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The American Revolution: A Brief History

By the middle of the eighteenth century (1750), the English colonies in America ranged from north to south along the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains. The French, dividing the loyalties of the native tribes in the region, claimed the lands west of the mountains and stretching on to New Spain (later Mexico). This forged a clear frontier, and a great deal British military investment was made in defending that frontier from the French, and those Indian tribes who sided with them:

13 colonies

Things soon changed though. This was a period in which the British Empire saw an extraordinary level of success and growth. In 1759 Canada came under Britain’s colonial rule, following the Battle of Quebec. In 1760 the vigorous and hugely popular George III ascended to the throne of England, and in 1763 the Peace of Paris effectively ended the French imperial domain in North America - ceding colonial domination to Britain on the East, and Spain in the South.


The new frontier in America, forged by this peace, was a frontier that now divided the English colonial states running from Georgia in the south to New Hampshire in the north, from the Indian lands beyond the Appalachians. With their French allies now gone though, fresh hostilities resumed between the colonialists and Chief Pontiac’s Ohio Indians. In order to halt these hostilities, the British Government in 1763 ordered a ‘proclamation line’ across the crest of the Appalachians, assuring the Indian tribes settlers were forbidden to cross this line. This formal compromise did not last though. Settlers engaged in negotiations with Cherokee and Iroquois Indians for the surrender of vast tracts of land north and south of Ohio between 1768 and 1770 – an act which bypassed the British authorities and demonstrated an increasing unrest and unhappiness with Imperial overseers among the American settlers.

This unrest between England and the American colonies was raised to a storm of protest in 1765 when Chancellor Grenville introduced a series of crippling taxation initiatives designed to defray the costs of defending the American frontier against the Indian tribes. The already familiar cry of “no taxation without representation” was again raised, as settlers objected to taxations enforced by a standing army, and from a government in which its own people had no representation. Much of the anger was directed at Grenville's controversial Stamp Act, which enforced all printed materials (publications, legal documents, certificates, etc.) to have an official revenue stamp - which had to be paid for in English money, that went directly to the English treasury.

Stamp Act

Opposition came to a head in 1770, when British troops fired into a crowd of protestors outside the customs house in Boston, killing five men. It became known as the Boston Massacre. The soldiers were acquitted of the charges of murder after a trial, having been defended by the reputable John Adams (a later President of the United States), and leading figures of the ever-growing revolutionary movement concurred with the decision, However, the incident crystallised American public opinion.

Boston Massacre
This picture of the Boston Massacre was made by Paul Revere, later a hero of the revolution - immortalised in Longfellow's tribute 'Paul Revere's Ride'

In 1773, Lord North introduced the Tea Act - a measure designed to bail out the East India Company from a financial crisis by lowering duty payable on tea in colonial ports, and creating a demand for tea among the Americans by its subsequent cheapness. This act was seen by American reactionaries as an act of economic manipulation. Consignments of tea arriving in New York and Philadelphia were forced to turn back by the mobilisation of opposition by these reactionaries. In Boston, however, the governor challenged that opposition and forced the consignment to dock. That night, November 30 1973, a group of militants disguised themselves, boarded the ship, and threw 15 thousand pounds worth of tea into the sea to the cheers of those gathered on the shore. This became known as the Boston Tea Party, and developed into yet another rallying call for the values of colonial independence. The term 'tea part' has been recently revived in American politics to describe a particular set of conservative republicans who oppose legislative taxation.

Tea PArty

Many Americans as well as British were aghast at the reckless destruction of the Boston Tea Party. For them it was, quite simply, an act of terrorism rather than a call for liberty - and had the British government actively sought to describe the event as such, perhaps they could have undermined the support it drew towards the radical’s cause. Instead though, and in the face of dire warnings from philosopher Edmund Burke, the British government decided to respond with an iron hand, closing down the port of Boston and effectively isolating the town and further alienating the American people with its heavy-handedness. On September 5th 1774, the first Continental Congress was held to discuss the union of the colonies. By 1775, King George was proclaiming America to be in a state of rebellion. Further heavy handed tactics were recommended, again in the face of dire warnings from parliament, but the King seemed to be personally affronted by the actions of the colonists.
War began on19th April 1775, when shots were exchanged between British troops and American reactionaries on the road from Lexington to Concord- with the American’s coming off worse. On the return journey though, the British troops faced a continually growing army of American soldiers and farmers, who sniped at them from behind every tree, wall, barn and house. By the time the British survivors reached the safety of Charlestown, 250 of their number had been killed.

Lexington and ConcordThe battle of Lexington and Concord established the military character of the American civil war - and exposed the antiquated methods of the British army.

On May 10th 1775, the second Continental Congress elected George Washington the General and Commander-in-Chief of a united Continental army. In January 1776, Englishman Thomas Paine published his political pamphlet Common Sense. It had an astonishing effect. Writing with great clarity and power, Paine urged the American people to abandon any thoughts of allegiance to George III and declare independence:

“The blood of the slain, the weeping voice of nature cries, ‘TIS TIME TO PART.”

Common Sense is working a powerful change in the minds of men,” wrote George Washington, as within three months more than 150,000 copied of the pamphlet - an enormous number for that time - were sold as soon as printed. One by one, the provincial governments which had been stalling of the question of unification, agreed to compromise in the name of ideology. The resolution of both unification and independence was passed on 2nd July 1776, and ratified in the adoption of Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence on 4th July.

Citation: Tulloch (2013). The American Revolution: A Brief History [Internet]. Available from: <> [Accessed 16 January 2013].

Freeman, J. B. (2010). The American Revolution [online]. Available at: Last accessed: 15/02/2012

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