History of the USA

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read bankruptcies resulting from dropping tobacco prices--and urged separation from Britain.


The current ideology among many colonists was that of republicanism. The radicalism of the 18th century, it called for grounding government in the people, giving them the vote, holding frequent elections, abolishing established churches, and separating the powers of government to guard against tyranny. Republicans also advocated that most offices be elective and that government be kept simple, limited, and respectful of the rights of citizens.


Deterioration of Imperial Ties


In this prickly atmosphere Londons heavy-handedness caused angry reactions on the part of Americans. The Quartering Act of 1765 ordered colonial assemblies to house the standing army; to override the resulting protests in America, London suspended the New York assembly until it capitulated. In 1767 the TOWNSHEND ACTS levied tariffs on many articles imported into the colonies. These imports were designed to raise funds to pay wages to the army as well as to the royal governors and judges, who had formerly been dependent on colonial assemblies for their salaries. Nonimportation associations immediately sprang up in the colonies to boycott British goods. When mob attacks prevented commissioners from enforcing the revenue laws, part of the army was placed (1768) in Boston to protect the commissioners. This action confirmed the colonists suspicion that the troops were maintained in the colonies to deprive them of their liberty. In March 1770 a group of soldiers fired into a crowd that was harassing them, killing five persons; news of the BOSTON MASSACRE spread through the colonies.


The chastened ministry in London now repealed all the Townshend duties except for that on tea. Nonetheless, the economic centralization long reflected in the NAVIGATION ACTS--which compelled much of the colonial trade to pass through Britain on its way to the European continent--served to remind colonials of the heavy price exacted from them for membership in the empire. The Sugar Act of 1764, latest in a long line of such restrictive measures, produced by its taxes a huge revenue for the crown. By 1776 it drained from the colonies about 600,000 pounds sterling, an enormous sum. The colonial balance of trade with England was always unfavorable for the Americans, who found it difficult to retain enough cash to purchase necessary goods.


In 1772 the crown, having earlier declared its right to dismiss colonial judges at its pleasure, stated its intention to pay directly the salaries of governors and judges in Massachusetts. Samuel ADAMS, for many years a passionate republican, immediately created the intercolonial Committee of Correspondence. Revolutionary sentiment mounted. In December 1773 swarms of colonials disguised as Mohawks boarded recently arrived tea ships in Boston harbor, flinging their cargo into the water. The furious royal government responded to this BOSTON TEA PARTY by the so-called INTOLERABLE ACTS of 1774, practically eliminating self-government in Massachusetts and closing Bostons port.


Virginia moved to support Massachusetts by convening the First CONTINENTAL CONGRESS in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774. It drew up declarations of rights and grievances and called for nonimportation of British goods. Colonial militia began drilling in the Massachusetts countryside. New Englanders were convinced that they were soon to have their churches placed under the jurisdiction of Anglican bishops. They believed, as well, that the landowning British aristocracy was determined, through the levying of ruinous taxes, to reduce the freeholding yeomanry of New England to the status of tenants. The word "slavery" was constantly on their lips.


The War for Independence


In April 1775, Gen. Thomas GAGE in Boston was instructed to take the offensive against the Massachusetts troublemakers, now declared traitors to the crown. Charged with bringing an end to the training of militia and gathering up all arms and ammunition in colonial hands, on April 19, Gage sent a body of 800 soldiers to Concord to commandeer arms. On that day, the Battles of LEXINGTON AND CONCORD took place, royal troops fled back to Boston, and American campfires began burning around the city. The war of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION had begun.


It soon became a world war, with Englands European enemies gladly joining in opposing England in order to gain revenge for past humiliations. British forces were engaged in battle from the Caribbean and the American colonies to the coasts of India. Furthermore, the United Colonies, as the Continental Congress called the rebelling 13 colonies, were widely scattered in a huge wilderness and were occupied by a people most of whom were in arms. The dispersion of the American population meant that the small (by modern standards) cities of New York, Boston, and Philadelphia could be taken and held for long periods without affecting the outcome.


LOYALISTS numbered about 60,000, living predominantly along the coast where people of English ethnic background and anglicized culture were most numerous, but they were widely separated and weak. Pennsylvanias Quakers had looked to the crown as their protector against the Scots-Irish and other militant groups in Pennsylvania. The Quakers were appalled at the rebellion, aggressively led in the Middle Colonies by the Presbyterian Scots-Irish, and refused to lend it support. London deluded itself, however, with the belief that the Loyalists represented a majority that would soon resume control and end the conflict.


Within a brief period after the Battle of Concord, practically all royal authority disappeared from the 13 colonies. Rebel governments were established in each colony, and the Continental Congress in Philadelphia provided a rudimentary national government. The task now before the British was to fight their way back onto the continent, reestablish royal governments in each colony, and defeat the colonial army. By March 1776 the British evacuated Boston, moving to take and hold New York City. Within days of the British arrival in New York, however, the Congress in Philadelphia issued (July 4) the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. In December 1776, Gen. George WASHINGTON reversed the early trend of American defeats by a stunning victory at Trenton, N.J. (see TRENTON, BATTLE OF). Thereafter, as the fighting wore on and the cause survived, Washington became in America and abroad a symbol of strength and great bravery.


In February 1778 the French joined the conflict by signing an alliance with the Continental Congress. With the aid of the French fleet the British army in the north was reduced to a bridgehead at New York City. Shifting its efforts to the south, the royal army campaigned through Georgia and the Carolinas between 1778 and 1780, marching to the James Peninsula, in Virginia, in 1781. Here, in the YORKTOWN CAMPAIGN, by the combined efforts of Washingtons troops and the French army and navy, Lord CORNWALLIS was forced to surrender on Oct. 19, 1781. The fighting, effectively, was over. In September 1783 the Treaty of Paris secured American independence on generous terms. The new nation was given an immense domain that ran westward to the Mississippi River (except for Britains Canadian colonies and East and West Florida, which reverted to Spanish rule).




The first federal constitution of the new American republic was the ARTICLES OF CONFEDERATION. With ratification of that document in 1781, the nation had adopted its formal name, the United States of America.


Government under the Articles of Confederation


Under the Articles the only national institution was the Confederation Congress, with limited powers not unlike those of the United Nations. The states retained their sovereignty, with each state government selecting representatives to sit in the Congress. No national executive or judiciary had been established. Each state delegation received an equal vote on all issues. Congress was charged with carrying on the foreign relations of the United States, but because it had no taxing powers (it could only request funds from the states), it had no strength to back up its diplomacy. In addition, it had no jurisdiction over interstate commerce; each state could erect tariffs against its neighbors.


The Confederation Congress, however, achieved one great victory: it succeeded in bringing all 13 of the states to agree on a plan for organizing and governing the western territories (the "public lands") beyond the Appalachians. Each state ceded its western claims to the Congress, which in three ordinances dealing with the Northwest (1784, 1785, and 1787) provided that new states established in the western regions would be equal in status to the older ones. After a territorial stage of quasi self-government, they would pass to full statehood. The land in the NORTHWEST TERRITORY (the Old Northwest, that is, the area north of the Ohio River) would be surveyed in square parcels, 6 mi (9.7 km) on a side, divided into 36 sections, and sold to settlers at low cost; one plot would be reserved for the support of public schools. Furthermore, slavery was declared illegal in the Northwest Territory. (The Southwest Territory, below the Ohio, was organized by the later federal Congress in 1790 as slave country.)


The Confederation Congress, however, did not survive. Because of its lack of taxing power, its currency was of little value; widespread soc