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Chapter 8: America Secedes From the Empire (1775-1783)

Art History
History of the Bible
World History
United States History


Founding FathersJust the Facts-Declaration of IndependenceThe Patriot1776The CrossingBenedict Arnold: A Question of Honor



The Glorious Cause by Shaara Shaara: Book Cover

Chapter Outline

I. Congress Drafts George Washington

  1. After the bloodshed at Lexington and Concord in April of 1775,
    about 20,000 Minutemen swarmed around Boston, where they outnumbered
    the British.
  2. The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10,
    1775, with no real intention of independence, but merely a desire to
    continue fighting in the hope that the king and Parliament would
    consent to a redress of grievances.

    • It sent another list of grievances to Parliament.
    • It also adopted measures to raise money for an army and a navy.
    • It also selected George Washington to command the army.
      • Washington had never risen above the rank of colonel, and his
        largest command had only been of 1,200 men, but he was a tall figure
        who looked like a leader, and thus, was a morale boost to troops.
      • He radiated patience, courage, self-discipline, and a sense of
        justice, and though he insisted on working without pay, he did keep a
        careful expense account amounting to more than $100,000.

II. Bunker Hill and Hessian Hirelings

  1. In the first year, the war was one of consistency, as the colonists
    maintained their loyalty while still shooting at the king’s men.
  2. In May 1775, a tiny American force called the Green Mountain Boys,
    led by Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold, surprised and captured the
    British garrisons at Forts Ticonderoga and Crown Point

    • The importance of this raid lay in the fact that they captured much-needed cannons and gunpowder.
  3. In June 1775, the colonials seized Bunker Hill (prior known as Breed’s Hill).
    • Instead of flanking them, the Redcoats launched a frontal attack,
      and the heavily entrenched colonial sharpshooters mowed them down until
      meager gunpowder supplies ran out and they were forced to retreat.
  4. After Bunker Hill, George III slammed the door for all hope of
    reconciliation and declared the colonies to be in open rebellion, a
    treasonous affair.
  5. The king also hired many German mercenaries, called Hessians, who,
    because they were lured by booty and not duty, had large numbers desert
    and remained in America to become respectful citizens.

III. The Abortive Conquest of Canada

  1. In October 1775, the British burned Falmouth (Portland), Maine.
  2. The colonists decided that invading Canada would add a 14th colony
    and deprive Britain of a valuable base for striking at the colonies in

    • Also, the French-Canadians would support the Americans because they
      supposedly were bitter about Britain’s taking over of their land.
    • General Richard Montgomery captured Montreal.
    • At Quebec, he was joined by the bedraggled army of Gen. Benedict Arnold.
    • On the last day of 1775, in the assault of Quebec, Montgomery was
      killed and Arnold was wounded in one leg, and the whole campaign
      collapsed as the men retreated up the St. Lawrence River, reversing the
      way Montgomery had come.
    • Besides, the French-Canadians, who had welcomed the Quebec Act, didn’t really like the anti-Catholic invaders.
  3. In January 1776, the British set fire to Norfolk, Virginia, but in March, they were finally forced to evacuate Boston.
  4. In the South, the rebels won a victory against some 1,500 Loyalists
    at Moore’s Creek Bridge, in North Carolina, and against an
    invading British fleet at Charleston Harbor.

IV. Thomas Paine Preaches Common Sense

  1. In 1776, Thomas Paine published the pamphlet Common Sense, which
    urged colonials to stop this war of inconsistency, stop pretending
    loyalty, and just fight.
  2. Nowhere in the universe did a smaller body control a larger one, so
    Paine argued, saying it was unnatural for tiny Britain to control
    gigantic America.
  3. He called King George III “the Royal Brute of Great Britain.”

V. Paine and the Idea of “Republicanism”

  1. Paine argued his idea that there should be a “republic”
    where representative senators, governors, and judges should have their
    power from the consent of the people.
  2. He laced his ideas with Biblical imagery, familiar to common folk.
  3. His ideas about rejecting monarchy and empire and embrace an
    independent republic fell on receptive ears in America, though it
    should be noted that these ideas already existed.

    • The New Englanders already practiced this type of government in their town meetings.
  4. Some patriots, though, favored a republic ruled by a “natural aristocracy.”

VI. Jefferson’s “Explanation” of Independence

  1. Members of the Philadelphia 2nd Continental Congress, instructed by
    their colonies, gradually moved toward a clean break with Britain.
  2. On June 7, 1776, fiery Richard Henry Lee urged for complete independence, an idea that was finally adopted on July 2, 1776.
  3. To write such a statement, Congress appointed Thomas Jefferson,
    already renown as a great writer, to concoct a Declaration of

    • He did so eloquently, coming up with a list of grievances against
      King George III and persuasively explaining why the colonies had the
      right to revolt.
    • His “explanation” of independence also upheld the
      “natural rights” of humankind (life, liberty, and the
      pursuit of happiness).
  4. When Congress approved it on July 2nd, John Adams proclaimed that
    date to be celebrated from then on with fireworks, but because of
    editing and final approval, it was not completely approved until July
    4th, 1776.

VII. Patriots and Loyalists

  1. The War of Independence was a war within a war, as not all colonials were united.
    • There were Patriots, who supported rebellion and were called “Whigs.”
    • There were Loyalists, who supported the king and who often went to
      battle against fellow Americans. The Loyalists were also called
    • There were Moderates in the middle and those who didn’t care
      either way. These people were constantly being asked to join one side
      or another.
  2. During the war, the British proved that they could only control
    Tory areas, because when Redcoats packed up and left other areas, the
    rebels would regain control.
  3. Typical Loyalist (Tory)
    • Loyalists were generally conservatives, but the war divided
      families. For example, Benjamin Franklin was against his illegitimate
      son, William, the last royal governor of New Jersey.
    • Loyalists were most numerous where the Anglican Church was strongest (the South).
    • Loyalists were less numerous in New England, where Presbyterianism
      and Congregationalism flourished. Loyalists were more numerous in the
      aristocratic areas such as Charleston, SC.
  4. Typical Patriot
    • The Patriots were generally the younger generation, like Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry.
    • The Patriot militias constantly harassed small British detachments.
    • Patriots typically didn’t belong to the Anglican Church
      (Church of England) but were Congregational, Presbyterian, Baptist, or
  5. There were also those known as “profiteers” who sold to
    the highest bidder, selling to the British and ignoring starving,
    freezing soldiers (i.e. George Washington at Valley Forge).

VIII. The Loyalist Exodus

  1. After the Declaration of Independence, Loyalists and Patriots were
    more sharply divided, and Patriots often confiscated Loyalist property
    to resell it (an easy way to raise money).
  2. Some 50,000 Loyalists served the British in one way or another
    (fighting, spying, etc…), and it was an oddity that the Brits
    didn’t make more use of them during the war.

IX. General Washington at Bay

  1. After the evacuation of Boston, the British focused on New York as a base for operations.
    • An awe-inspiring fleet appeared off the coast in July 1776,
      consisting of some 500 ships and 35,000 men—the largest armed
      force seen in America ever until the Civil War.
    • Washington could only muster 18,000 ill-trained men to fight, and they were routed at the Battle of Long Island.
      • Washington escaped to Manhattan Island, crossed the Hudson River to
        New Jersey, reaching the Delaware River with taunting, fox-hunt calling
        Brits on his heels.
    • He crossed the Delaware River at Trenton on a cold December 26,
      1776, and surprised and captured a thousand Hessians who were sleeping
      off their Christmas Day celebration (drinking).
    • He then left his campfires burning as a ruse, slipped away, and
      inflicted a sharp defeat on a smaller British detachment at Princeton,
      showing his military genius at its best.
    • It was odd that Gen. William Howe, the British general,
      didn’t crush Washington when he was at the Delaware, but he well
      remembered Bunker Hill, and was cautious.

X. Burgoyne’s Blundering Invasion

  1. London officials adopted a complicated scheme for capturing the
    vital Hudson River valley in 1777, which, if successful, would sever
    New England from the rest of the colonies. The plan was such

    • General Burgoyne would push down the Lake Champlain route from Canada.
    • General Howe’s troops in New York, if needed, could advance up the Hudson and meet Burgoyne in Albany.
    • A third and much smaller British force commanded by Col. Barry St.
      Ledger would come in from the west by way of Lake Ontario and the
      Mohawk Valley.
  2. However, Benedict Arnold, after failure at Quebec, retreated slowly
    along the St. Lawrence back to Lake Champlain, where the British would
    have to win control (of the lake) before proceeding.

    • The Brits stopped to build a huge force, while Arnold assembled a tattered flotilla from whatever boats he could find.
    • His “navy” was destroyed, but he had gained valuable
      time, because winter set in and the British settled in Canada, thus,
      they would have to begin anew the next spring.

      • Had Arnold not contributed his daring and skill, the Brits most
        likely would have recaptured Ticonderoga and Burgoyne could have
        started from there and succeeded in his venture.
  3. Burgoyne began his mission with 7,000 troops and a heavy baggage
    train consisting of a great number of the officers’ wives.

    • Meanwhile, sneaky rebels, sensing the kill, were gathering along his flanks.
  4. General Howe, at a time when he should be starting up the Hudson, deliberately embarked for an attack on Philadelphia.
    • He wanted to force an encounter with Washington and leave the path
      wide open for Burgoyne’s thrust. He thought he had enough time to
      help Burgoyne if needed.
    • Washington transferred his troops to Philadelphia, but was defeated at Brandywine Creek and Germantown.
    • Then, the fun-loving Howe settled down in Philadelphia, leaving Burgoyne “to the dogs.”
    • Ben Franklin, in Paris, joked that Howe hadn’t captured
      Philadelphia, but that “Philadelphia had captured Howe.”
  5. Washington finally retired for the winter at Valley Forge, where
    his troops froze in the cold, but a recently arrived Prussian
    drillmaster, Baron von Steuben, whipped the cold troops into shape.
  6. Burgoyne’s doomed troops were bogged down, and the rebels
    swarmed in with a series of sharp engagements, pushing St. Legers force
    back at Oriskany while Burgoyne, unable to advance or retreat,
    surrendered his entire force at The Battle of Saratoga, on October 17,

    • This was perhaps one of the most decisive battles in British and American history.
    • The importance of Saratoga lay in the fact that afterwards, France
      sensed America might actually win and came out to officially help

XI. Revolution in Diplomacy?

  1. France was eager to get revenge on Britain, and secretly supplied the Americans throughout much of the war.
  2. The Continental Congress sent delegates to France. The delegates
    were guided by a “Model Treaty” which sought no political
    or military connections, but only commercial ones.

    • Ben Franklin played the diplomacy game by wearing simple gray
      clothes and a coonskin cap to supposedly exemplify a raw new America
  3. After the humiliation at Saratoga, the British offered the
    Americans a measure that gave them home rule—everything they
    wanted except independence.
  4. After Saratoga, France finally was persuaded to enter the war against Britain.
    • Louis XVI’s ministers argued that this was the perfect time
      to act, because if Britain regained control, she might then try to
      capture the French West Indies for compensation for the war.
    • Now was the time to strike, rather than risk a stronger Britain with its reunited colonies.
  5. France, in 1778, offered a treaty of alliance, offering America
    everything that Britain had offered, plus recognition of independence.

    • The Americans accepted the agreement with caution, since France was
      pro-Catholic, but since the Americans needed help, they’d take it.

XII. The Colonial War Becomes a Wider War

  1. In 1779, Spain and Holland entered the war against Britain.
  2. In 1780, Catherine the Great of Russia took the lead in organizing
    the Armed Neutrality (she later called it the Armed Nullity) that lined
    up all of Europe’s neutrals in passive hostility against England.
  3. America, though it kept the war going until 1778, didn’t win
    until France, Spain, and Holland joined in and Britain couldn’t
    handle them all.
  4. Britain, with the French now in the seas, decided to finally
    evacuate Philadelphia and concentrate their forces in New York, and
    even though Washington attacked them at Monmouth on a blisteringly hot
    day in which scores of men died of sunstroke, the British escaped to
    New York.

XIII. Blow and Counterblow

  1. French reinforcements, commanded by Comte de Rochambeau, arrived in
    Newport, Rhode Island in 1780, but flares sometimes erupted between the
    Americans and the French.
  2. In 1780, feeling unappreciated and lured by British gold, Gen.
    Benedict Arnold turned traitor by plotting with the British to sell out
    West Point.

    • When the plot was discovered, he fled with the British.
    • “Whom can we trust now?” cried George Washington in anguish.
  3. The British devised a plan to roll up the colonies from the South.
    • Georgia was ruthlessly overrun in 1778-1779.
    • Charleston, South Carolina, fell in 1780.
    • In the Carolinas, Patriots bitterly fought their Loyalist neighbors.
    • However, in 1781, American riflemen wiped out a British detachment
      at King’s Mountain, and then defeated a smaller force at Cowpens.
    • At the Carolina campaign of 1781, Quaker-reared tactician Gen.
      Nathanael Greene distinguished himself with his strategy of delay.

      • By slowly retreating and losing battles but winning campaigns, he
        helped clear the British out of most of Georgia and South Carolina.

XIV. The Land Frontier and the Sea Frontier

  1. 1777 was known as the “bloody year” on the frontier, as Indians went on a scalping spree.
  2. Most of the Indians supported Britain and believed that if they
    won, it would stop American expansion into the West, and save Indian
  3. Mohawk chief Joseph Brant, recently converted to Anglicanism, and
    his men ravaged the backcountry of Pennsylvania and New York until
    checked by the Americans in 1779.
  4. In 1784, the pro-British Iroquois (the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras
    had sided with the Americans, the other four with the British) signed
    the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, the first treaty between the U.S. and an
    Indian nation.

    • Under its terms, the Indians ceded most of their land.
  5. Even in wartime, pioneers moved west, showing their gratitude to
    the French with such town names as Louisville while remembering the
    revolution with Lexington, Kentucky.
  6. George Rogers Clark, an audacious frontiersman, floated down the
    Ohio River with about 175 men in 1778-1779 and captured forts
    Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and Vicennes in quick succession.
  7. The tiny American navy never really hurt the British warships, but
    it did destroy British merchant shipping and carried the war into the
    waters around the British Isles.
  8. Swift privateers preyed on enemy shipping, capturing many ships and forcing them to sail in convoys.

XV. Yorktown and the Final Curtain

  1. Before the last decisive victory, inflation continued to soar, and
    the government was virtually bankrupt. It announced that it could only
    repay many of its debts at a rate of 2.5 cents on the dollar.
  2. However, Cornwallis was blundering into a trap.
    • Retreating to Chesapeake Bay and assuming that British control of
      the seas would give him much needed backup, Cornwallis instead was
      trapped by Washington’s army, which had come 300 miles from NY,
      Rochambeau’s French army, and the navy of French Admiral de
  3. After hearing the news of Cornwallis’ defeat, Lord North cried, “Oh God! It’s all over!”
  4. Stubborn King George wanted to continue the war, since he still had
    54,000 troops in North America and 32,000 in the U.S., and fighting did
    continue for about a year after Yorktown, especially in the South, but
    America had won.

XVI. Peace at Paris

  1. Many Brits were weary of the war, since they had suffered heavily
    in India and the West Indies, the island of Minorca in the
    Mediterranean which had fallen, and the Rock of Gibraltar was tottering.
  2. Ben Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay met in Paris for a peace deal.
    • Jay suspected that France would try to keep the U.S. cooped up east of the Alleghenies and keep America weak.
    • Instead, Jay, thinking that France would betray American ambition
      to satisfy those of Spain, secretly made separate overtures to London
      (against instructions from Congress) and came to terms quickly with the
      British, who were eager to entice one of their enemies from the
  3. The Treaty of Paris of 1783
    • Britain formally recognized U.S. independence and granted generous
      boundaries, stretching majestically to the Mississippi River to the
      west, the Great Lakes on the north, and to Spanish Florida on the South.
    • The Yankees also retained a share in the priceless fisheries of Newfoundland.
    • Americans couldn’t persecute Loyalists, though, and Congress
      could only recommend legislature that would return or pay for
      confiscated Loyalist land.

XVII. A New Nation Legitimized

  1. Britain ceded so much land because it was trying to entice America from its French alliance.
    • Remember, George Rogers Clark had only conquered a small part of that western land.
  2. Also, during the time, the American-friendly Whigs were in control
    of the Parliament, which was not to be the case in later years.
  3. France approved the treaty, though with cautious eyes.
  4. In truth, America came out the big winner, and seldom, if ever, have any people been so favored.

XVIII. Makers of America: The Loyalists

  1. Loyalists were conservative, well-educated, and thought that a
    complete break with Britain would invite anarchy. They felt that
    America couldn’t win against the most powerful nation in the
  2. Many Britons had settled in America after the Seven Years’ War, and they had reason to support their home country.
  3. Thousands of African-Americans joined the British ranks for hope of freedom from bondage.
    • Many Black Loyalists won their freedom from Britain.
    • Others suffered betrayal, such as when Cornwallis abandoned over
      4,000 former slaves in Virginia and when many Black Loyalists boarded
      ships expecting to embark for freedom but instead found themselves sold
      back into slavery.
    • Some Black exiles settled in Britain, but weren’t really easily accepted.
  4. Most Loyalists remained in America, where they faced special
    burdens and struggled to re-establish themselves in a society that
    viewed them as traitors.
  5. Hugh Gaine, though, succeeded in building back his name.
    • He reopened his business and even won contracts from the new government.
    • He also published the new national army regulations authored by Baron von Steuben.
    • When New York ratified the Constitution in 1788, Gaine rode the float at the head of the city’s celebration parade.
    • He had, like many other former Loyalists, become an American.

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