The American Revolution

The American Revolution

The Battles of Lexington & Concord marked the beginning of the fighting of the American Revolution, although there are historians who maintain that the separation was inevitable (Paine) & that it started the moment the first Englishman set foot in the New World.  After April 19, 1775, there was no turning back.  British General Gates in Boston told his government, “These people are now spirited up by a rage of enthusiasm as great as people ever were possessed of & you must proceed in earnest or give up the business”.  But in the next few months, thousands of native-born Americans would side with the king and become Loyalists, or Tories.


We tend to think of the Loyalists as rich, members of the upper class & mostly confined to the southern colonies/states.  Actually, Loyalists came from every socio-economic class & from every geographic area.  The British made the same mistake when it came to where they thought their support & American opposition were located.  The British thought if they could just isolate New England from the rest of the colonies, the matter could be solved. 


The Loyalists were not treated well by the patriots.  Many were tarred & feathered.  Many were forced to leave for fear of their lives.  Thousands fled to Canada with only what they could carry  (over 80,000).   There they lived the rest of their lives, many in poverty.


We tend to think of the American Revolution as a struggle between oppressed colonists & foreign invaders.  That was not quire the case.  The American Revolution was more like a civil war pitting American against American.  Sometimes a father would fight on one side while his son fought for the other.


John Adams said that the division was 1/3, 1/3 & 1/3. The war was a battle for the hearts, minds & loyalty of that 1/3 who were not sure.


We have perpetuated the myth that the Loyalists were an insignificant minority & played no important role in the Revolution.  That is just one of several myths that have grown up out of the American Revolution & in American History.  Actually, almost as many Americans fought in the British army as in Washington’s Continental Army – 9,000 to 8,000.


If we have ignored the role of the Loyalists, we have put a lot of energy into chronicling the role of the minutemen.  We see the minuteman as a small farmer who was an excellent marksman & who fought guerrilla style against the British regular army.


Unfortunately, that just was not the case.  The average minuteman was from the lower, not middle, class. Most were not farmers.  Many were unemployed. Most lived in towns or cities.


They were not marksmen.  Even the farmers among them, ir they hunted, used buckshot.  They didn’t get better for most of the wat because they were always short of powder.


They did not use guerrilla tactics on a large scale (for the most part only on the frontier).  It was a good thing they did not.  Atrocities would have been more widespread if they ahd.


The Americans would win the war not because they fought guerrilla style against the British regular army, but because Washington would eventually have an army that could take on the British using the same tactics as the British.


Throughout our history, we have perpetuated the myth of the minuteman: the citizen who would put down his plow & pick up his sword to defend his country.  This myth has led us  to feel no need for a lage standing army in peacetime.  Of course, part of that feeling is the fact that in a democracy there is a natural fear of a large standing army.  But, again, part of it is the feeling that our citizen militia was always there ready to spring into action.


This was a war in which the British probably could not have won, being who they were. Washington’s strategy played upon Britain’s weaknesses.  He knew that his “army “ could not stand toe to toe against the British  army.  Therefore, he avoided pitched battles.  He was content to harass the British & keep his army intact until the British grew tired of the losses or decided that they could not win.  Either that or until the Americans could receive foreign help.

Washington’s strategy was to avoid major battles, harass the British & hold on.


He did not have to defeat the British army.  They had to defeat his army.  As long as he could keep his army together & in the field, the British could not win.


The British were hampered in that they had to carry on a war in unfamiliar territory thousands of miles from home.  There were only two ways to defeat the Americans.  They could destroy the American population or destroy the American county.  Fortunately those options are not within the British character.  They cannot be that brutal.  Therefore, time was Washington’s main ally.


The Americans would finally develop an army capable of defeating the British army fighting in traditional European tactics.  This they could not have done without the aid of the French & the Spanish.  The main diplomatic goal of the Americans during the war was to get help from France & Spain.  Almost from the beginning the Americans had a delegation in Paris trying to get that alliance.  Tell why French government give secret aid but not openly help the Americans.


Finally – Battle of Saratoga.  Military  alliance.  Now American Revolution turned into a world war.


Britain is faced with a dilemma.  They could keep fighting in America in a war that might take many years to win, even if they could win.  But the resources they would have to devote to keeping America might make the rest of their empire vulnerable to the French & Spanish. 

SO they decided to follow the advice of a great American philosophy.  The Americans were also ready to end the war.  The French presented a problem.  Part of the Franco-American alliance was that neither France nor the U. S. would make peace without the consent of the other.  France was not ready to end the war yet.  The American delegates met with thew British separately & made the Peace of Paris, 1783.  The French were very angry, but had no choice but to fall in line.


The American Revolution was over.  The treaty recognized the independence of the U. S., set the boundaries of the U. S., provided for the payment of debts owed to British citizens & for the removal of British troops & installations from American soil.


A new nation is ready to enter the stage of world politics.  What kind of a nation would it be?  Would it play a major role in world affairs.  Would it even stay a united nation?  We will try to answer those questions the rest of this semester.