The events that followed the French and Indian War laid the foundation for Revolution and the Declaration of Independence. Anger towards the British taxation policy and increasing control over the colonies led to many events like the Stamp Act Congress, Boston Tea Party, and Boston Massacre. These events coupled with influential writings like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, added to the fervor for independence. From the first shots fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, to the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776, the American colonies began a trek towards independence that it seemed unlikely they would win. But with amazing resolve and international assistance, the colonies pulled off the impossible at Yorktown October 1781. The thirteen British colonies were now free.
Abigail Adams was born in Massachusetts, a descendant of the distinguished Quincy family. She married young lawyer John Adams in 1764. They settled on a farm in Braintree, Massachusetts. The couple had four surviving children, including son John Quincy Adams. Abigail raised the children and ran the farm while John traveled as a circuit judge and later while he served overseas. She and John corresponded through their long separations and her letters tell of her loneliness, but she persevered with courage and industry. Abigail often shared her views with John on political matters. She famously requested that the members of the Continental Congress, “I long to hear that you have declared an independency. And, by the way, in the new code of laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make, I desire you would remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the husbands. Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have “no voice or representation.” She also told John that she believed there was a need for the Alien and Sedition Acts.
John Adams was born in Massachusetts, the second cousin of Samuel Adams. He began his law practice after graduating from Harvard. A defining moment in his young life was watching James Otis’s courtroom challenge of British writs of assistance, which was based on natural rights theory. The speech filled Adams with zeal for liberty, and Adams would remember it into his old age. Willing to take unpopular stands, Adams courageously defended the British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre. Advising the courtroom to avoid relying on passion as a guide, he emphasized that “Facts are stubborn things.” Adams drafted the Massachusetts Constitution and Declaration of Rights and served in the Continental Congress where he was a leading advocate of independence. He seconded the Lee Resolution and served on the committee to draft the Declaration of Independence (though the writing was done by Thomas Jefferson). He signed the Treaty of Paris with Benjamin Franklin and John Jay, and completed diplomatic missions in Europe. He was serving overseas as the Constitution was being drafted. He and his friend Jefferson wrote to James Madison urging the addition of a bill of rights. Adams served as the country’s first Vice President under George Washington from 1789-1797. He was elected the second President of the United States in 1796. As President, he kept the United States out of war with France but signed the controversial and probably unconstitutional Alien and Sedition Acts to do so. He also signed the Judiciary Act of 1801. Six months before he died, Adams’s son John Quincy Adams became the sixth president of the United States. Adams died fifty years to the day after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
Samuel Adams was born in Massachusetts, the second cousin of John Adams. He worked at various businesses after graduating from Harvard. During the 1760s, Adams became a leader of Patriot resistance to the British government’s attempts to tax the colonies. Adams organized the Sons of Liberty with James Otis and John Hancock. This group took the lead in resisting the Stamp Act and Townshend Duties. Adams was soon famous throughout the colonies. In 1772 Adams authored “The Rights of the Colonists,” which appealed to the concepts of the rights of Englishmen and natural rights theory. When Parliament passed the Tea Act, Adams organized the Boston Tea Party. In this nighttime raid, 150 members of the Sons of Liberty dumped 342 chests of British Tea into Boston Harbor. The governor of Massachusetts pardoned all the members of the Boston resistance except for Adams and Hancock. The shots in Lexington that began the Revolutionary War were fired on British troops with orders to arrest the two men, but they escaped capture. Adams signed the Declaration of Independence and helped write the Massachusetts Constitution and the Articles of Confederation. Suspicious of strong governmental power, Adams rejected the purpose of the Constitutional Convention—to strengthen the central government—and did not attend. He eventually supported the Constitution after the Bill of Rights was added.
In the Revolutionary War, one of General George Washington’s most effective weapons against the British was an African American slave named James Armistead. Armistead was enlisted as a patriotic spy who worked as a “double-agent” on behalf of the United States. Pretending to be a runaway slave, Armistead infiltrated the British defenses and acquire countless important British war secrets which helped turn the tide of the Revolution in favor of the Americans. Marquis de Lafayette helped him by writing a letter of recommendation for his freedom, which was granted in 1787. In gratitude, Armistead adopted Lafayette’s surname and lived as a farmer in Virginia until his death in 1830.
In 1770, Crispus Attucks, an African American former slave was the first of five unarmed American civilians to be shot and killed by British soldiers in a riot known as the Boston Massacre. Attucks was credited as the leader and instigator of the heroic upheaval against the British army. The events of that fateful day eventually led to the American Revolution and the fight for ultimate freedom. A “Crispus Attucks Day” was inaugurated by African American abolitionists in 1858. In 1888 the Crispus Attucks Monument was built on Boston Common. And in 1998 a commemorative Silver Dollar was minted honoring Crispus Attucks and the overall efforts of black patriots in the Revolutionary War. His death has forever linked his name with the cause of freedom.
Charles Carroll was born in Maryland in 1737. Educated in Europe, he quickly became involved with the revolutionary movement when he returned to America. When Maryland decided to send delegates to the Continental Congress, Carroll was one of those chosen. He wasn’t in time to vote for the Declaration of Independence, but he was there to sign the document. He served on the Board of War during the Revolution. After the war, he was involved in setting up the state government of Maryland and served a brief time as the only Catholic in the U.S. Senate once the U.S. Constitution was ratified. He was the last surviving signer of the Declaration when he died in 1832 at the age of 95.
Wentworth Cheswell was a beloved and respected patriot. He was a grandson of the first African American land owner in New Hampshire. Cheswell’s life revolved around freedom, justice and the betterment of American citizens. At an early age, Cheswell became an influential town leader, judge, historian, schoolmaster, archeologist and soldier in the American Revolution. After his studies at Dummer Academy, he became a schoolteacher and was then elected town messenger for the regional Committee of Safety, one of the many groups established in Colonial America to monitor events pertaining to public welfare. As an enlisted man in the American Revolution, he served under Colonel John Langdon in the Company of Light Horse Volunteers at the Saratoga campaign. Cheswell and his wife had 13 children. He was very active in public life in New Hampshire.
John Dickinson was born in Maryland, and his family soon moved to Delaware. He practiced law in Philadelphia and served in both the Delaware and Pennsylvania assemblies. Historians believe him to be the author of Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania (1767-1768) which called for resistance to British policies while urging reconciliation. Dickinson also wrote America’s first patriotic song, “The Liberty Song.” In 1775, Dickinson and Thomas Jefferson wrote Declaration of the Causes of Taking Up Arms. In this document, Dickinson reassured the British King that the colonists were not raising an army with the intent of establishing independence. When Congress debated the Declaration of Independence the next year, Dickinson objected to its strong wording. In what many saw as a sign of integrity, he left Philadelphia when it became clear that Congress would approve the Lee Resolution. Once independence was declared, Dickinson dropped his objections and helped draft the Articles of Confederation. He served as governor of Delaware before being elected governor of Pennsylvania. In 1783, he lent his name to Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. In 1786, Dickinson chaired the Annapolis Convention and later headed Delaware’s delegation to the Constitutional Convention. During the ratification debates, Dickinson authored the Letters of Fabius in support of the Constitution. Because of Dickinson’s articulate defense of American liberty, he is known as the “Penman of the Revolution.”
Benjamin Franklin, born in Boston, took initiative as a publisher, inventor, entrepreneur, and statesman. Working as an apprentice at his brother’s Boston newspaper, he began writing social commentaries under the pseudonym Silence Dogood. Wishing to work independently, Franklin left Boston and finally settled in Philadelphia where he purchased the Pennsylvania Gazette in 1729. In 1732 he published the first edition of Poor Richard’s Almanack. In 1754 the prospect of war with France led several colonial governors to call a convention to create a plan to unify the colonies. Franklin’s Gazette ran a “Join or Die” political cartoon urging governors to send delegates. Franklin wrote the Albany Plan of the Union at the convention. Franklin lived in England from 1757 to 1775 serving as an agent of the colonies. He became famous there as a defender of American rights. The British branded him a traitor, but he escaped imprisonment in 1775 by returning to Philadelphia. He served on the committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence. He acted as commissioner to France from 1779-1785, and along with John Adams and John Jay, negotiated the 1783 Treaty of Paris. Franklin returned to the United States in 1785. He believed the Articles of Confederation to be too weak and joined the call for a Constitutional Convention. Because of some of his proposals at the Convention, a cabinet was established to advise the president, and Congress was given the power to override presidential vetoes. Franklin called for blacks to be counted as citizens hoping to encourage abolition, but this proposal was rejected. In 1787, Franklin was elected president of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery. His last public act was signing a petition to Congress recommending the end of the slave system. He died at age 84. Franklin’s Autobiography was published the year after his death, and covers the years of his life only to the 1760s.
During the American Revolution, England was not only at odds with the colonists, but also with European superpower Spain. In 1776, Bernardo de Gálvez, a descendant of ancient Spanish nobility, became the acting Governor of the Louisiana Territory. Due to the “bad blood” between his home country of Spain and England, Gálvez naturally sided with the Americans throughout the war. He was instrumental in buying Spanish weapons, gunpowder, clothing and many other vital supplies that were essential to the colonial army. Galveston, Texas is named in his honor.
King George III was born on June 4, 1738. He became heir to the throne upon the death of his father in 1751 and succeeded his grandfather George II in 1760. During his reign, there were many conflicts involving his kingdom. After the French and Indian War, the British Parliament angered the American colonists by taxing them to pay for military protection. In 1776 the American colonists declared their independence and listed their grievances against the king. The Treaty of Paris of 1783 ended the Revolutionary War and confirmed the independence of the United States. After 1784, George III largely retired from an active role in government. He suffered a nervous breakdown in 1789. After he was declared insane in 1810, his son was appointed to rule for him.
Forever famous for his outsized signature on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock was a larger than life figure in other ways as well. Born in 1737, in Braintree, Massachusetts, Hancock was part of the Boston “Sons of Liberty” that included Samuel Adams and James Otis. Hancock was a wealthy merchant whose bank account helped to finance the group’s radical activities resisting British tyranny. After the violence that came to be known as the Boston Massacre, Hancock courageously took the lead in raising further opposition to the British. Not long after that, he and Sam Adams organized the Boston Tea Party. The British were seeking Hancock and Adams when the Minutemen fired on the British troops thus beginning the Revolutionary War. Hancock served as president of the Continental Congress. He signed the Declaration on July 4, 1776, and presided over Congress’s signing of the document on August 2, 1776. Disappointed at being passed over for command of the Continental Army in 1777, he returned to Massachusetts, where he had a hand in writing the state constitution of 1780. He signed the Articles of Confederation. Despite his reservations about centralized government power, Hancock eventually agreed to support ratification of the Constitution.
Patrick Henry was born in Virginia where he was educated by his father and expected to become a farmer. After failing at farming and storekeeping, he studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1760. As a member of the Virginia legislature in the 1760s, Henry opposed the Stamp Act. By the 1770s he had emerged as one of the most radical leaders of the opposition to British tyranny. He served in the Continental Congress and urged his fellow Virginians to take up arms against the British, famously uttering in 1775 as the British militia advanced in Massachusetts, “Gentlemen may cry ‘peace!’ but there is no peace…the war is actually begun!…I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty, or give me death!” Henry later led 150 colonists to Williamsburg demanding the return of gunpowder seized by the royal governor. After helping craft the Virginia Declaration of Rights, Henry was elected the first governor of Virginia. He would serve a total of five terms. In later years, he helped found Hampden-Sydney College, and attempted to expand government support of teachers—who were mainly ministers of the state’s official church. His proposal was defeated and two years later Virginia adopted the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom bringing an end to the state church. Wary of federal power and suspicious of the motives of the assembly, Henry declined to attend the Constitutional Convention. He became a leading Anti-Federalist critic of the Constitution. When it was sent to the states for ratification, he engaged in heated debates with James Madison at the Virginia ratifying convention. When the Bill of Rights was sent to the states, Henry believed the amendments were not enough and instead called in vain for a new constitutional convention. Henry retired from politics in 1791 and resumed his law practice. He turned down offers from President George Washington to serve as Secretary of State and then as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Washington convinced Henry to run for the state legislature. He was elected, but he died before he could take office.
Thomas Jefferson was born in Virginia. He studied law, was elected to the Virginia legislature, and became known for his writing. Many of his writings reveal the influence of John Locke as well as Jefferson’s belief in natural rights theory. In Notes on the State of Virginia and Summary View of the Rights of British America, he expressed his ideas about religious freedom, education, and property rights, among other things. While the Continental Congress debated the Lee Resolution in 1776, Jefferson was selected to draft the Declaration of Independence. He authored the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786. Jefferson did not take part in the Constitutional Convention as he was serving as minister to France at the time, but he wrote to James Madison expressing his view that the document should include a bill of rights. In 1789 George Washington appointed Jefferson the first Secretary of State. He and Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton soon became bitter rivals. The nation’s first political parties formed around the two men. Jefferson resigned his post after three years and ran for president in 1796 but lost to John Adams by three electoral votes. Under the system in place at the time, he became Adam’s Vice President. He disagreed sharply with many of Adam’s policies. He and James Madison wrote the Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions in 1798 in opposition to the Alien and Sedition Acts. Two years later, Jefferson was elected president. He purchased the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803. His second term as President was beset by foreign and domestic troubles. After two terms as president, he retired to Monticello. In 1819, he founded the University of Virginia, which he noted as one of his proudest achievements. He died fifty years to the day after the adoption of the Declaration of Independence.
John Paul Jones was born in 1747 in Scotland. After being accused of a crime he fled to America. In 1776 with his ship the Bonhomme Richard, he defeated the British warship Serapis, which raised American spirits. Jones’ success against the best navy in the world angered the British and inspired the Americans. Jones’ famous words during this battle were “I have not yet begun to fight!” which became a slogan for the U.S. Navy. Some consider him the “Father of the U.S. Navy.”
Marquis de Lafayette was a French officer who came to help the Americans fight the Revolution against Great Britain. When he learned of the struggle of the Americans in their endeavor to secure independence, he resolved to come to the colonies to aid them in their efforts. He was given the rank of major general, since he represented the highest rank of French nobility. He developed a friendship with George Washington which lasted as long as Washington lived. His influence helped to secure support from France for the patriots’ cause. Lafayette was also able to obtain troops and supplies from France. He was the first foreigner to be granted honorary United States citizenship. When he died on May 20, 1834 at the age of seventy-six, the United States government sent American soil to his gravesite.
Richard Henry Lee was born to one of the wealthiest families in Virginia. He studied law and was elected to the Virginia legislature at age 25. There he was an outspoken opponent of slavery. He asserted that Africans, with the same natural rights as Europeans, were “equally entitled to liberty and freedom by the great law of nature.” Nevertheless, Lee owned slaves and did not free them. In response to British policies, Lee condemned the Stamp Act and Townshend Acts, organized committees, and kept in contact with Samuel Adams, a Patriot leader in Boston. He served in the Continental Congress, and on June 7, 1776, introduced the Lee Resolution calling for independence from England. His resolution led to the writing and ratification of the Declaration of Independence. Lee signed the Articles of Confederation in 1781 and served in the Confederation Congress, serving as the body’s first president. He helped guide the Northwest Ordinance through Congress in 1787. Lee was alarmed at the call for a stronger central government and refused to attend the Constitutional Convention in 1787. He attempted to persuade the delegates not to alter the Articles, and became a leading opponent of ratification of the Constitution in Virginia. In 1787 and 1788, an anonymous series of Anti-Federalist essays called Letters from a Federal Farmer appeared, which closely mirrored Lee’s arguments against the Constitution. Some historians believe that Lee and Mercy Otis Warren were the authors of these essays. When the Constitution was adopted, Lee accepted a seat in the Senate where he was a leading advocate of laws and amendments limiting the power of the federal government. He was pleased when the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791.
Robert Morris was born in England and came to Maryland in his youth. After apprenticing at a Philadelphia shipping and banking firm, he became a partner of the company at age 23. The firm was successful, trading in a variety of products, including tobacco, rum, wheat, and, for a brief time, African slaves. Morris became a prominent Philadelphia citizen, leading merchants to close the port of Philadelphia to British goods. He served in the state legislature and on the Continental Congress. Initially opposed to independence, he voted against the Lee Resolution, but he changed his mind and signed the Declaration of Independence. He also signed the Articles of Confederation. As chairman of the Congress Finance Committee, Morris persuaded reluctant states to contribute to the continental system and army. He obtained war supplies and risked his own ships in bringing these supplies past the British Navy. Morris’s company received a commission on each shipment, though some criticized him for profiting at the country’s expense. Some accused him of stealing money, but a committee of Congress found that he was not guilty of any wrongdoing and acted with “fidelity and integrity.” Robert Morris is known as the “Financier of the American Revolution” in part because he risked and spent so much of his own money for the Patriot cause, putting up more than $1 million to finance the decisive Battle of Yorktown alone. Morris supported revising the Articles and attended the Constitutional Convention, though he rarely spoke during the proceedings. He was pleased with the Constitution and signed it. He turned down President George Washington‘s offer to be Secretary of the Treasury, instead accepting a Senate seat in the first Congress.
John Peter Muhlenberg was born in Pennsylvania. John was the son of a Lutheran minister. Eventually, he followed in his father’s footsteps becoming a minister himself. While in Virginia, he became a follower of Patrick Henry. He is said to have supported the American cause in a sermon in which he cited the verse from Ecclesiastes which begins with the words, “To everything there is a season…a time of peace and a time of war. And this is a time of war.” He later served in the Continental Army fighting at Charleston, Brandywine, Stony Point, and Yorktown. He was also present during the winter at Valley Forge. After the war, he served in the Pennsylvania state government before being elected to the U.S. Congress. Even though he didn’t serve as a Lutheran minister again, he was active as a Lutheran layman until he died in 1807.
James Otis was born in Massachusetts, the brother of Mercy Otis Warren. Otis went to Harvard and opened a law practice in Boston in 1750. Six years later, the royal governor appointed him an advocate general in the Vice Admiralty Court. Decisions in Vice Admiralty Courts were rendered by royal judges, not by citizen juries. Many cases involved smuggling, and Otis was troubled by British writs of assistance. (These general warrants gave broad authority to inspectors to search ships, warehouses, and even private homes for evidence of crimes.) In 1761, Otis resigned his post and took the case of Boston merchants who challenged the legality of the writs. In a five-hour long speech, Otis cited the traditional rights of Englishmen to “the freedom of one’s house.” He also based his argument natural rights theory, asserting that the right to private property was inalienable. John Adams, who observed the speech, would later remark that it marked the start of the American Revolution. Indeed, many of the principles he championed were later enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. Otis soon became a Patriot leader, joining Samuel Adams and John Hancock in opposing British tyranny. In 1764 he published The Rights of the Colonists Asserted and Proved. This pamphlet criticized British taxation without representation, and denounced slavery: “The colonists are by the law of nature freeborn, as indeed all men are, white or black.” In 1769, Otis was physically attacked in a Boston coffeehouse by a customs official whom Otis had criticized in the newspaper. The official beat Otis’s head with a cane, fracturing his skull and causing permanent brain damage severe enough to force his retirement from public life. In 1783 he died after being struck by lightning.
Paine was born in England and had little formal education. After working various jobs, he met Benjamin Franklin who convinced him to come to America in 1774. In January 1776, Paine published the best-selling pamphlet of the revolutionary era, Common Sense which encouraged colonial independence. While serving with George Washington’s troops in the Continental Army, Paine wrote a series of essays called The American Crisis. These essays helped improve morale among the troops during the Revolutionary War. Paine continued his defense of the American Revolution and natural rights theory in The Rights of Man when he returned to England in 1787. England charged him with seditious libel because of his critique of monarchy. He fled to France, where he became involved in the revolutionary assembly. He was imprisoned and sentenced to death for voting against the King’s execution. While in prison he wrote The Age of Reason, a controversial work criticizing organized religion while insisting on the religious freedom for all. He was freed in 1794 due to the efforts of James Madison, the new American minister to France. Paine had blamed the previous minister, Gouverneur Morris, for what he saw as Morris’s failure to secure his release. In 1796 Paine wrote an insulting open letter to George Washington. This letter won him many enemies. President Thomas Jefferson invited Paine to return to America in 1802, but he soon found he was unwelcome. His New York funeral was attended only by a few. His body was later stolen and taken to England, which denied its entry as Paine was still an outlaw. His remains were later lost.
Benjamin Rush was born near Philadelphia. He studied medicine in Pennsylvania, Scotland, England, and France. When he returned to Pennsylvania in 1769 he was named the first professor of chemistry at the College of Philadelphia. He gained a good reputation in the city, treating the poor and then expanding his practice. During the yellow fever epidemics of the 1790s, John and Abigail Adams were among his patients. He supported innovative techniques but was criticized for continuing to practice bloodletting even when it was shown to be ineffective. Rush encouraged Thomas Paine to write on behalf of independence, and even suggested the title for Common Sense. He signed the Declaration of Independence. He served as Surgeon General of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was appalled by the dreadful conditions of the military hospitals, and even questioned General George Washington, telling Congress that officers should be chosen annually. He resigned his post when Congress rejected his plea. Rush attended the Constitutional Convention and, along with James Wilson, helped secure ratification of the Constitution in Pennsylvania. Rush was also concerned with social reform. He courageously expressed views he knew would be controversial. He supported the new technique of vaccinations against smallpox. He helped establish the first abolitionist society in America. In his view, slavery was inconsistent with the principles of natural rights theory and the Declaration of Independence. His belief in equality also led him to urge public education for all, including women. President John Adams appointed Rush as Treasurer of the US Mint in 1799, a post he held until 1813. Rush’s influence on the lives of two prominent Founders is also noteworthy. When the divisive political issues of the 1790s took their toll on the friendship of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Rush was instrumental in their reconciliation. Rush corresponded with the two men for 20 years. Upon hearing of his death in 1813, John Adams reflected, “I know of no character living or dead who has done more real good for his country.”
Haym Salomon was a Polish-born Jewish immigrant who played an important role in financing the American Revolution. He became a patriot and joined the New York Sons of Liberty. He was a member of the American espionage ring and helped convince many Hessians to desert the British military. He was arrested as a spy by the British but escaped before he could be hung. Salomon became a financial broker in Philadelphia. Using his own personal money, he went on to help finance the Continental Congress and the overall patriot cause. Together with Robert Morris, Salomon is sometimes called the “financier of the American Revolution.” Salomon died penniless in 1785.
Jonathan Trumbull Sr. was born in Connecticut. He studied theology at Harvard and later served as a colonial governor of Connecticut. During the American Revolution, he became the only colonial governor to support the American cause. He was a strong supporter of General Washington and spent the war doing what he could to recruit troops and raise supplies for the cause. General Washington is said to have depended on him for these things during the trying times of the Revolution. Since he supported the cause, he was the only colonial governor to remain in power after independence was declared. Governor Trumbull died in 1785 and is buried in Lebanon Connecticut.
Mercy Otis Warren was born in Massachusetts, the sister of James Otis. She was an early supporter of independence and anonymously published satirical plays designed to criticize the Massachusetts royal governor in 1772 and 1773. She corresponded with many Patriot leaders, exchanging hundreds of letters with Abigail Adams, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Alexander Hamilton. Believing in the natural rights theory expressed in the Declaration of Independence, she argued that women should have equal rights under the law. Warren opposed ratification of the Constitution. She authored an anonymous criticism of the document in 1788 called Observations on the New Constitution … by a Columbian Patriot. Other than the lack of equal rights for women, her chief complaints were later addressed in the Bill of Rights. Some historians believe she was also the author of at least one Anti-Federalist paper attributed to Elbridge Gerry, and that she co-authored Letters from a Federal Farmer with Richard Henry Lee. In later years she argued for equality in education for girls and boys. She also published a volume of poetry and, in 1805, published a three-volume work, History of the Rise, Progress and Termination of the American Revolution. She is sometimes called “The Conscience of the American Revolution.”
George Washington is known as the “Father of his Country.” Born in Virginia, Washington ran his family’s 8000-acre farm, Mount Vernon. He studied ancient republics and read independently. Washington served as commander of the Virginia militia, the Virginia colonial legislature, and the Continental Congress. In 1775, Congress selected him to be Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. He accepted Cornwallis’s surrender at Yorktown in 1781, ending the Revolutionary War. Washington then resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon, intending no return to public life. However, Washington soon grew concerned that the Articles of Confederation were inadequate for the new nation. Washington was selected to lead the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. Once the Constitution was complete, Washington was unanimously elected to be the first president, with John Adams as Vice President. Washington’s First Inaugural Address inspired the nation. Washington appointed Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton to his cabinet, and James Madison served as a chief advisor. He served two terms as president, discouraging political parties and working to keep the new nation out of foreign wars. He refused a third term. In his Farewell Address, Washington urged his fellow citizens to cherish the Constitution. Washington served his country with courage and responsibility, believing that liberty would endure.
John Witherspoon was born in Scotland, and came in 1768 to the colonies to assume the presidency of Princeton University in New Jersey. He was also a prominent Presbyterian minister. While serving as the president of Princeton University, he strongly influenced the course of study. He believed that morality was crucial to all those holding public positions of leadership. Therefore, he instituted a required course called Moral Philosophy for the students. One of his most famous students was James Madison. Witherspoon was elected to the Continental Congress and was present to vote for and sign the Declaration of Independence. He served in the Congress all through the war and helped in the drafting of the Articles of Confederation. He later served as a delegate from New Jersey at the Constitutional Convention, voting for its adoption and advocating its ratification in New Jersey.
Following the French and Indian War, the King of England issued the Proclamation of 1763 to keep the colonists from going west of the Appalachian Mountains into the Ohio River Valley. It was issued to keep the peace between the Native Americans and the settlers. This act angered the colonists because they believed that they had the right to settle in the Ohio River Valley. The Proclamation was enforced by British troops, many of whom were quartered in colonists’ homes which increased tension between England and the colonists.
The British Parliament passed the Stamp Act in 1765 to help pay England’s debts for the French and Indian War. The act required all legal and commercial documents to carry an official stamp, showing that the tax had been paid. Documents such as diplomas, wills, contracts, newspapers, playing cards, and calendars had to have the stamp. The American colonists felt they were being unfairly taxed without their consent (“no taxation without representation”). Thus, they met at the Stamp Act Congress and organized a boycott until the law was repealed.
After the Boston Tea Party, Britain was angered by the colonists’ actions, and Parliament passed the Coercive Acts in 1774. These were a series of laws to punish the colonies. The colonists called them the Intolerable Acts because they believed that the laws were too severe. One of the acts closed the port of Boston until the colonists paid for the destroyed tea. Another banned democratic town meetings. The Intolerable Acts also allowed the British to quarter (house) troops in colonists’ homes and let colonists accused of crimes in the colonies stand trial in Britain. In response to the acts, the colonies came together in September 1774, at the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia to mobilize a united resistance to the Crown and these policies.
In January 1776, Thomas Paine published a pamphlet titled Common Sense. This pamphlet contained a strong attack on the idea of monarchy and argued that it was only “common sense” for the thirteen colonies to separate from Great Britain. Within six months, 500,000 copies had been sold and read by one million people. Paine’s pamphlet convinced many colonists that the time for total independence from Great Britain had come.
In 1776, during the American Revolution, Paine also wrote a series of pro-revolution essays entitled The American Crisis. George Washington liked the first of Paine’s essays, which began with the words “These are the times that try men’s souls,” so much that he demanded it be read to colonial troops suffering at Valley Forge to strengthen their spirits and resolve to fight.
After much debate and over a year of fighting, colonial delegates to the Second Continental Congress determined that a complete break from Britain was necessary. A committee made up of John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Livingston, Roger Sherman, and Thomas Jefferson was given the task of drafting the declaration. The Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776. Using ideas from English philosopher John Locke, Thomas Jefferson (the primary author) wrote “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…” The longest part of the document included twenty-seven specific grievances against the king and Parliament. The most serious or “war crimes” were at the end of the list. This document has served as a model for many in their attempts to overthrow an autocratic government.
Although the American victory at Yorktown marked the last battle of the American Revolution, it was not until the Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783 (almost 2 years later) that the Americans and the British agreed on the diplomatic terms to end the conflict. The British gave up their rights to all land between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River, except for Florida and New Orleans, and recognized the United States of America as an independent nation.
The Stamp Act Congress met in New York City in October 1765, to voice colonists’ concerns about British taxes being imposed on the colonies. Nine of the colonies sent delegates to the Congress which drew up a petition to the King protesting the Stamp Act. They argued that taxation could only be carried out by colonial assemblies, and not by the British Parliament in which the colonists had no representation (“No taxation without representation!”). This marked the first time the colonies united to discuss growing tensions between Britain and her colonies.
On March 5, 1770, a group of young colonial dock workers and British soldiers faced off outside a customs house. A British soldier had stones, ice, and coal chunks thrown at him. More British soldiers arrived. The colonial mob taunted the soldiers. A fight broke out, and the soldiers began firing. Crispus Attucks, a former slave, and four other colonists were killed. The shooting was referred to as a “massacre,” and Patriots used the incident as anti-British propaganda in newspaper articles, posters, and pamphlets. The colonists were outraged by the incident. Paul Revere’s famous “Bloody Massacre” engraving appeared in many colonial publications which stirred stronger feelings against the British.
The Tea Act passed by Parliament in 1773 was unpopular in the colonies. It gave the English East India Company a monopoly on importing tea into the colonies. This led to many protests, including the famous Boston Tea Party. The Sons of Liberty, led by Samuel Adams, disguised themselves as Mohawk Indians and boarded three tea ships docked in the Boston Harbor. They dumped 342 chests of East India Company tea into Boston Harbor in protest of the Tea Act. They believed that by destroying the tea Britain would see how strongly the colonists disagreed with the law. The British responded by passing the Intolerable Acts which imposed strong penalties against Boston for the event and eventually led to the colonists calling the First Continental Congress to discuss the growing tensions with Great Britain.
In September 1774, fifty-five delegates from twelve of the colonies met in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to discuss rising concerns over the Intolerable Acts and the colonists’ continuing frustration over “taxation without representation.” This meeting was called the First Continental Congress. This Congress did not advocate independence. The delegates decided to boycott all trade with Great Britain if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed.
Delegates from the colonies met in May 1775, after the first shots had already been fired at Lexington and Concord. This meeting was called the Second Continental Congress. The delegates adopted the Olive Branch Petition expressing their loyalty to the king, but disapproving Parliament’s actions. The Congress elected George Washington Commander of the Continental Army. A year later the Congress organized a committee to write the Declaration of Independence since the problems with Great Britain could not be resolved. Eventually, delegates adopted and signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
The American Revolution (1775-1783) was a war for independence between the American colonies and Great Britain. The colonists were unhappy with Great Britain’s mercantilist policies and being taxed without representation. The colonists had become accustomed to governing themselves during their early history due to Britain’s “salutary neglect.” After the French and Indian War, the sudden increase in taxation and unwanted attention from Great Britain (such as the Proclamation of 1763, the Stamp Act, and the Intolerable Acts) surprised and angered the colonists. This war ended with the Treaty of Paris in 1783 and resulted in American independence from Great Britain.
In April 1775, British soldiers marched out of Boston to seize a stockpile of colonial weapons and arrest members of the Sons of Liberty. Warned by Paul Revere and William Dawes that “The Redcoats are coming!” about seventy Minutemen stood in Lexington ready to face about 250 British soldiers. No one knows who fired first, but seven Americans were killed before British soldiers moved past Lexington to Concord. In Concord, they were met with more Minutemen who fought back until the British retreated. Americans regrouped and continued firing on the British throughout their twenty-mile march back to Boston. Lexington and Concord are considered the first battles of the American Revolution. American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson described this event as “the shot heard round the world” because the battles eventually led to independence for the colonies.
The Battle of Saratoga was a major battle of the American Revolution. British General John Burgoyne led a series of attacks, in the summer of 1777, to cut off the New England colonies from the rest of the English colonies by taking control of the Hudson River, His troops were defeated in a two-part battle at Saratoga which marked the turning point of the Revolutionary War. After the victory at Saratoga, France and Spain pledged their aid to the United States in America’s fight for independence.
In the winter of 1777, during the American Revolution, Washington’s army of 10,000 exhausted troops set up camp at Valley Forge, a frozen field about 25 miles outside of Philadelphia. Nearly one in four of his men died during this time due to disease, starvation, and the harsh, freezing conditions. However, Washington was also able to use the winter to train his men with military drills so that they would be ready to fight like a professional army when fighting resumed in the spring.
The Battle of Yorktown was the last major battle of the American Revolution. British General Charles Cornwallis marched his troops through Virginia to the coast and controlled much of the coast during the war. However, just before Cornwallis’ arrival at Yorktown, a French fleet of ships defeated the Royal Navy, which left Cornwallis in trouble. Washington’s troops quickly blocked Cornwallis in from the North as French troops landed to the South. Surrounded on every side, Cornwallis and his men held out for weeks but finally surrendered on October 19, 1781, effectively ending the war.