From 1776 to the present day, July 4th has been celebrated as the birth of American independence, with festivities ranging from fireworks, parades, and concerts to more casual family gatherings and barbecues. It started with a civil war and a revolution.
The American Revolution was an ideological and political revolution that occurred in British America between 1765 and 1791. The Americans in the Thirteen Colonies formed independent states that defeated the British in the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), gaining independence from the British Crown, and establishing the constitution that created the United States of America, the first modern constitutional liberal democracy.
American colonists objected to being taxed by the British Parliament, a body in which they had no direct representation. Before the 1760s, Britain`s American colonies had enjoyed a high level of autonomy in their internal affairs, which were locally governed by colonial legislatures.
During the 1760s, the British Parliament passed a number of acts that were intended to bring the American colonies under more direct rule from the British metropole and increasingly intertwine the economies of the colonies with those of Britain.
The passage of the Stamp Act of 1765 imposed internal taxes on official documents, newspapers, and most things printed in the colonies, which led to colonial protest and the meeting of representatives from several colonies at the Stamp Act Congress.
Tensions relaxed with the British repeal of the Stamp Act but flared again with the passage of the Townshend Acts in 1767. The British government deployed troops to Boston in 1768 to quell unrest, leading to the Boston Massacre in 1770.
The British government repealed most of the Townshend duties in 1770 but retained the tax on tea in order to symbolically assert Parliament`s right to tax the colonies. The burning of the Gaspee in Rhode Island in 1772, the passage of the Tea Act of 1773, and the resulting Boston Tea Party in December 1773 led to a new escalation in tensions.
Opponents of Britain were known as “Patriots” or “Whigs”, while colonists who retained their allegiance to the Crown were known as “Loyalists” or “Tories”.
The Continental Congress declared British King George III a tyrant who trampled the colonists’ rights as Englishmen, and they pronounced the colonies free and independent states on July 4, 1776. The Continental Army was led by Commander in Chief General George Washington.
The Patriot leadership professed the political philosophies of liberalism and republicanism to reject rule by monarchy and aristocracy. The Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal, though it was not until later centuries that constitutional amendments and federal laws would incrementally grant equal rights to African Americans, Native Americans, poor white men, and women.
The British captured New York City and its strategic harbor in the summer of 1776. The Continental Army captured a British army at the Battle of Saratoga in October 1777, and France then entered the war as an ally of the United States, expanding the war into a global conflict.
Finally, a combined American and French force captured Cornwallis’ army at Yorktown in the fall of 1781, effectively ending the war.
The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, formally ending the conflict and confirming the new nation`s complete separation from the British Empire. The United States took possession of nearly all the territory east of the Mississippi River and south of the Great Lakes, with the British retaining control of northern Canada, and French ally Spain taking back Florida.
Among the significant results of the war were American independence and the end of British mercantilism in America, opening up worldwide trade for the United States, including with Britain.
The Americans soon adopted the United States Constitution, replacing the weak wartime Confederation and establishing a comparatively strong national government structured as a federal republic, which included an elected executive, a national judiciary, and an elected bicameral Congress representing states in the Senate and the population in the House of Representatives.
It is the world`s first federal democratic republic founded on the consent of the governed.
Shortly after a Bill of Rights was ratified as the first ten amendments, guaranteeing a number of fundamental rights used as justification for the revolution.
We can see civilization on a brink of war and revolution even today, and there are many similarities. Back then, the American Revolution was shaped by high and low principles, imperial politics, dynamic rivalries, ambition, greed, personal loyalties, patriotism, demographic growth, social and economic changes, cultural developments, British intransigence, and American anxieties.
It was shaped by conflicting interests between Britain and America, between regions within America, between families, and between individuals. It was shaped by religion, ethnicity, and race, as well as by tensions between rich and poor.
It was shaped, perhaps above all else, by the aspirations of ordinary people to make fulfilling lives for themselves and their families, to be secure in their possessions, safe in their homes, free to worship as they wished and to improve their lives by availing themselves of opportunities that seemed to lie within their grasp.
What causes a revolution is five elements that create an unstable social equilibrium: economic or fiscal strain, alienation and opposition among the elites, widespread popular anger at injustice, a persuasive shared narrative of resistance, and favorable international relations.
The American Revolution committed the new nation to ideals of liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenship and made them the basis of a new political order.
None of these ideals was new or originated with Americans.
They were all rooted in the philosophy of ancient Greece and Rome and had been discussed, debated, and enlarged by creative political thinkers beginning with the Renaissance.
The political writers and philosophers of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment disagreed about many things, but all of them imagined that a just political order would be based on these ideals.
What those writers and philosophers imagined, the American Revolution created, a nation in which ideals of liberty, equality, natural and civil rights, and responsible citizenship are the basis of law and the foundation of a free society.