[Part 2] The American Revolution: Course of Events
No Taxation Without Representation
The leaders of the Massachusetts colony called together representatives from other colonies to consider their common problems. In this Massachusetts Assembly, they agreed and declared that English Parliament had no right to levy taxes on them. ‘No Taxation Without Representation’ became their slogan. They threatened to stop the imports of British goods. This led English to repeal the Stamp Act, but the English Parliament still insisted that it had the right to levy taxes. The Parliament, then, imposed a tax on consumer goods coming into the colonies, such as paper, glass, tea and paint. In protest, the colonists cut down the English imports by one-half. The English, thus, withdrew the plan, leaving only the tax on tea to assert their right to levy taxes.
Boston Tea Party
The tax on tea led to trouble. In 1773, several colonies refused to unload the tea coming in English ships. In Boston, when the governor ordered a ship to be unloaded, a group of citizens, dressed as American Indians, boarded the ship and dumped the crates of tea into water. This incident came to be known as The Boston Tea Party. The English government then closed the port of Boston to all trade and precipitated the uprising of the colonies.
The Declaration of Independence
The representatives of the 13 American colonies met as a group, in what is called as- the First Continental Congress, at Philadelphia in 1774. The congress appealed to the English King to remove restrictions on industries and trade, and not to impose any taxes without their consent. The King, in return, declared their action a mutiny and ordered troops to be sent to suppress it. The colonies then planned for military defense with local troops.
In 1775, the first battle of the revolution was fought when a thousand soldiers met the colonial militia in Independence.
The Declaration, on July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress, asserted that all men are created equal. Congress adopted the Declaration of that ‘they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. The Declaration advanced the principle that the people are the source of authority and affirmed the people’s right to set up their own government. The Declaration also stated that the American colonies had been oppressed by the English government, and that, ‘these United colonies are free and independent states’.
Up to this time, the colonists had been fighting for their rights as Englishmen. After the Declaration of 1776, they fought for their right to be an independent nation.
War of Independence
George Washington was put in command of the American forces. The First Battle took place in and around Boston. The victory of the rough American militia-men against a trained British force gave the Americans confidence. The French government now decided to help the colonies with troops, supplies and funds- to embarrass the English.
Meanwhile, trouble was emerging in Britain at home. There was a threat of rebellion in Ireland; some leader in the English Parliament were opposing the war with the colonists.
The war ended in 1781, when the English commander- Cornwallis (the same Cornwallis who later became Governor-General of India)– surrendered. Two years later, in 1783, a Treaty of Paris was signed, whereby the English recognized the independence of the 13 colonies.
When the war of independence started, each of the 13 colonies was a separate state, with its own army, boundaries, custom duties and finances. They only cooperated against a common enemy. In 1781, as states of the United States, they united through a plan for a national government. A constitutional convention was called in Philadelphia to frame a new constitution, which came into effect in 1789.
The American Constitution set up a federal system under which powers were divided between a central/federal government and the state governments. Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, and his followers campaigned for the addition of a Bill of Rights to the federal constitution. This was done through 10 amendments which guaranteed many rights to the American people. The most noted of these are- the freedom of speech, press and religion, and justice under law.
The constitution marked the emergence of the United States of America as a nation in world history. It was the first written republican constitution ever framed in history, which is still in operation.
Significance of American Revolution
The ideas of the American Revolution regarding the equality of all men, and the inalienable rights spread everywhere. Thomas Paine later participated in the French Revolution. By its example, the American Revolution inspired many revolutions in Europe in the 19th century. It encouraged Spanish and Portuguese colonies in Central and South America to rebel and gain their independence.
The main achievement of the American revolution was the establishment of a republic. However, this republic was not truly democratic. The right to vote was limited. Negroes, most of them were still slaves, American Indians, and women still had no vote. Election laws in most states favored men of property for many years. But progress towards democracy had begun. In some states, State Religion was abolished, along with the religious qualifications for holding public offices.
American Revolution not only ended feudal forms of land tenure but supported more enlightened attitude towards the family. Women gained the right to ho property separately and to make contracts and do business in the absence of their husbands. The equal rights of widows and daughters were recognized in matters concerning inheritance and possession of property. Women also got the right to divorce their husband.
Expansion and Civil War
Early in the 19th century, many new areas were added to the United States. The vast territory in the middle of the continent, known as Louisiana, was purchased from France. Florida was acquired from Spain. By the 1850s, after a war with Mexico, the US had extended its boundaries to the Pacific Ocean. People had continued to move west. The westward expansion of the US was at the expense of the American Indians who were driven out of their territories and in the course of a few decades their population was reduced to an insignificant number.
Increasing settlements in the west brought about increasing conflicts between the southern states that wanted to extend slavery to the western territories and the northern states that objected to a slave economy.
A change of revolutionary significance came with the Civil War when slave-owning states of the south seceded from the Union and set up a separate government. The Civil War raged from 1861 to 1865, and ended in the defeat of the southern states. It was a victory for the capitalistic industrial states of the north over the slave-owning states of the south. The federal government abolished slavery. The abolition of slavery, however, did not end the discrimination against the Black people and their struggle to make equal rights a reality continued.
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