THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
Referat Limba Engleza -
Facultatea de Litere si Istorie
Sectia Istorie - Muzeologie
THE WAR OF INDEPENDENCE
The events of 1773 and 1774 had culminated in a
revolutionary crisis. And the events of 1775 were to determine weather the
differences between England
and the colonies would be compromised or fought out on the battlefield. In
1774, the colonists gave an ominous hint that it might be too late for
compromise when they organized extra-legal provincial congresses to act as
state governments. In fact most of the delegates to the First Continental
Congress had been appointed by these governments.
In April 1775 General Gage received orders to arrest
some of the leaders of the Massachusetts
patriots. Gage decided to go beyond these orders and to seize the military
stores his spies had informed him were being assembled in the village of Concord.
He neither caught the rebel leaders, nor completely destroyed the military
supplies. A troop of 700 British regulars did reach Concord
on April 19, 1775 after scattering some slight resistance at Lexington. And they managed to destroy some
of the riffles and ammunition that the colonists had been unable to hide. Then,
as the British turned back to Boston,
they were set upon by angry Minute Men who peppered them from behind fences and
trees. After the raid, the British counted 273 dead, wounded, and missing; the
Americans had lost 93. Far more important than the skirmish itself
were the propaganda possibilities it dropped into the patriots’ hands. They
concocted chilling reports of British atrocities and rapine, and convinced many
of the colonists that Britain
was thirsting for American blood.
On May 10, 1775, the Second Continental Congress met in
By June, 65 delegates had arrived, representing all 13 colonies. None of them
could have imagined that they were to continue in session with only brief
recesses for the next 14 years. They were a distinguished group; sitting among
them were the men who were to be the first three presidents of the United States.
The Congress would support the action Massachusetts had taken,
and yet there was no formal resolve that the Continental Congress creates a
Continental army, whose existence was recognized only in an off-hand
announcement of the Congress.
The Congress was almost unanimous in choosing Washington as
commander-in-chief of the American forces. Like many an American leader to
had some qualities to satisfy every group.
The choice of Washington
as commander-in-chief was a fortunate one. True, Washington did not turn out to be a
brilliant tactician. His courage, tenacity, honesty, and dignity were in the
long run more vital to success than was military genius.
Now that a commanding general had been named, the
Second Continental Congress turned to the delicate task of defining just what is policy was to be toward Britain. On July 6, 1775, it set
forth the reasons for resisting General Gage in a “Declaration of the Causes
and Necessity of Taking up Arms”.
At the same time, Congress adopted the “Olive Branch
Petition”, which had been drawn up by John Dickinson. Here we have a measure of
the wide division of opinion among the delegates. This petition put the blame
for the colonial disorders on the King’s ministers, and begged the King to keep
Parliament from further tyranny until a plan of reconciliation could be worked
out. Apparently the moderates still hoped that Parliament would repeal the
Coercive Acts withdraw the redcoats, and renounce its claim to legislate for
the colonies. But the petition reached George III in August he refused to
receive it, brushing it aside on the grounds that it had been written by a
disloyal and illegal group. He responded with a proclamation of his own,
announcing that the Americans were to be considered rebels and that all loyal
persons should refrain from offering them any assistance.
While the politicians were still debating in Philadelphia, soldiers
had thrown themselves into action in the field. After the crippled British
troops had made there way from Concord back to Boston, hundreds of American militiamen came streaming in
from the countryside to take up positions on the heights overlooking Boston. General Gage
strengthened by fresh troops, decided that he would drive the patriots from Breed’s Hill. And in the engagement of June 17, 1775, now
known as the Battle of Bunker Hill, he did manage to dislodge the Americans,
but at a frightful cost. This was the bloodiest battle of the war. The
Americans lost almost 400 men, and the English more than 1,000. Two weeks
later, General Washington arrived outside Boston
to take command of loosely organized companies he had yet to forge into a
fighting army. He had heavy cannon pulled all the way from recently captured fort Ticonderoga
in New York, and in March, 1776, he had them
mounted on Dorchester Heights overlooking Boston.
In May, 1775, the Vermonter Ethan Allen had made an
unauthorized but successful raid against the British posts at Crown
Point and Ticonderoga. Now Washington decided to take Quebec
and try to win control of all Canada.
In accordance with his plan, two separate forces, one
led by Richard Montgomery and the other by Benedict Arnold, invaded Canada in the
fall and winter of 1775. The able Montgomery
took Montreal and went on to meet Arnold outside Quebec.
The combined forces now made a heroic assault upon Quebec against superior numbers in a
blinding snowstorm on December 31, 1775. Montgomery
was killed, Arnold
was wounded, and the attack failed. Arnold
retired to Ticonderoga, which he reached in
June. The expedition had been a ghastly fiasco, with about 5,000 men lost.
The average Englishman had no heart for the fight
against the colonials, and there was nothing like a national draft. So the government
was obliged to look around for foreign mercenaries in order to assemble the
troops that were needed in America.
The Empress of Russia refused to supply soldiers, but six petty princes in
south and west
Germany were happy to sell the services of their
subjects for cash. Almost 30,000 mercenaries ultimately served with the British
army in America.
Colonial propagandists, notably Benjamin Franklin, were quick to exploit this
move, and their protests were echoed by America’s sympathizers in
The British resolution to press the war vigorously,
coupled with the announcement that mercenaries had been hired to help fight it,
stiffened the will of those Americans how had already taken a stand for
independence. Even a year after Lexington and Concord most Americans had not decided that freedom from England was
what they really wanted.
Early in 1776 there appeared in Philadelphia a pamphlet from the hand of
Thomas Paine which did much to push public opinion to accept what had in fact
become inevitable. In clear and persuasive prose, Paine listed the advantages
the colonies would enjoy once they had formed themselves into an independent
nation: free trade with the countries of the world, release from Britain’s
European conflicts, freedom from having to appeal to a
court 3,000 miles away.
Many of the colonists had already accepted the logic
and the consequences of separation from the mother country. Talk of English
tenderness in the past and threats of English punishment in the future left
them unmoved. On April 6, 1776, the Congress had already opened American ports
to the commerce of all nations of the world except Britain. In itself this was a
revolutionary act which put the Americans commercially outside the empire and
set them in defiance of its regulation. As the members of Congress realized
when they debated this step, it made a declaration of independence inevitable.
The gains of independence would surely outweigh the advantages of even the most
favorable position within the empire. On July 2, 1776, the Congress at Philadelphia voted for
independence. On July 4, it adopted the Declaration of Independence, which had
been drawn up chiefly by Thomas Jefferson.