Info Articles > Categories > History > War of American Independence and the Constitution of the United States

War of American Independence and the Constitution of the United States

In this period the United States of America achieved their independence, and began their existence as a distinct nation.

The English colonies south of Canada had become 13 in number. In the southern part of what was called Carolina, "Charleston" was settled in 1680. More than a century before (1562), a band of Huguenots under "Ribault" had entered the harbor of "Port Royal", and given this name to it, and had built a fort on the river May, which they called "Charlesfort" - the "Carolina" - in honor of King "Charles IX" of France. In 1663 the territory thus called, south of "Virginia", was granted to the "Earl of Clarendon". In it were two distinct settlements in the northern part. The English philosopher "John Locke" drew up a constitution for "Carolina", never accepted by the freemen. The rights of the proprietors were purchased by "George II."; and the region was divided (1729) into two royal provinces, "North Carolina" and "South Carolina", each province having a governor appointed by the king, and an assembly elected by the people. Besides the English, Huguenots and emigrants from the North of Ireland, as well as from Scotland, planted themselves in South Carolina. "Georgia" was settled by "James Oglethorpe", who made his settlement at "Savannah". He had a charter from "George II", in whose honor the region was named (1732). Soon the "trustees" gave up their charter, and the government was shaped like that of the other colonies (1752).

"John Wesley", afterwards the founder of Methodism, sojourned for a time in Georgia. The settlement of "New Jersey" was first made by members of the Society of Friends, or Quakers, sent over by "William Penn", the son of an English admiral, and familiar at court. The Quakers gave up the government to the crown, and from 1702 to 1738 it formed one province with "New York". "Pennsylvania" was granted to "Penn" himself, by the king, in discharge of a claim against the crown. "Penn" procured also a title to "Delaware". He sent out emigrants in 1681, and the next year came himself. By him "Philadelphia" was founded. He dealt kindly with all the settlers, and made a treaty of peace and amity with the Indians. The government organized by "Penn" was just and liberal. In 1703 the inhabitants of "Delaware" began to have a governing assembly of their own.

Among the French explorers in America, "La Salle" is one of the most famous. Having traversed the region of the upper lakes, he reached the Mississippi, and floated in his boats down to its mouth (1682). The region of the great river and of its tributaries, he named "Louisiana", in honor of his king, "Louis XIV". This name was applied to the whole region from the Alleghanies to the Rocky Mountains. On his return, "La Salle" built "Fort St. Louis". Afterwards (1684) he took part in an expedition from France which had for its purpose the building of a fort at the mouth of the "Mississippi", but which was so wrongly guided as to land on the coast of "Texas". "La Salle" himself perished, while seeking to find his way to Canada. But a French settlement was made near the mouth of the river (1699), and a connection established by a series of forts with "Canada".

On the principle that the country belonged to the explorer, Spain claimed all the southern part of North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The French claim stretched from the coast of "Nova Scotia" westward to the Great Lakes, and embraced the valley of the Mississippi to its mouth. England claimed the country from "Labrador" as far south as "Florida", and westward to the Pacific. This region included within it the claims of the Dutch, founded on the discoveries of "Henry Hudson".

War between England and France, whenever it occurred, was attended with conflicts between the English and the French settlements in America. The Indians were most of them on the side of the French. But the fierce "Iroquois" in central New York, who wished to monopolize the fur trade, were hostile to them. A massacre perpetrated by these at "La Chine", near "Montreal" (1689), provoked a murderous attack of French and Indians upon the settlement at Schenectady, the most northern post of the English. This was an incident of "King William's War" (1689). In "Queen Anne's War" (1702-1713) "Deerfield" in Massachusetts was captured and destroyed by French and Indians (1704). By an expedition fitted out in Massachusetts, and commanded by "Sir William Phipps, Port Royal" in Nova Scotia was captured (1710). The colonies incurred great expense in fitting out expeditions (1709 and 1711) against Canada, which were abandoned. The contest between France and England for
supremacy in America was further continued in a series of conflicts lasting from 1744 for nearly twenty years. An early event of much consequence in the contest known as "King George's War", - a part of the war of the Austrian succession, - was the capture of "Louisburg", an important fortified place on Cape Breton, by an expedition from Boston (1745). The colonists, who were with reason proud of their achievement, had the mortification to see this place restored to the French in the treaty of peace (1748). In these contests the French had the help of their Indian allies, who fell upon defenseless villages. The English were sometimes aided by the Iroquois. The English founded "Halifax" (1749).

THE "OLD FRENCH WAR" (1756-1763)
The "Old French and Indian War" in America was a part of the Seven Years' War in Europe. A British officer, Gen. "Braddock", led a force which departed from Fort Cumberland in Maryland, against "Fort Du Quesne" at the junction of the Monongahela and Alleghany Rivers. Disregarding the advice of "George Washington", who was on his staff, he allowed himself to be surprised by the Indians and the French, and was mortally wounded. The remains of his army were led by "Washington", whose courage and presence of mind had been conspicuous, to Philadelphia (1755). Prior to the expedition, "Washington" had made a perilous journey as envoy, to demand of the French commander his reasons for invading the Ohio valley. The English held Nova Scotia, and expelled from their homes the French "Acadians", seven thousand in number, in a way that involved severe hardships, including the separation of families (1755). They were carried off in ships, and scattered among the colonies along the Atlantic shore. The English also took the forts in "Acadia". There were two battles near "Lake George" (1755), in the first of which the French were victors, but in the second they were routed. "Montcalm", the French commander, captured the English fort near "Oswego", from which an expedition was to have been sent against the French fort at "Niagara" (1756). In 1757 he took "Fort William Henry" on Lake George.

The English were dissatisfied at their want of success on the Continent and in America. But they had advantages for prosecuting the conflict. The French, who had been successful at the outset, had to bring their troops and supplies from Europe. They were, to be sure, disciplined troops; but the English had the substantial strength which was derived from the prosperous agriculture, and still more from the brave and self-respecting spirit, of their American colonies. The elder "William Pitt", afterwards "Earl of Chatham", again entered the cabinet, and began to manage the contest (1757). The French held posts at important points, - "Fort Du Quesne", where "Pittsburg" now stands, for the defense of the West; "Crown Point" and "Ticonderoga" on Lake Champlain, guarding the approach to Canada; "Niagara", near the Great Lakes and the region of the fur-trade; and "Louisburg", on the coast of Nova Scotia, which protected the fisheries, and was a menace to New England. To seize these posts, and to break down the French power in America, was now the aim of the English. In 1758 an expedition of "Gen. Abercrombie", at the head of sixteen thousand men, against Crown Point and Ticonderoga, was repulsed; Lord Howe was killed, and the army retreated. "Louisburg", to the joy of the colonies, was captured anew by "Lord Amherst" (1758). "Fort Du Quesne" was taken (1758), and named "Fort Pitt"; "Fort Frontenac" on Lake Ontario was destroyed. The object of the campaign of 1759 was the conquest of Canada. "Fort Niagara" was captured by "Sir William Johnston" (1759). "Ticonderoga" and "Crown Point" were taken, and the French driven into Canada. Then came the great expedition under Major-Gen, "Wolfe", a most worthy and high-spirited young officer, which left "Louisburg" for the capture of Quebec, "the Gibraltar of America." The attempt of "Wolfe" to storm the heights in front of the city, which were defended by the army of "Montcalm", failed of success. From a point far up the river, he embarked a portion of his troops in the night, and, silently descending the stream, climbed the heights in the rear of the city, and intrenched himself on the "Plains of Abraham." In the battle which took place in the morning, both commanders, "Wolfe" and "Montcalm", were mortally wounded. "Wolfe" lived just long enough to be assured of victory; "Montcalm" died the next day. Five days after the battle the town surrendered (1759).

An incident connected with Wolfe's approach by night to Quebec is thus given by Mr. "Parkman": "For full two hours the procession of boats, borne on the current, steered silently down the St. Lawrence. The stars were visible, but the night was moonless and sufficiently dark. The general was in one of the foremost boats; and near him was a young midshipman, John Robison, afterwards professor of natural philosophy in the University of Edinburgh.

In the following year "Montreal" and all "Canada" were in the hands of the English. The English colonies were safe. It was decided that English, not French, should be spoken in aftertimes on the banks of the Ohio. In the "Peace of Paris" (1763), France kept "Louisiana", but had already ceded it to Spain (1762).

The Indians in the West were dissatisfied with the transference of Canada and the region of the Lakes to England. "Pontiac", chief of the "Ottawas", combined a large number of tribes, and kindled a war against the English, which spread from the Mississippi to Canada (1763). He captured eight forts, but failed to take Detroit and Fort Pitt. Three years passed before the Indians were completely beaten, and a treaty of peace concluded with their leader (1766).

At the close of the French war, the population of the thirteen colonies probably exceeded two millions, of whom not far from one fourth were negro slaves. The number of slaves in New England was small. They were proportionately much more numerous in New York, but they were found principally in the Southern colonies. Quakers were always averse to slavery. The slave-trade was still kept up. Newport in Rhode Island was one of the ports where slave-ships frequently discharged their cargoes.

The forms of government in the different colonies varied. All of them had their own legislative assemblies, and regarded them as essential to their freedom. Under "Charles II", the charter which secured to Massachusetts its civil rights was annulled (1684). Under "James II.", the attempt was made to revoke all the New England charters. Sir "Edmund Andros" was appointed governor of New England, and by him the new system began to be enforced. The revolution of 1688 restored to the colonies their privileges; but Massachusetts (with which Plymouth was now united), under its new charter (1691), no longer elected its governor. Prior to the Revolution, there were three forms of government among the colonies. Proprietary governments (that is, government by owners or proprietors) still remained in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland. In these the king appointed no officers except in the customs and admiralty courts. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, which like
Massachusetts retained their charters, the governors were chosen by the people. New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, North and South Carolina, had royal or provincial governments: the governor and council were appointed by the king.

The chief occupation of the colonists was agriculture. In the North, wheat and corn were raised. From Virginia and Maryland, great crops of tobacco were exported from the plantations, in English ships which came up the Potomac and the James. Rice was cultivated in the Carolinas. Indigo was also raised. Cotton was grown in the South. Labor in the fields in the Southern colonies was performed by the negroes. Building of ships was a profitable occupation on the coast of New England. The cod and other fisheries also gave employment to many, and proved a school for the training of seamen. The colonists were industrious and prosperous, but generally frugal and plain in their style of living.

Common schools were early established by law in New England, and by the Dutch in New York. As Mr. "Bancroft" well observes, "He that will understand the political character of New England in the 18th century must study the constitution of its towns, its congregations, its schools, and its militia." Harvard College was founded in 1636; William and Mary, in 1693; Yale, in 1700. Eighteen years after the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, a printing-press was set up at Cambridge. In 1704 the first American newspaper, "The Boston News Letter," was established. In the Puritan colonies, the minds of the people were quickened intellectually as well as religiously, by the character of the pulpit discourses. Theology was an absorbing theme of inquiry and discussion. In the town-meetings, especially in the closing part of the colonial period, political affairs became a subject of earnest debate.

In all the colonies, the representative assemblies furnished a practical training in political life. In the Eastern colonies, the people were mostly Congregationalists and Calvinists: Presbyterians were numerous in the Middle States. In Virginia the Episcopal Church was supported by legislative authority; and it was favored, though not established by law, in New York. In Pennsylvania, while there was freedom in religion, the Quakers "still swayed legislation and public opinion." Philadelphia, with its population of thirty thousand, was the largest city in America, and was held in high esteem for its intelligence and

The colonists all acknowledged the authority of king and parliament, but they felt that they had brought with them across the ocean the rights of Englishmen. One thing that was more and more complained of was the laws compelling the colonies to trade with the "mother country" exclusively, and the enactments laying restraint on their manufactures. In the conflicts with the Indians from time to time, the necessity had arisen for leagues; and, more than once, congresses of delegates had met. One of these was held at Albany in 1754, where "Benjamin Franklin" was present. In the Old French War, there had been a call for concert of action, and a deepening of the sense of common interests and of being really one people.

The colonies had taxed themselves in the French War; but the condition of the finances in England at the close of it inspired the wish there to enforce the laws of trade more rigidly in America, and to levy additional taxes upon the provinces. These English laws were so odious that they were often evaded. The "writs of assistance" in Massachusetts authorized custom house officers to search houses for smuggled goods (1761). In the legal resistance to this measure, a sentence was uttered by a Boston patriot, "James Otis", which became a watchword. "Taxation," he said, "without representation is tyranny." Taxation, it was contended, must be ordained by the local colonial assemblies in which the tax-payers are represented. But the "Stamp Act" (1765), requiring for legal and other documents the use of stamped paper, was a form of taxation. It excited indignation in all the colonies, especially in Virginia and in New England. In all the measures of resistance, "Virginia" and "Massachusetts" were foremost. "Patrick Henry", an impassioned, patriotic orator, in the Virginia Legislature, was very bold in denouncing the obnoxious Act, and the alleged right to tax the colonies which it implied.

This right was denied in a "Congress" where nine colonies were represented, which met in New York in 1765. They called for the repeal of the Stamp Act, and declared against the importation of English goods until the repeal should be granted. "William Pitt", in the House of Commons, eulogized the spirit of the colonies. The Stamp Act was repealed. The discussions which it had provoked in America had awakened the whole people, and made them watchful against this sort of aggression. Political topics engrossed attention. When Parliament ordered that the colonies should support the troops quartered on them, and that the royal officers should have fixed salaries, to be obtained, not by the voluntary grants of colonial legislatures, but by the levy of new duties, there was a renewed outburst of disaffection, especially in "New York" and "Boston" (1768). By way of response to a petition that was sent to the king against these Acts of Parliament, four regiments of troops were sent to "Boston". Their presence was a bitter grievance. In one case, there was bloodshed in a broil in the street between the populace and the soldiers, which was called "The Boston Massacre" (1770). An influential leader of the popular party in Boston was the stanch Puritan patriot, "Samuel Adams".

After the other taxes were repealed, the tax on tea remained in force. A mob of young men, disguised as Indians, went on board three vessels in Boston Harbor, and threw overboard their freight of tea (1773). Before, there had been outbreakings of popular wrath against the stamp-officers. Their houses had been sometimes attacked: they had been burnt in effigy, and in some cases driven to resign. In general, however, the methods of resistance had been legal and orderly. When the news of the destruction of the tea reached England, Parliament retaliated by passing the "Boston Port Bill" (1774), which closed that port to the exportation or importation of goods, except food or fuel. The courts, moreover, were given the power to send persons charged with high crimes to England, or to another colony, for trial. To crown all, General "Gage", the commander of the British troops, was made Governor of Massachusetts.

In order to produce concert of action, committees of correspondence between the several colonies were established. The First Continental Congress, composed of delegates from the colonies, was convened in Philadelphia (1774). The remedies to which they resorted were, addresses to the king and to the people of Great Britain; an appeal for support to Canada; and a resolve not to trade with Great Britain until there should be a redress of grievances.

The Legislature in Massachusetts, which "Gage" would not recognize, formed itself into the "Provincial Congress." The first collision took place at "Concord" (April 19, 1775), where a detachment of British troops was sent to destroy the military stores gathered by this body. On "Lexington" Green, the British troops fired on the militia, and killed seven men. Arriving at "Concord", they encountered resistance. There the first shot was fired by America in the momentous struggle, - "the shot heard round the world." A number were killed on both sides, and the attacking force was harassed all the way on its return to Boston. The people everywhere rose in arms. Men flocked from their farms and workshops to the camp which was formed near Boston. "Israel Putnam", who had been an officer in the French War, left his plow in the field at his home in Connecticut, and rode to that place, a distance of 68 miles, in one day. "Stark" from New Hampshire, and "Greene" from Rhode Island, soon arrived.

In session at Philadelphia, assumed control of military operations in all the colonies. At the suggestion first made by "John Adams" of Massachusetts, Colonel "George Washington" of Virginia was unanimously appointed commander-in-chief. His mingled courage and prudence, his lofty and unselfish patriotism, his admirable sobriety of judgment, and his rare power of self-control, connected as it was with a not less rare power of command, and with a firmness which no disaster could shake, made him one of the noblest of men. Before he reached "Cambridge", where he assumed command of the gathering forces (July 3, 1775), he received the news of the battle of "Bunker Hill", in which the provincial soldiers, under "Putnam" and "Prescott", made a stand against the "regulars," as the British troops were called, and retreated only on the third assault, and when their ammunition had given out. "Dr. Joseph Warren", a leading Boston patriot, was slain in the battle. Before this time, "Fort Ticonderoga" had been captured by "Ethan Allen", and cannon been sent from it to aid in the siege of Boston (1775). But an attack on Quebec by "Arnold" and "Montgomery", who entered Canada by different routes, failed of its object. Before British reinforcements arrived, the American troops abandoned Canada. In the attack on Quebec, "Montgomery" fell, and "Arnold" was severely wounded (Dec. 31, 1775).

Only a brief sketch can here be given of the seven years' struggle of the United Colonies. On the 4th of July, 1776, the Declaration of Independence, drawn up in the main by "Thomas Jefferson", and of which "John Adams" was the most eloquent advocate on the floor of Congress, passed that body. It was signed by the President, "John Hancock", and fifty-five members. The colonies easily converted themselves into States, nearly all of them framing new constitutions. Thirteen "Articles of Confederation" made them into a league, under the name of the "United States" of America, each State retaining its sovereignty (1777). "Franklin", an old man, and respected in Europe as well as at home for his scientific attainments as well as for his sturdy sagacity, went to France as their envoy. Among the soldiers who came from Europe to join the Americans were "La Fayette", - a young French nobleman, who was inspired with a zeal for liberty, and was not without a thirst for fame, which, however, he desired to merit, - and "Steuben", an officer trained under "Frederick the Great". In Parliament, the Whig orators spoke out manfully for the American cause. The king hired German troops for the subjugation of its defenders.

The maneuvers of "Washington" forced "Gage" to evacuate "Boston". The American general then undertook the defense of New York. The British forces, to the number of thirty thousand, under "Gen. Howe", and "Admiral Howe" his brother, were collected on Staten Island. The Americans were defeated in a battle on Long Island (Aug. 27, 1776), and could not hold the city. It remained in the hands of the British to the end of the war. "Washington" withdrew his troops to "White Plains". "Fort Washington" and "Fort Lee" were lost. The American commander, followed by "Lord Cornwallis", retreated slowly through New Jersey (1776). These were serious reverses. By bold and successful attacks at "Trenton" and "Princeton", the depressed spirits of the army and the country were revived. In the spring of 1777 "Howe" sought to capture "Philadelphia", and landed his forces at the head of Chesapeake Bay. The Americans were defeated at "Brandywine" (Sept. 10); and Philadelphia, which had been the seat of Congress, was, like New York, in the possession of the British.

Their policy was to isolate New England. To this end, Gen. "Burgoyne", with a large army of French and Indians, came down from the north of Lake Champlain. A detachment of his forces was defeated by "Stark" at "Bennington". "Burgoyne" himself
was obliged to surrender, with six thousand men, to "Gates", at Saratoga (Oct. 17). This event made its due impression abroad. "France" recognized the independence of the United States, and entered into an alliance with them. This alliance was a turning-point in the struggle. "Washington's" army, ill-clad and ill-fed, suffered terribly in the winter of 1777-1778 at "Valley Forge"; but he shared in their rough fare, and their discipline was much improved by the drill which they received there from "Steuben".

Sir Henry "Clinton" left Philadelphia in order that the British forces might be concentrated in New York. He was overtaken by Washington, and the battle of "Monmouth" took place, which was, on the whole, a success for the Americans. The design of the British to separate New England from the rest of the States had failed. "Washington" was again at "White Plains". They now began operations in the Southern States. Among the occurrences in this period of the war were the massacre of the settlements in the valley of the "Wyoming", in Pennsylvania, by the Indian auxiliaries of the British; the surrender of Savannah, and with it Georgia and Charleston, by the Americans; the gallant storming of "Stony Point", on the Hudson, by "Wayne" (July 15, 1779), and a brilliant naval victory of "Paul Jones" in a desperate engagement with two British frigates near the north-eastern coast of England (Sept. 1779).

The American "partisan leaders," Marion, Sumter, and Pickens, carried forward an irregular but harassing warfare in South
Carolina. At Camden, "Gates" was defeated by "Cornwallis"; and "Baron de Kalb", a brave French officer, of German extraction, in the American service, fell (Aug. 16, 1780). In this year (1780) "Benedict Arnold's" treason was detected; and Major "André", a British officer through whom Arnold had made arrangements for giving up the fortress of "West Point" to the enemy, was taken captive, and executed as a spy. In the next year Gen. "Nathanael Greene" conducted military operations in "Georgia" and the "Carolinas" with much skill, and succeeded in pressing the army of Lord "Cornwallis" into the peninsula formed by the York and James Rivers in Virginia. Thither the French fleet sailed under Count "De Grasse"; and "Washington", by forced marches, was enabled to join with the French in surrounding the British works at "Yorktown". On the day when "Clinton" left New York, at the head of his forces, to unite with "Cornwallis", that officer surrendered, with his entire army of seven thousand men, to "Washington" (1781).

This blow was fatal to the British cause. The independence of the United States was recognized by Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, and Russia (1782). The war had been prolonged by the personal obstinacy of "George III"., against the wishes of his minister, Lord "North". The surrender of "Cornwallis" made it plain that further effort to conquer America was hopeless. Spain and Holland had joined hands with France, but "Rodney" had won a great naval victory over "De Grasse" (April 12, 1782). By the treaty of peace, signed at "Paris" and "Versailles" (1783), England recognized the independence of her former colonies.

The Congress during the war had issued paper money to the amount of 20 millions of dollars. It had no power to lay taxes, or to compel the States to pay their several portions of the public indebtedness. The States themselves were poor, and largely in debt. They surrendered, however, their unoccupied public lands to the United States. In 1787 Congress made one territory of the district north-west of the Ohio River, which Virginia had ceded, and by an ordinance excluded slavery from it for ever.

The lack of one system of law for the different States in reference to duties on imports, and on various other matters
of common concern, and disorders springing up in different places, inspired an anxious desire for a stronger central government. A convention, over which "Washington" presided, met in "Philadelphia" in 1787, and formed the new "Constitution".

"Hamilton" of New York and "Madison" of Virginia were leading members. There was much opposition to the new plan of government which they agreed upon, but it was finally adopted by all the States. It supplied the defects of the old confederation by uniting "national" with "federal" elements. To the Senate, made up of two delegates from each State, it added a "House of Representatives", where the number of members from each State was made proportionate to the population. It put the general government, within the limit of its defined functions, into a "direct" relation to the citizens, and gave to it judicial and executive departments to carry out and enforce its legislation. It committed to the central authority the management of foreign affairs, and various other powers necessary for the preservation of peace and unity in the land, and for the securing of the common weal of the whole country. "Washington" was unanimously chosen as the first president of the Republic, and "John Adams" was chosen vice-president. The first Congress met in "New York" in April, 1789, although the day appointed was March 4.