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The American Revolution (1775-1783) is a conflict between the United Kingdom of Great Britain and its thirteen colonies on the east coast of North America. Following its victory over France in 1763, Great Britain had become the first colonial power in the world. In the New World, once the threat of a French invasion had passed, the loyalty of the thirteen American colonies to the British Crown was severely shaken. The institution of taxes and restrictions on overseas trade sparked a rebellion against European power. In 1776, the thirteen colonies proclaimed their independence. A war ensued which in 1783 ended in the founding of the United States of America.
At the origins of the American revolution
For most Britons, the colonies were first and foremost to serve England's commercial interests. They provided inexpensive raw materials for domestic industries, while providing an export outlet for their products. During the sixteenth century Great Britain imposed laws limiting the trade of American colonies with other jays, which had no other effect than encouraging clandestine trade with the Spanish, French and Dutch West Indies. During the Franco-Indian War, New England merchants began to charter their own vessels to export goods to Europe.
Once peace was ratified, however, the British government tightened customs controls to put an end to these activities, measures which only fueled resentment.In addition, the large colonial landowners in the South feared that the anti-slavery movement, which was winning land in Britain, did not disrupt the plantation economy.
The provision of the Proclamation which, in 1763, prohibited settlers from settling west of the Appalachians, was added to the list of grievances. It aimed to avoid clashes with the Indians, whom the newcomers drove from their lands to the interior of the continent. However, the uninterrupted flow of immigrants and the overpopulation of coastal settlements placed irresistible pressure on the western borders. So a large number of settlers simply ignored the law.
No to taxes!
The Seven Years' War having severely strained its budget, the British government decided to bail out at the expense of the colonies. The Stamp Act imposed a tax on newspapers and official documents. This law aroused the indignation of the settlers, who had never before had to pay tax contributions. They boycotted British products, while representatives of the thirteen colonies gathered to organize the opposition. Under the slogan "No to taxes without representation," they refused to pay the revenue stamp, claiming that they had no say in the British Parliament.
Quickly abandoned, the Stamp Act was almost immediately replaced by levies on tea, glass, lead, paint and paper. Here again, the government gave in to the boycott: it renounced all these contributions, except the tax on tea. The protests grew more and more vehement, even violent. In 1770, British soldiers killed five demonstrators in a riot in Boston, which went down in history as the "Boston Massacre." These outbursts further fueled the resentment of the settlers against Great Britain.
In December 1773 arose the “Boston Tea Party”, an action by a group of Boston citizens to protest against the taxes on tea. The British retaliated with several retaliatory measures, known as “intolerable laws”, which rallied all the colonies against the crown. Some called for an immediate break with colonial rule, while others saw sedition only as a last resort. In September 1774, the Continental Congress met in Philadelphia to discuss the future of the colonies.
The American War of Independence
Congress does not seek a break with the United Kingdom, but tries to define the rights of the American colonies, to set the limits of the power of Parliament, and to agree on the tactics to be followed to resist the laws of coercion. . Before Congress could decide; the fighting had already broken out. The scuffles between rebels and British troops at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 degenerated into a general uprising.
The Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775 in a spirit of increased resistance. The delegates decide to make Congress the central government of the "United Colonies of America", to accept that the troops engaged in the siege of Boston become the "American Continental Army" and to appoint, by a unanimous vote on June 15 , George Washington Commander in Chief.
The idea of independence gained massive popular support following the publication in January 1776 of Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense. This pamphlet, published anonymously, attacks George III by calling him a “royal brute” and condemns the monarchical regime. Paine's arguments are decisive. On July 4, 1776, the Second Continental Congress proclaimed the Declaration of Independence. The divorce with the metropolis is definitely over.
In December 1776, George Washington's troops crossed the ice-locked Delaware to attempt a daring attack on the Trenton garrison. The situation then began to escape the English.
France’s decisive intervention
The year 1777 marked the turning point of the war in favor of the American cause. France, defeated by the United Kingdom in 1763, has secretly sent money and supplies to settlers since the start of the conflict. Thus, in the summer of 1777, the young Marquis de La Fayette, with a troop of volunteers equipped at his expense, came to the aid of the insurgents.
After having fought in Virginia, La Fayette returns temporarily to France, and supports Benjamin Franklin in his negotiation to obtain the official support of France. Convinced of the solidity of the American cause thanks to the victory of the insurgents at Saratoga, King Louis XVI, who recognized the independence of the British colonies in America on December 17, 1777, signed two treaties on the following February 6: the first was a treaty of friendship and commerce; the second provides for the alliance of the two nations in the event of the United Kingdom's declaration of war on France. France’s decisive aid is materialized through the sending of arms, soldiers, warships and substantial subsidies.
In June 1778, France officially entered the war alongside the separatists against England. On August 14, 1781, George Washington learned that the Comte de Grasse was bringing the French fleet to Chesapeake Bay. He immediately decides to attack Cornwallis in Yorktown (Virginia). Washington’s and Rochambeau’s men and artillery forced their way south, leaving a troop to watch Clinton in New York. De Grasse's fleet arrived at the entrance to Chesapeake Bay on August 30, put to flight a British fleet commanded by Admiral Thomas Graves, and established a blockade around Cornwallis' army. Under Washington's command, some 16,000 American and French soldiers, accompanied by militiamen from Virginia, laid siege to Yorktown. Cornwallis tried several times to force the Allied lines, but he had to surrender on October 19, 1781.
The Battle of Yorktown marks the end of hostilities. In early March 1782, the House of Commons authorized the opening of negotiations with the insurgents. Anglo-American negotiations lead to the signing of a preliminary treaty, on November 30, 1782, in which the United Kingdom recognizes the total independence of its former colonies, and even abandons to them all its territories south of the Great Lakes until in Mississippi. The peace negotiations ended with the Treaty of Paris between the British and the Americans on September 3, 1783, then with the Treaty of Versailles between the United Kingdom and the other belligerents. France obtains colonial concessions, as does Spain, which receives Florida. Americans wishing to remain British subjects left for Canada, Crown territory.
The course of the borders of the new United States of America determined in these treaties is a source of discord between the French and the Americans. They are defined as follows: the Sainte-Croix River, the dividing line between the St. Lawrence and the Atlantic Ocean, the 45th parallel, the middle of the Great Lakes, the Mississippi and the 31st parallel.
The Making of the Constitution of the United States
As soon as the war ended, the debate on the organization of the government of the United States began. In 1786-1787, the convention responsible for formulating the Constitution met in Philadelphia. Among the delegates, the “Fathers of the Constitution,” were Benjamin Franklin, John Adams and George Washington.
The delegates worked out a system of "checks and balances", intended to prevent one power from accumulating too much influence over the others. The executive lies with the head of state, the president, who does not have the power to legislate. The latter remains the prerogative of the two chambers (legislative power), whose members are also elected. Independent of the legislative and executive powers, the Supreme Court (judicial power) is responsible for interpreting the law. American Basic Law was one of the first written constitutions of the 18th century. The Bill of Rights defines the rights of citizens and places specific limits on the power of government over them.
The thirteen British colonies were then the first to gain independence from their European metropolis, and were the first country to adopt a written constitution. However, the acquired political independence does not call into question the privileged economic and commercial relationship with the British Crown.
The beginnings of the Union's expansion
Ratified in 1788, the Constitution came into effect in 1799 and George Washington was elected the first President of the United States. In 1790, Rhode Island was the last of the thirteen colonies to join the Union. The latter rapidly continued its territorial expansion westward along the Ohio River and incorporated Kentucky in 1792, soon followed by Tennessee and two other states. In 1800, ceded by Spain, the Mississippi basin fell back into the hands of France. In 1803, Napoleon, forced to bail out to finance his campaigns in Europe, sold the entire territory to the United States, the purchase of Louisiana practically doubling the area of the young republic. The conquest of the west could begin ...
- The American Revolution, by Bernard Cottret. Tempus, 2004.
- The American Revolution: (1763-1789), by André Kaspi. History Folio, 2013.