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Friday, 4 July 2014

History in Focus: The American Revolution

Happy Independence Day to my readers in the US! Today Americans from Florida to Rhode Island to Utah to California will be celebrating the independence, (despite the fact that the Declaration was made on July 2nd), of the United States from the British Empire so let us look at how it happened.

Background to the Revolution: One of the earliest key causes of the revolution first happened in 1763 where the British crown passed numerous acts. After the French-Indian War Parliament decided to introduce a series of taxes on the Thirteen Colonies to help rebuild and to cover the costs of integrating the newly conquered territories into the Empire. The biggest of these taxes was the Sugar Act which imposed tariffs on imports on foreign molasses and also the Currency Act was passed bringing the colonial currency under Parliament who abolished the colonial paper bills. However a third major act in 1765 was the tipping point: the Stamp Act. This was the first direct tax on the Thirteen Colonies and a tax had to be paid on all printed materials ranging from stamps to newspapers to legal bills to playing cards. This angered the colonies who ushered the cry 'No Taxation without Representation' and declared that the tax violated the Bill of Rights which forbade taxation on people who were unrepresented in Parliament and the colonies were unrepresented in Parliament despite the fact that rotten boroughs consisting of a Lord, three sheep and a beagle were. A boycott was issued on British goods and in the October of 1765 the Stamp Act Congress met up in New York with representatives of nine of the colonies to make a resolution to repeal the tax. It worked and the following year George III repealed it, only to introduce the Declaratory Act the same day giving control of US laws to Parliament.
George III: The King who imposed the taxes
In 1768 the Townsend Revenue Acts were imposed which put more and more tariffs on items like paper, glass and paint causing a wave of both violence from a group called the Sons of Liberty and a massive boycott of British goods. It took until March 5th 1770 for the violence to turn even bloodier with the Boston Massacre. A mob harassing British soldiers in Boston caused a more skittish one to open fire at point blank range which in turn caused his fellows to do the same killing five and injuring six and further alienating the colonies. The violence started to increase after this but then the Tea Act was passed to save the near bankrupt East Indian Company in 1773. On May 10th of that year Sons of Liberty members, some dressed as Mohawk Native Americans, got on board ships to dump 342 crates of tea into the Boston Harbor. Parliament introduced more taxes on the colonies to reimburse the East Indian Company but the fact that people dressed as Native Americans shows that they identified themselves more with America than Britain.

The Boston Tea Party
The Start of the Revolution: By 1774 the Americans had lost all regard for London's laws and Massachusetts was in open rebellion. On April 18th 1775 Paul Revere and William Dawes are sent to Lexington to warn colonists of the approaching British who were coming to quell the rebellion. The Battle of Lexington and Concord took place the next day quickly followed by the Battle of Bunker Hill. Although the Americans lost Bunker Hill it was only 500 Americans dead to British 1000 so it gave the Americans hope that they could win the Revolution. After Congress created the Continental Army George Washington was made Commander in Chief and quickly lifted the siege of Boston. A true War of Independence had started.

The Declaration: In April 1776 a Congress met to vote for independence. On June 7th 1776 all thirteen colonies voted for independence and the following month a draft of the Declaration of Independence was made by Thomas Jefferson. With it being signed by the Founding Fathers, John Hancock even having an idiom named after him, and on July 4th 1776 the Declaration was ratified. The United States had been born with 'life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' but it had to fight.

Winning the Revolution: In 1776 the British made a reprisal and made the newly independent nation fight, even managing to lay siege to New York and won the support of both slaves who they promised freedom and Native Americans who they offered to be left independent. Washington started a policy of guerrilla tactics as well as traditional battles such as his victory at Yorktown. Unfortunately a scorched earth tactic was used on many Native American land who were loyal to Britain and some who were innocent but after the revolution their lives got even worse. In 1778 Washington and Jefferson took a policy of 'the enemy of my enemy' where they got an alliance with France who got involved in the war against the British which the Spanish and Dutch joined when they made an alliance with France leaving Britain to fight four adversaries. The siege of Yorktown was the final battle with the British navy arriving to aid the British besiegers only to have the French and Dutch send an even bigger navy. This was lucky for Washington as the treasury was empty, the European allies were leaving and soldiers were ready to lead a coup as they weren't getting paid and the revolution was brother vs brother as most of the British troops were in fact Loyalists, very few soldiers there were British. In 1783 the Treaty of Paris guaranteed US independence and all land up to the Mississippi and down to just on the Florida border.

Legacy: The Revolution has a mixed legacy. On one hand nothing change with rich, white slave owners being replaced by rich, white slave owners and the democracy excluded most of the people, mainly women, African-Americans and Native Americans. Many freemen who had fought for the British were sold back into slavery and a massive relocation program that at times bordered on genocide was imposed on Native Americans. However what it stood for is massively important. It was the first true democracy, not one owned by a monarch, and it inspired people for freedom. There was a reason why the initial rioters were called Sons of Liberty. The Revolution stood for freedom and liberty and eventually those excluded from this were given liberty based on the Constitution which inspires millions not only in the USA but the world. It is really up to you how you view the legacy. Which is better: actually changing the system or setting up values to die for.

Happy Independence Day and please leave comments.

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