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American War Of Independence: 1775 - 1783

The War of Independence plays such an important part in American popular ideology that references to it are especially prone to exaggeration and oversimplification. And two uncomfortable truths about it - the fact that it was a civil war (perhaps 100,000 loyalists fled abroad at its end), and that it was also a world war (the Americans could scarcely have won without French help) - are often forgotten.



In part the deterioration of relations between Britain and her American colonies - which eventually led to the War of Independence - stemmed from a logical British attempt to make the colonies contribute more to the cost of their own defence. It was also partly the result of the desire of some successful merchants in the colonies to break free of controls imposed by the pro-British elite, and from British political miscalculations that saw foreign policy oscillate between harshness and surrender. Another factor was the work of radical politicians and propagandists - such as Sam Adams and Paul Revere - who envisaged a break with Britain when many of their countrymen still hoped that it might be avoided.

The descent into armed conflict between patriot (anti-British) and loyalist (pro-British) sympathisers was gradual. Events like the Boston 'Massacre' of 1770, when British troops fired on a mob that had attacked a British sentry outside Boston's State House, and the Boston 'tea-party' of 1773, when British-taxed tea was thrown into the harbour, marked the downward steps. Less obvious was the take-over of the colonial militias - which had initially been formed to provide local defence against the French and the Native Americans - by officers in sympathy the the American patrios/rebels, rather than by those in sympathy with pro-British loyalists/Tories.

The Boston Tea Party

The Boston Tea Party was a direct action by colonists in Boston, a town in the British colony of Massachusetts, against the British government. On December 16, 1773, after officials in Boston refused to return three shiploads of taxed tea to Britain, a group of colonists boarded the ships and destroyed the tea by throwing it into Boston Harbor. The incident remains an iconic event of American history, and reference is often made to it in other political protests.

On Thursday, December 16, 1773, the evening before the tea was due to be landed, on a signal given by Samuel Adams, the Sons of LibertyMohawk Indians, left the massive protest meeting and headed toward Griffin’s Wharf, where lay HMS thinly disguised as Dartmouth and her newly arrived, tea bearing, sister ships HMS Beaver and HMS Eleanour. Swiftly and efficiently, casks of tea were brought up from the hold to the deck, reasonable proof that some of the “Indians” were, in fact, longshoremen. The casks were opened and the tea dumped overboard; the work, lasting well into the night, was quick, thorough, and efficient. By dawn, 90,000 lbs (45 tons) of tea had been consigned to waters of Boston harbor. Nothing else had been damaged or stolen, except a single padlock accidentally broken and anonymously replaced not long thereafter. Tea washed up on the shores around Boston for weeks.

French involvement in the war made it possible for the colonies to defeat Britain


Historians have often sought to explain why Great Britain lost a war which few at the time expected them to lose. Britain had a number of military advantages at the outset: vastly superior naval power, a professional military (by 18th century standards), and far greater financial resources. Furthermore, the Americans often faced shortages of military supplies, and had a traditional distrust of central government and standing armies which made the maintenance of a national military force extremely difficult.

On the other hand, the British had significant military disadvantages. Distance was a major problem: most troops and supplies had to be shipped 3,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. The British usually had logistical problems whenever they operated away from port cities, while the Americans had local sources of manpower and food, and were more familiar with (and acclimated to) the territory. Additionally, ocean travel meant that British communications were always about two months out of date: by the time British generals in America received their orders from London, the military situation had usually changed.

Suppressing a rebellion in America also posed other problems. Since the colonies covered a large area and had not been united before the war, there was no central area of strategic importance. In Europe, the capture of a capital often meant the end of a war; in America, when the British seized cities such as New York and Philadelphia, the war continued unabated. Furthermore, the large size of the colonies meant that the British lacked the manpower to control them by force. Once any area had been occupied, troops had to be kept there or the Revolutionaries would regain control, and these troops were thus unavailable for further offensive operations. The British had sufficient troops to defeat the Americans on the battlefield, but not enough to simultaneously occupy the colonies. This manpower shortage became critical after French and Spanish entry into the war, because British troops had to be dispersed in several theaters, where previously they had been concentrated in America.

The British also had the difficult task of fighting the war while simultaneously retaining the allegiance of Loyalists. Loyalist support was important, since the goal of the war was to keep the colonies in the British Empire, but this imposed a number of military limitations. Early in the war, the Howe brothers served as peace commissioners while simultaneously conducting the war effort, a dual role which may have limited their effectiveness. Additionally, the British could have recruited more slaves and American Indians to fight the war, but this would have alienated many Loyalists, even more so than the controversial hiring of Germans. The need to retain Loyalist allegiance also meant that the British were unable to use the harsh methods of suppressing rebellion employed in Ireland and Scotland. Even with these limitations, many potentially neutral colonists were nonetheless driven into the ranks of the Revolutionaries because of the war.

Source: solarnavigator


The American militiamen were not well organized. They did have a new commander-in-chief, General George Washington. They did not have a standing army. There was no navy. Volunteers for the fighting were overconfident, and many lacked any military training. Despite these factors, some American fighters did have experience fighting in previous conflicts.

Another problem that confronted Americans during the American Revolution was that of Loyalists, those who chose to remain loyal to the mother country, and those who occasionally were British supporters. In 1780, the Americans suffered a major blow to their hopes when one of their heroes, General Benedict Arnold, joined the British army.

 Cornwallis surrenders at Yorktown. Cornwallis (claiming illness) was not present. Washington is on horseback in the background because the British commander was absent and military protocol dictated Washington have a subordinate (Benjamin Lincoln) accept the surrender

Sporadic fighting continued after Cornwallis surrendered in 1781. In March 1782, the British prime minister was replaced. Colonial negotiators began to assemble in Paris. Congress had given Benjamin Franklin, John Jay, and John Adams instructions not to negotiate without the aid of the French, but these three men did not follow their orders. The French were eager to see their European rivals defeated, but also had hopes of keeping the Americans weakened, which would aid the Spanish, another French ally, with its own interests in North America. America would also serve as a strong overseas market and continual ally. The American delegates secretly opened negotiations with the British, and a temporary treaty was reached in 1782, but the final treaty came a year later. The new treaty recognized the colonies as being independent from British rule and established a normalization of relations that would lead eventually to a strong relationship of trust and coexistence.

Boston 'Massacre' of 1770, when British troops fired on a mob that had attacked a British sentry outside Boston's State House was one of causes of the war


The total loss of life resulting from the American Revolutionary War is unknown. As was typical in the wars of the era, disease claimed more lives than battle. The war took place during a massive North American smallpox epidemic which probably killed more than 130,000 people. Historian Joseph Ellis suggests that Washington's decision to have his troops inoculated may have been the commander-in-chief's most important strategic decision.

An estimated 25,000 American Revolutionaries died during active military service. About 8,000 of these deaths were in battle; the other 17,000 deaths were from disease, including about 8,000 who died while prisoners of war. The number of Revolutionaries seriously wounded or disabled by the war has been estimated from 8,500 to 25,000. The total American military casualty figure was therefore as high as 50,000.

About 171,000 seamen served for the British during the war; about 25 to 50 percent of them had been pressed into service. About 1,240 were killed in battle, while 18,500 died from disease. The greatest killer was scurvy, a disease known at the time to be easily preventable by issuing lemon juice to sailors, a step not taken by the Admiralty due to what historian Piers Mackesy characterized as "administrative apathy". About 42,000 British seamen deserted during the war.

Approximately 1,200 Germans were killed in action and 6,354 died from illness or accident. About 16,000 of the remaining German troops returned home, but roughly 5,500 remained in the United States after the war for various reasons, many eventually becoming American citizens. No reliable statistics exist for the number of casualties among other groups, including Loyalists, British regulars, American Indians, French and Spanish troops, and civilians.



The Americans of 1776 had the highest standard of living and the lowest taxes in the Western World!

Farmers, lawyers and business owners in the Colonies were thriving, with some plantation owners and merchants making the equivalent of $500,000 a year. Times were good for many others too. The British wanted a slice of the cash flow and tried to tax the Colonists. They resisted violently, convinced that their prosperity and their liberty were at stake. Virginia's Patrick Henry summed up their stance with his cry: "Give me liberty or give me death!"

There were two Boston tea parties!

Everyone knows how 50 or 60 "Sons of Liberty," disguised as Mohawks, protested the 3 cents per pound British tax on tea by dumping chests of the popular drink into Boston Harbor on December 16, 1773. Fewer know that the improper Bostonians repeated the performance on March 7, 1774. The two tea parties cost the British around $3 million in modern money.

John Adams defended the British Soldiers after the Boston Massacre!

Captain Thomas Preston led some British Soldiers to aid another British Soldier who was having things thrown at him and was also hit several times with a board. After their arrival, the people continued to pelt the soldiers and finally shots were fired and the infamous "Boston Massacre" was over. Captain Thomas Preston and eight soldiers were charged with murder. Future President John Adams took up the defense of the soldiers. He, along with Joshua Quincy, was able to get all but two acquitted by a local jury. Those two were found guilty of manslaughter, but claimed benefit of clergy. This means that they were allowed to make penance instead of being executed. To insure that they never could use benefit of clergy again they were both branded on the thumbs.

By 1779, as many as one in seven Americans in Washington's army was black!

At first Washington was hesitant about enlisting blacks. But when he heard they had fought well at Bunker Hill, he changed his mind. The all-black First Rhode Island Regiment -- composed of 33 freedmen and 92 slaves who were promised freedom if they served until the end of the war -- distinguished itself in the Battle of Newport. Later, they were all but wiped out in a British attack.

By 1779, there were more Americans fighting with the British than with Washington!

There were no less than 21 regiments (estimated to total 6,500 to 8,000 men) of loyalists in the British army. Washington reported a field army of 3,468. About a third of Americans opposed the Revolution.

At Yorktown, the victory that won the war, Frenchman outnumbered Americans almost three to one!

Washington had 11,000 men engaged in the battle, while the French had at least 29,000 soldiers and sailors. The 37 French ships-of-the-line played a crucial role in trapping the 8,700 strong British army and winning the engagement.

King George almost abdicated the throne when the British lost!

After Yorktown, George III vowed to keep fighting. When parliament demurred, the King wrote a letter of abdication -- then withdrew it. He tried to console himself with the thought that Washington would become a dictator and make the Americans long for royal rule. When he was told that Washington planned to resign his commission, the monarch gasped: "If he does that, sir, he will be the greatest man in the world."


--Washington's experiences as a young man made it seem unlikely that he would ever live long enough to achieve greatness. He suffered from malaria, smallpox, pleurisy, and dysentery, all before he was 30. On his way back from the famous expedition to the French Fort le Boeuf, he fell off his raft in an icy river and nearly drowned. Later in the same trip he was shot at (and missed) by an Indian standing less than 50' away. In Braddock's Defeat in 1755, 4 bullets punctured Washington's coat and 2 horses were shot out from under him, but the young officer somehow emerged unscathed.

--In 1755, in the midst of an election campaign for seats in the Virginia assembly, 23-year-old Colonel Washington said something insulting to a hot-tempered little fellow named Payne, who promptly knocked him down with a hickory stick. Soldiers rushed up to avenge Washington, who got to his feet just in time to tell them that he could take care of himself, thank you. The next day he wrote Payne a letter requesting an interview at a tavern. When Payne arrived, he naturally expected a demand for an apology and a challenge to a duel. Instead, Washington apologized for the insult that had provoked the blow, hoped that Payne was satisfied, and then generously offered his hand.

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Points to Ponder: Why Is China Unstable?

The aim of individuals in any society is money and power. Societies that give equal chance to all its members to get them will be the most stable. That is why democracies are more stable than other systems of governance.

China after Deng's reform gave the chance to get rich but power is in the hands of an elite; the Communist Party of China. Membership to the party is at the whims of the local party bosses. This leaves out many people who crave political power dissatisfied and disgruntled. There in lies the roots of instability. The Party suppressed these demands once at Tiananmen in 1989. But force is hardly the way to deal with things like these.

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