boston under cover of darkness, but riders from Boston let the militias know of the British plans. (Paul Revere was one of these riders, but the British captured him and he never finished his ride. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow memorialized Revere in his 1860 poem, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” incorrectly implying that he made it all the way to Concord.) Minutemen met the British troops and skirmished with them, first at Lexington and then at Concord (Figure 6.4). The British retreated to Boston, enduring ambushes from several other militias along the way. Over four thousand militiamen took part in these skirmishes with British soldiers. Seventy-three British soldiers and forty-nine Patriots died during the British retreat to Boston. The famous confrontation is the basis for Emerson’s “Concord Hymn” (1836), which begins with the description of the “shot heard round the world.” Although propagandists on both sides pointed fingers, it remains unclear who fired that shot.

An engraving shows troop movements and fighting at the Battle of Lexington. In an open field with a few buildings in the background, British soldiers in red uniforms stand in lines; clouds of smoke show that some are firing muskets. An officer on horseback points; American soldiers run about the field in a less organized fashion.
Figure 6.4 Amos Doolittle was an American printmaker who volunteered to fight against the British. His engravings of the battles of Lexington and Concord—such as this detail from The Battle of Lexington, April 19th 1775—are the only contemporary American visual records of the events there.

After the battles of Lexington and Concord, New England fully mobilized for war. Thousands of militias from towns throughout New England marched to Boston, and soon the city was besieged by a sea of rebel forces (Figure 6.5). In May 1775, Ethan Allen and Colonel Benedict Arnold led a group of rebels against Fort Ticonderoga in New York. They succeeded in capturing the fort, and cannons from Ticonderoga were brought to Massachusetts and used to bolster the Siege of Boston.

A 1779 map shows details of the British and Patriot troops at the beginning of the war, including British camps at Winter Hill, Roxbury Hill, and Water Town Hill.
Figure 6.5 This 1779 map shows details of the British and Patriot troops in and around Boston, Massachusetts, at the beginning of the war.

In June, General Gage resolved to take Breed’s Hill and Bunker Hill, the high ground across the Charles River from Boston, a strategic site that gave the rebel militias an advantage since they could train their cannons on the British. In the Battle of Bunker Hill (Figure 6.6), on June 17, the British launched three assaults on the hills, gaining control only after the rebels ran out of ammunition. British losses were very high—over two hundred were killed and eight hundred wounded—and, despite his victory, General Gage was unable to break the colonial forces’ siege of the city. In August, King George III declared the colonies to be in a state of rebellion. Parliament and many in Great Britain agreed with their king. Meanwhile, the British forces in Boston found themselves in a terrible predicament, isolated in the city and with no control over the countryside.

Image (a) is an etching of a woman in fancy dress and sporting an elaborate hairstyle that contains soldiers firing at close range, tent forts, and two ships engaged in a sea battle. Three flags flying over the encampments show a monkey, two women, and a goose. Image (b) is a portrait of General Thomas Gage, showing him in a red military coat, with British troops in the far background.
Figure 6.6 The British cartoon “Bunkers Hill or America’s Head Dress” (a) depicts the initial rebellion as an elaborate colonial coiffure. The illustration pokes fun at both the colonial rebellion and the overdone hairstyles for women that had made their way from France and Britain to the American colonies. Despite gaining control of the high ground after the colonial militias ran out of ammunition, General Thomas Gage (b), shown here in a painting made in 1768–1769 by John Singleton Copley, was unable to break the siege of the city.

In the end, General George Washington, commander in chief of the Continental Army since June 15, 1775, used the Fort Ticonderoga cannons to force the evacuation of the British from Boston. Washington had positioned these cannons on the hills overlooking both the fortified positions of the British and Boston Harbor, where the British supply ships were anchored. The British could not return fire on the colonial positions because they could not elevate their cannons. They soon realized that they were in an untenable position and had to withdraw from Boston. On March 17, 1776, the British evacuated their troops to Halifax, Nova Scotia, ending the nearly year-long siege.

By the time the British withdrew from Boston, fighting had broken out in other colonies as well. In May 1775, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina issued the Mecklenburg Resolves, stating that a rebellion against Great Britain had begun, that colonists did not owe any further allegiance to Great Britain, and that governing authority had now passed to the Continental Congress. The resolves also called upon the formation of militias to be under the control of the Continental Congress. Loyalists and Patriots clashed in North Carolina in February 1776 at the Battle of Moore’s Creek Bridge.

In Virginia, the royal governor, Lord Dunmore, raised Loyalist forces to combat the rebel colonists and also tried to use the large slave population to put down the rebellion. In November 1775, he issued a decree, known as Dunmore’s Proclamation, promising freedom to slaves and indentured servants of rebels who remained loyal to the king and who pledged to fight with the Loyalists against the insurgents. Dunmore’s Proclamation exposed serious problems for both the Patriot cause and for the British. In order for the British to put down the rebellion, they needed the support of Virginia’s landowners, many of whom owned slaves. (While Patriot slaveholders in Virginia and elsewhere proclaimed they acted in defense of liberty, they kept thousands in bondage, a fact the British decided to exploit.) Although a number of slaves did join Dunmore’s side, the proclamation had the unintended effect of galvanizing Patriot resistance to Britain. From the rebels’ point of view, the British looked to deprive them of their slave property and incite a race war. Slaveholders feared a slave uprising and increased their commitment to the cause against Great Britain, calling for independence. Dunmore fled Virginia in 1776.

COMMON SENSE

With the events of 1775 fresh in their minds, many colonists reached the conclusion in 1776 that the time had come to secede from the Empire and declare independence. Over the past ten years, these colonists had argued that they deserved the same rights as Englishmen enjoyed in Great Britain, only to find themselves relegated to an intolerable subservient status in the Empire. The groundswell of support for their cause of independence in 1776 also owed much to the appearance of an anonymous pamphlet, first published in January 1776, entitled Common Sense. Thomas Paine, who had emigrated from England to Philadelphia in 1774, was the author. Arguably the most radical pamphlet of the revolutionary era, Common Sense made a powerful argument for independence.

Paine’s pamphlet rejected the monarchy, calling King George III a “royal brute” and questioning the right of an island (England) to rule over America. In this way, Paine helped to channel colonial discontent toward the king himself and not, as had been the case, toward the British Parliament—a bold move that signaled the desire to create a new political order disavowing monarchy entirely. He argued for the creation of an American republic, a state without a king, and extolled the blessings of republicanism, a political philosophy that held that elected representatives, not a hereditary monarch, should govern states. The vision of an American republic put forward by Paine included the idea of popular sovereignty: citizens in the republic would determine who would represent them, and decide other issues, on the basis of majority rule. Republicanism also served as a social philosophy guiding the conduct of the Patriots in their struggle against the British Empire. It demanded adherence to a code of virtue, placing the public good and community above narrow self-interest.

Paine wrote Common Sense (Figure 6.7) in simple, direct language aimed at ordinary people, not just the learned elite. The pamphlet proved immensely popular and was soon available in all thirteen colonies, where it helped convince many to reject monarchy and the British Empire in favor of independence and a republican form of government.

Image (a) shows the first page of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. A portrait of Thomas Paine is shown in image (b); he is seated at a writing desk and holding a piece of paper.
Figure 6.7 Thomas Paine’s Common Sense (a) helped convince many colonists of the need for independence from Great Britain. Paine, shown here in a portrait by Laurent Dabos (b), was a political activist and revolutionary best known for his writings on both the American and French Revolutions.

THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE

In the summer of 1776, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia and agreed to sever ties with Great Britain. Virginian Thomas Jefferson and John Adams of Massachusetts, with the support of the Congress, articulated the justification for liberty in the Declaration of Independence (Figure 6.8). The Declaration, written primarily by Jefferson, included a long list of grievances against King George III and laid out the foundation of American government as a republic in which the consent of the governed would be of paramount importance.

One of the Dunlap Broadsides is shown. It is headed, “In Congress, July 4, 1776, A Declaration By the Representatives of the United States of America, In General Congress Assembled.”
Figure 6.8 The Dunlap Broadsides, one of which is shown here, are considered the first published copies of the Declaration of Independence. This one was printed on July 4, 1776.

The preamble to the Declaration began with a statement of Enlightenment principles about universal human rights and values: “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it.” In addition to this statement of principles, the document served another purpose: Patriot leaders sent copies to France and Spain in hopes of winning their support and aid in the contest against Great Britain. They understood how important foreign recognition and aid would be to the creation of a new and independent nation.

The Declaration of Independence has since had a global impact, serving as the basis for many subsequent movements to gain independence from other colonial powers. It is part of America’s civil religion, and thousands of people each year make pilgrimages to see the original document in Washington, DC.

The Declaration also reveals a fundamental contradiction of the American Revolution: the conflict between the existence of slavery and the idea that “all men are created equal.” One-fifth of the population in 1776 was enslaved, and at the time he drafted the Declaration, Jefferson himself owned more than one hundred slaves. Further, the Declaration framed equality as existing only among white men; women and nonwhites were entirely left out of a document that referred to native peoples as “merciless Indian savages” who indiscriminately killed men, women, and children. Nonetheless, the promise of equality for all planted the seeds for future struggles waged by slaves, women, and many others to bring about its full realization. Much of American history is the story of the slow realization of the promise of equality expressed in the Declaration of Independence.

Click and Explore

Visit Digital History to view “The Female Combatants.” In this 1776 engraving by an anonymous artist, Great Britain is depicted on the left as a staid, stern matron, while America, on the right, is shown as a half-dressed American Indian. Why do you think the artist depicted the two opposing sides this way?

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