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History of the United States by Charles A. Beard and Mary R. Beard

«·Peace at Last · CHAPTER VI·»

Summary of the Revolutionary Period

The independence of the American colonies was foreseen by many European statesmen as they watched the growth of their population, wealth, and power; but no one could fix the hour of the great event. Until 1763 the American colonists lived fairly happily under British dominion. There were collisions from time to time, of course. Royal governors clashed with stiff-necked colonial legislatures. There were protests against the exercise of the king’s veto power in specific cases. Nevertheless, on the whole, the relations between America and the mother country were more amicable in 1763 than at any period under the Stuart régime which closed in 1688.

The crash, when it came, was not deliberately willed by any one. It was the product of a number of forces that happened to converge about 1763. Three years before, there had come to the throne George III, a young, proud, inexperienced, and stubborn king. For nearly fifty years his predecessors, Germans as they were in language and interest, had allowed things to drift in England and America. George III decided that he would be king in fact as well as in name. About the same time England brought to a close the long and costly French and Indian War and was staggering under a heavy burden of debt and taxes. The war had been fought partly in defense of the American colonies and nothing seemed more reasonable to English statesmen than the idea that the colonies should bear part of the cost of their own defense. At this juncture there came into prominence, in royal councils, two men bent on taxing America and controlling her trade, Grenville and Townshend. The king was willing, the English taxpayers were thankful for any promise of relief, and statesmen were found to undertake the experiment. England therefore set out upon a new course. She imposed taxes upon the colonists, regulated their trade and set royal officers upon them to enforce the law. This action evoked protests from the colonists. They held a Stamp Act Congress to declare their rights and petition for a redress of grievances. Some of the more restless spirits rioted in the streets, sacked the houses of the king’s officers, and tore up the stamped paper.

Frightened by uprising, the English government drew back and repealed the Stamp Act. Then it veered again and renewed its policy of interference. Interference again called forth American protests. Protests aroused sharper retaliation. More British regulars were sent over to keep order. More irritating laws were passed by Parliament. Rioting again appeared: tea was dumped in the harbor of Boston and seized in the harbor of Charleston. The British answer was more force. The response of the colonists was a Continental Congress for defense. An unexpected and unintended clash of arms at Lexington and Concord in the spring of 1775 brought forth from the king of England a proclamation: “The Americans are rebels!”

The die was cast. The American Revolution had begun. Washington was made commander-in-chief. Armies were raised, money was borrowed, a huge volume of paper currency was issued, and foreign aid was summoned. Franklin plied his diplomatic arts at Paris until in 1778 he induced France to throw her sword into the balance. Three years later, Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown. In 1783, by the formal treaty of peace, George III acknowledged the independence of the United States. The new nation, endowed with an imperial domain stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, began its career among the sovereign powers of the earth.

In the sphere of civil government, the results of the Revolution were equally remarkable. Royal officers and royal authorities were driven from the former dominions. All power was declared to be in the people. All the colonies became states, each with its own constitution or plan of government. The thirteen states were united in common bonds under the Articles of Confederation. A republic on a large scale was instituted. Thus there was begun an adventure in popular government such as the world had never seen. Could it succeed or was it destined to break down and be supplanted by a monarchy? The fate of whole continents hung upon the answer.


J. Fiske, The American Revolution (2 vols.).

H. Lodge, Life of Washington (2 vols.).

W. Sumner, The Financier and the Finances of the American Revolution.

O. Trevelyan, The American Revolution (4 vols.). A sympathetic account by an English historian.

M.C. Tyler, Literary History of the American Revolution (2 vols.).

C.H. Van Tyne, The American Revolution (American Nation Series) and The Loyalists in the American Revolution.


1. What was the non-importation agreement? By what body was it adopted? Why was it revolutionary in character?

2. Contrast the work of the first and second Continental Congresses.

3. Why did efforts at conciliation fail?

4. Trace the growth of American independence from opinion to the sphere of action.

5. Why is the Declaration of Independence an “immortal” document?

6. What was the effect of the Revolution on colonial governments? On national union?

7. Describe the contest between “Patriots” and “Tories.”

8. What topics are considered under “military affairs”? Discuss each in detail.

9. Contrast the American forces with the British forces and show how the war was won.

10. Compare the work of women in the Revolutionary War with their labors in the World War (1917-18).

11. How was the Revolution financed?

12. Why is diplomacy important in war? Describe the diplomatic triumph of the Revolution.

13. What was the nature of the opposition in England to the war?

14. Give the events connected with the peace settlement; the terms of peace.

Research Topics

The Spirit of America.—Woodrow Wilson, History of the American People, Vol. II, pp. 98-126.

American Rights.—Draw up a table showing all the principles laid down by American leaders in (1) the Resolves of the First Continental Congress, Macdonald, Documentary Source Book, pp. 162-166; (2) the Declaration of the Causes and the Necessity of Taking Up Arms, Macdonald, pp. 176-183; and (3) the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence.—Fiske, The American Revolution, Vol. I, pp. 147-197. Elson, History of the United States, pp. 250-254.

Diplomacy and the French Alliance.—Hart, American History Told by Contemporaries, Vol. II, pp. 574-590. Fiske, Vol. II, pp. 1-24. Callender, Economic History of the United States, pp. 159-168; Elson, pp. 275-280.

Biographical Studies.—Washington, Franklin, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson—emphasizing the peculiar services of each.

The Tories.—Hart, Contemporaries, Vol. II, pp. 470-480.

Valley Forge.—Fiske, Vol. II, pp. 25-49.

The Battles of the Revolution.—Elson, pp. 235-317.

An English View of the Revolution.—Green, Short History of England, Chap. X, Sect. 2.

English Opinion and the Revolution.—Trevelyan, The American Revolution, Vol. III (or Part 2, Vol. II), Chaps. XXIV-XXVII.

«·Peace at Last · CHAPTER VI·»