February 20, 2014
Instructor: Douglas V. Gibbs
41669 Winchester Rd.
· The Real American Revolution by John Adams
· Shot Heard Around The World
· A Different Kind of War
· Declaration of Independence
· Southern Front
· Treaty of Paris
The Real American Revolution
A Letter to H. Niles
From John Adams
February 13, 1818
The American Revolution was not a common event. Its effects and consequences have already been awful over a great part of the globe. And when and where are they to cease?
But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American war? The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. While the king, and all in authority under him, were believed to govern in justice and mercy, according to the laws and constitution derived to them from the God of nature and transmitted to them by their ancestors, they thought themselves bound to pray for the king and queen and all the royal family, and all in authority under them, as ministers ordained of God for their good; but when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the continental congress and all the thirteen State congresses.
There might be, and there were others who thought less about religion and conscience, but had certain habitual sentiments of allegiance and loyalty derived from their education; but believing allegiance and protection to be reciprocal, when protection was withdrawn, they thought allegiance was dissolved.
Another alteration was common to all. The people of America had been educated in an habitual affection for England, as their mother country; and while they thought her a kind and tender parent, (erroneously enough, however, for she never was such a mother,) no affection could be more sincere. But when they found her a cruel beldam, willing like Lady Macbeth, to “dash their brains out,” it is no wonder if their filial affections ceased, and were changed into indignation and horror.
This radical change in the principles, opinions, sentiments, and affections of the people, was the real American Revolution.
By what means this great and important alteration in the religious, moral, political, and social character of the people of thirteen colonies, all distinct, unconnected, and independent of each other, was begun, pursued, and accomplished, it is surely interesting to humanity to investigate, and perpetuate to posterity.
To this end, it is greatly to be desired, that young men of letters in all the States, especially in the thirteen original States, would undertake the laborious, but certainly interesting and amusing task, of searching and collecting all the records, pamphlets, newspapers, and even handbills, which in any way contributed to change the temper and views of the people, and compose them into an independent nation.
The colonies had grown up under constitutions of government so different, there was so great a variety of religions, they were composed of so many different nations, their customs, manners, and habits had so little resemblance, and their intercourse had been so rare, and their knowledge of each other so imperfect, that to unite them in the same principles in theory and the same system of action, was certainly a very difficult enterprise. The complete accomplishment of it, in so short a time and by such simple means, was perhaps a singular example in the history of mankind. Thirteen clocks were made to strike together — a perfection of mechanism, which no artist had ever before effected.
In this research, the gloriole of individual gentlemen, and of separate States, is of little consequence. The means and the measures are the proper objects of investigation. These may be of use to posterity, not only in this nation, but in South America and all other countries. They may teach mankind that revolutions are no trifles; that they ought never to be undertaken rashly; nor without deliberate consideration and sober reflection; nor without a solid, immutable, eternal foundation of justice and humanity; nor without a people possessed of intelligence, fortitude, and integrity sufficient to carry them with steadiness, patience, and perseverance, through all the vicissitudes of fortune, the fiery trials and melancholy disasters they may have to encounter.
The town of Boston early instituted an annual oration on the 4th of July, in commemoration of the principles and feelings which contributed to produce the revolution. Many of those orations I have heard, and all that I could obtain, I have read. Much ingenuity and eloquence appears upon every subject, except those principles and feelings. That of my honest and amiable neighbor, Josiah Quincy, appeared to me the most directly to the purpose of the institution. Those principles and feelings ought to be traced back for two hundred years, and sought in the history of the country from the first plantations in America. Nor should the principles and feelings of the English and Scotch towards the colonies, through that whole period, ever be forgotten. The perpetual discordance between British principles and feelings and of those of America, the next year after the suppression of the French power in America, came to a crisis, and produced an explosion.
It was not until after the annihilation of the French dominion in America that any British ministry had dared to gratify their own wishes, and the desire of the nation, by projecting a formal plan for raising a national revenue from America, by parliamentary taxation. The first great manifestation of this design was by the order to carry into strict executions those acts of parliament, which were well known by the appellation of the acts of trade, which had lain a dead letter, unexecuted for half a century, and some of them, I believe, for nearly a whole one.
This produced, in 1760 and 1761, an awakening and a revival of American principles and feelings, with an enthusiasm which went on increasing till, in 1775, it burst out in open violence, hostility, and fury.
The characters the most conspicuous, the most ardent and influential in this revival, from 1760 to 1766, were, first and foremost, before all and above all, James Otis; next to him was Oxenbridge Thacher; next to him, Samuel Adams; next to him, John Hancock; then Dr. Mayhew; then Dr. Cooper and his brother. Of Mr. Hancock’s life, character, generous nature, great and disinterested sacrifices, and important services, if I had forces, I should be glad to write a volume. But this, I hope, will be done by some younger and abler hand. Mr. Thacher, because his name and merits are less known, must not be wholly omitted. This gentleman was an eminent barrister at law, in as large practice as any one in Boston. There was not a citizen of that town more universally beloved for his learning, ingenuity, every domestic and social virtue, and conscientious conduct in every relation of life. His patriotism was as ardent as his progenitors had been ancient and illustrious in this country. Hutchinson often said, “Thacher was not born a plebeian, but he was determined to die one.” In May, 1763, I believe, he was chosen by the town of Boston one of their representatives in the legislature , a colleague with Mr. Otis, who had been a member from May, 1761, and he continued to be relectcd annually till his death in 1765, when Mr. Samuel Adams was elected to fill his place, in the absence of Mr. Otis, then attending the Congress at New York. Thacher had long been jealous of the unbounded ambition of Mr. Hutchinson, but when he found him not content with the office of Lieutenant-Governor, the command of the castle and its emoluments, of Judge of Probate for the county of Suffolk, a seat in his Majesty’s Council in the Legislature, his brother-in-law Secretary of State by the king’s commission, a brother of that Secretary of State, a Judge of the Supreme Court and a member of Council, now in 1760 and 1761, soliciting and accepting the office of Chief Justice of the Superior Court of Judicature, he concluded, as Mr. Otis did, and as every other enlightened friend of his country did, that he sought that office with the determined purpose of determining all causes in favor of the ministry at St. James’s, and their servile parliament.
His indignation against him hence forward, to 1765, when he died, knew no bounds but truth. I speak from personal knowledge. For, from 1758 to 1765, I attended every superior and inferior court in Boston, and recollect not one, in which he did not invite me home to spend evenings with him, when he made me converse with him as well as I could, on all subjects of religion, morals, law, politics, history, philosophy, belles lettres, theology, mythology, cosmogony, metaphysics, — Locke, Clark, Leibnitz, Bolingbroke, Berkeley, — the prestablished harmony of the universe, the nature of matter and of spirit, and the eternal establishment of coincidences between their operations; fate, foreknowledge absolute; and we reasoned on such unfathomable subjects as high as Milton’s gentry in pandemonium; and we understood them as well as they did, and no better. To such mighty mysteries he added the news of the day, and the tittle-tattle of the town. But his favorite subject was politics, and the impending, threatening system of parliamentary taxation and universal government over the colonies. On this subject he was so anxious and agitated that I have no doubt it occasioned his premature death. From the time when he argued the question of writs of assistance to his death, he considered the king, ministry, parliament, and nation of Great Britain as determined to new-model the colonies from the foundation, to annul all their charters, to constitute them all royal governments, to raise a revenue in America by parliamentary taxation, to apply that revenue to pay the salaries of governors, judges, and all other crown officers; and, after all this, to raise as large a revenue as they pleased, to be applied to national purposes at the exchequer in England; and further, to establish bishops and the whole system of the Church of England, tithes and all, throughout all British America. This system, he said, if it was suffered to prevail, would extinguish the flame of liberty all over the world; that America would be employed as an engine to batter down all the miserable remains of liberty in Great Britain and Ireland, where only any semblance of it was left in the world. To this system he considered Hutchinson, the Olivers, and all their connections, dependents, adherents, shoelickers, &c., entirely devoted. He asserted that they were all engaged with all the crown officers in America and the understrappers of the ministry in England, in a deep and treasonable conspiracy to betray the liberties of their country, for their own private, personal and family aggrandizement. His philippics against the unprincipled ambition and avarice of all of them, but especially of Hutchinson, were unbridled; not only in private, confidential conversations, but in all companies and on all occasions. He gave Hutchinson the sobriquet of “Summa Potestatis,” and rarely mentioned him but by the name of “Summa.” His liberties of speech were no secrets to his enemies. I have sometimes wondered that they did not throw him over the bar, as they did soon afterwards Major Hawley. For they hated him worse than they did James Otis or Samuel Adams, and they feared him more, because they had no revenge for a father’s disappointment of a seat on the superior bench to impute to him, as they did to Otis; and Thacher’s character through life had been so modest, decent, unassuming; his morals so pure, and his religion so venerated, that they dared not attack him. In his office were educated to the bar two eminent characters, the late Judge Lowell and Josiah Quincy, aptly called the Boston Cicero. Mr. Thacher’s frame was slender, his constitution delicate; whether his physicians overstrained his vessels with mercury, when he had the smallpox by inoculation at the castle, or whether he was overplied by public anxieties and exertions, the smallpox left him in a decline from which he never recovered. Not long before his death he sent for me to commit to my care some of his business at the bar. I asked him whether he had seen the Virginia resolves: “Oh yes–they are men! they are noble spirits! It kills me to think of the lethargy and stupidity that prevails here. I long to be out. I will go out. I will go out. I will go into court, and make a speech, which shall be read after my death, as my dying testimony against this infernal tyranny which they are bringing upon us.” Seeing the violent agitation into which it threw him, I changed the subject as soon as possible, and retired. He had been confined for some time. Had he been abroad among the people, he would not have complained so pathetically of the “lethargy and stupidity that prevailed;” for town and country were all alive, and in August became active enough; and some of the people proceeded to unwarrantable excesses, which were more lamented by the patriots than by their enemies. Mr. Thacher soon died, deeply lamented by all the friends of their country.
Another gentleman, who had great influence in the commencement of the Revolution, was Doctor Jonathan Mayhew, a descendant of the ancient governor of Martha’s Vineyard. This divine had raised a great reputation both in Europe and America, by the publication of a volume of seven sermons in the reign of King George the Second, 1749, and by many other writings, particularly a sermon in 1750, on the 30th of January, on the subject of passive obedience and non-resistance, in which the saintship and martyrdom of King Charles the First are considered, seasoned with wit and satire superior to any in Swift or Franklin. It was read by everybody; celebrated by friends, and abused by enemies. During the reigns of King George the First and King George the Second, the reigns of the Stuarts, the two Jameses and the two Charleses were in general disgrace in England. In America they had always been held in abhorrence. The persecutions and cruelties suffered by their ancestors under those reigns, had been transmitted by history and tradition, and Mayhew seemed to be raised up to revive all their animosities against tyranny, in church and state, and at the same time to destroy their bigotry, fanaticism, and inconsistency. David Hume’s plausible, elegant, fascinating, and fallacious apology, in which he varnished over the crimes of the Stuarts, had not then appeared. To draw the character of Mayhew, would be to transcribe a dozen volumes. This transcendent genius threw all the weight of his great fame into th e scale of his country in 1761, and maintained it there with zeal and ardor till his death, in 1766. In 1763 appeared the controversy between him and Mr. Apthorp, Mr. Caner, Dr. Johnson, and Archbishop Secker, on the charter and conduct of the Society for Propagating the Gospel in Foreign Parts. To form a judgment of this debate, I beg leave to refer to a review of the whole, printed at the time and written by Samuel Adams, though by some, very absurdly and erroneously ascribed to Mr. Apthorp. If I am not mistaken, it will be found a model of candor, sagacity, impartiality, and close, correct reasoning.
If any gentleman supposes this controversy to be nothing to the present purpose, he is grossly mistaken. It spread an universal alarm against the authority of Parliament. It excited a general and just apprehension, that bishops, and dioceses, and churches, and priests, and tithes, were to be imposed on us by Parliament. It was known that neither king, nor ministry, nor archbishops, could appoint bishops in America, without an act of Parliament; and if Parliament could tax us, they could establish the Church of England, with all its creeds, articles, tests, ceremonies, and tithes, and prohibit all other churches, as conventicles and schism shops.
Nor must Mr. Cushing be forgotten. His good sense and sound judgment, the urbanity of his manners, his universal good character, his numerous friends and connections, and his continual intercourse with all sorts of people, added to his constant attachment to the liberties of his country, gave him a great and salutary influence from the beginning in 1760.
Let me recommend these hints to the consideration of Mr. Wirt, whose Life of Mr. Henry I have read with great delight. I think that, after mature investigation, he will be convinced that Mr. Henry did not “give the first impulse to the ball of independence,” and that Otis, Thacher, Samuel Adams, Mayhew, Hancock, Cushing, and thousands of others, were laboring for several years at the wheel before the name of Henry was heard beyond the limits of Virginia.
The Shot Heard Around the World
A domestic insurrection was unfolding in Massachusetts. A mere show of force by the British Redcoats had not subdued the petulant colonists. The British military commander, and royal governor, General Thomas Gage, ordered more soldiers, and initiated a march on the towns of Lexington and Concord. In Concord was a large ammunition storage site, and in April of 1775, General Gage meant to take control of Concord. Without their guns and ammunition, Gage was convinced he could start any further violence and bloodshed.
The American protests and boycotts continued through the winter, and by the spring of 1775, as Redcoats began their march through Massachusetts, New England farmers prepared to stop them. Many hoped for resolution, and an end to the Coercive Acts. However, many believed war was coming, and were stockpiling arms and ammunition. In Massachusetts, these members of the local militia became known as “Minute Men,“ because they endeavored to be ready to respond to any British threat on a minute’s notice.
General Gage noticed the rising numbers of prepared colonists, recommended the repeal of the Coercive Acts, and ordered another twenty thousand reinforcements, indicating that even the farmers were “numerous, worked up to a fury.” He was ordered to arrest the troublemakers immediately, before the colonists became organized.
As the British marched toward Concord, Paul Revere and William Dawes rode ahead to warn the Minutemen. Upon reaching Lexington, the Redcoats were met by about seventy armed men congregated on the village green. The British Commander ordered dispersal, shouting, “Lay down your arms, you damned rebels, and disperse.” During the moment of decision, where some began to comply, a shot rang out on Lexington green. The firearms responded in kind, and by the end of the skirmish that lasted only a couple minutes, eight colonists were dead, and another ten were wounded.
The march continued to Concord, but upon arrival, the British were unable to find the ammunition. The element of surprise was gone, and the Americans had made preparations before the Redcoats arrived. Three companies of minutemen watched as the British searched, posing no challenge, until the British reached the Old North Bridge, where again shots were exchanged, and this time two Americans were killed, and three British soldiers fell.
During their return to Boston, American militia hid in the trees along the route, attacking the Redcoats all the way back to the coast. By the end of the day, 273 British solders were wounded or dead. The American toll was at 95. The war had begun.
A Different Kind of War
As news spread throughout the colonies about what had happened in Massachusetts, the colonists marveled at “Masschusetts’ War.” But realization set in quickly. What happened in Massachusetts could happen in any of the colonies. Thomas Jefferson observed, “a phrenzy of revenge seems to seized all ranks of people.”
In Virginia, the royal governor immediately acted to disarm the people, removing a large quantity of gunpowder from the Williamsburg powder house. He placed the gunpowder on a ship in the dead of night, even going so far as threatening to arm the slaves if the colonists dared to attack.
British oppression motivated recruiting efforts of the militias. The fighting by the Americans was based on their knowledge of the land. The Americans did not use the same methods of war the British used, which included tight ranks, and concerted advancements. The militiamen fought from among the trees, ravines, and on the edges of the road in a style today we would call Guerrilla Warfare.
The drive for independence, however, was not popular. Most colonists desired reconciliation. But as the fighting continued, more Americans got on board, and ultimately a full third of the nation supported the drive for independence, as 3% of the population actually fought the war.
Declaration of Independence
The reality became obvious. As the war proceeded, the colonies must declare independence from Britain. Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” urged such, helping to turn the tide of opinion, laying out the cause for American independence, convincingly rallying Americans to the cause against a despotic monarchy.
Delegates to the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in 1776. The “United Colonies” were constantly reminded why there was a need for the colonies to remain united. Independence, however, was a frightening consideration. The delegates that would sign such a document would surely be considered traitors to The Crown. Treason was a crime punishable by death, and as Benjamin Franklin aptly observed during the deliberations over the Declaration of Independence, “We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”
Reasoning with King George had failed. Appeasement was met with rejection. The Olive Branch Petition in the summer of 1775 was rejected by The Crown, to the surprise of the American moderates. After George Washington succeeded in driving the British out of Boston in the spring of 1775, news that the British were assembling a great invasion force reached the colonies. It was understood that the British meant to crush all revolutionaries, with a massive army of Redcoats, Scottish Highland troops, and hired Hessian mercenaries from Germany.
The delegates recognized that no other choice existed. It was time to declare independence.
On June 7, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia motioned to the Continental Congress, “That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”
Debate ensued. A vote on the motion was delayed until July 1. A committee was chosen to draft a document laying out the colonial position. The delegation of five centered around Thomas Jefferson, who penned the document. The declaration emphasized the concept of natural rights propounded by John Locke. The short document began with the concept that it was “necessary” to “dissolve the political bands” connecting the colonies to Britain. The powers were considered to be entitled by the “Laws of Nature,” and Nature’s God.” The truth was indicated to be “self-evident.” “All men are created equal…endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” In addition to those rights being “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” the authors also saw independence as being a right. “Whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”
On July 1, the majority was in favor of independence. On July 2 Lee’s motion passed. On July 4 it was adopted. On July 8 the Declaration of Independence was first read publicly on the streets of Philadelphia, accompanied by the tolling of the Liberty Bell. The great bell cracked. The bell was never to ring again.
On August 2, 1776, the official signing of the parchment copy took place, and John Hancock signed as large as he could, to ensure “fat old King George could read it without his spectacles.”
Four men declined to sign. Others signed with fear and many doubts. The Declaration of Independence was then printed and widely distributed. It was read aloud in celebrations throughout the colonies that had just become united States. A lead statue of King George III was toppled in New York after the reading of the document. The statue was then melted down for ammunition.
The printed versions of the Declaration of Independence did not include the names of the signers. They had committed treason. Their crime was punishable by death.
In the campaigns of 1777 through 1779, the Continental army narrowly avoided outright defeat. British troops flanked the colonials by moving south from Quebec. Indian tribes in western New York and the Ohio Valley were involved in the Revolutionary War, and those zones became a bloody war zone. The Americans finally appealed to France for help.
A formal alliance with France was signed in February of 1778. France recognized the United States of America as an independent nation, and pledged military and commercial support. The French Navy interrupted Britain’s flow of supplies and troops, and aided the Americans by holding prisoners of war. The French also provided cannons, muskets, gunpowder, and advisers, but had been doing so since 1776. As the Americans achieved a number of victories in the north, and France’s assistance hampered Britain’s war effort, the Redcoats moved to the South, giving up on the North. A new strategy emerged, abandoning the north, and focusing on the valuable crops in the south.
Britain considered the large slave population in the south to be an advantage, hoping to use the slave population as a destabilizing factor to keep the white southerners in line. With a large loyalist population in Georgia and the Carolinas, the British believed the south would be easier to gain control of, and maintain control of.
Georgia fell first in December of 1778. The British battled ten regiments of the Continental army in Charleston, South Carolina, and after the British laid siege to the city for five weeks, the British took Charleston in May of 1780. Lord Cornwallis chased out the remaining Continentals shortly after, and established military rule in South Carolina.
By August, more American troops arrived from the north, but had little impact, largely because of Benedict Arnold secretly passing to the British information about American troop movements.
The backcountry of South Carolina, an area the British believed to be pacified and under control, as well as heavily populated with loyalists, suddenly erupted into guerrilla warfare. Hit and run attacks became the norm. Loyalists were met by fierce militia units. Sometimes the rebels were more like bandits, than soldiers. Guerrilla warfare spread to Georgia and North Carolina. Loyalists struggled to hold on to reconquered territory as Cornwallis’ army moved north. Believing South Carolina to be secure, Cornwallis moved into North Carolina during the fall of 1780, and then news of a brutal defeat against loyalists in the battle at King’s Mountain send Cornwallis back into South Carolina, stretching the British forces in the area thin.
In January 1781 the British and the Loyalists suffered a defeat at the Battle of Cowpens, in South Carolina. Discouraged, Cornwallis moved back into North Carolina, and even began to reach into Virginia, capturing Williamsburg in June of 1781. He then moved to Yorktown, to await the arrival of backup troops by ship. The French ship had intercepted the British ships, cutting off Cornwallis’ supply of reinforcement troops, and then on land Cornwallis’ force of 7,500 was met by a combined American and French army numbering over 16,000. For twelve days the Americans and French bombarded British fortifications at Yorktown, until Cornwallis ran out of food and ammunition. Escape was impossible, and on October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered.
The Cornwallis surrender at Yorktown was the decisive blow. For two years afterward, however, Kentucky, Ohio, and Illinois continued to fight the war, unaware of the surrender. A peace treaty was negotiated six months later.
Treaty of Paris
After six years of war, the violence had ended. The rebellious colonies had won, though Britain refused to fully recognize the colonies as a new nation.
The British began to evacuate their troops, not only because of the surrender at Yorktown, but because they had lost the will to continue fighting. The British essentially threw their hands up, and believed the experiment of self-government would fail, and the petulant colonies would beg to be readmitted to the commonwealth.
The French mediated the Treaty of Paris, and it was signed on September 3, 1783. Britain ceded all territory between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River, south of Canada and north of the Gulf of Mexico, to the Americans (except New Orleans, and Spain’s colony of Florida).
George Washington was a hero, and he was the stuff legends were made of. However, he was tired of fighting. He had retired to his home at Mount Vernon. It was time to tend to his garden. The gamble of independence had paid off, and it was now time for the diplomats and politicians to do whatever it was they did.
Years later, a messenger arrived. George Washington was needed in Philadelphia. A new convention was going to convene, to fix the Articles of Confederation, and Washington’s presence was needed. He would become the reluctant President. He refused to join a political party, but he won all 69 votes in the Electoral College.
When asked what he preferred to be called in his new office, a number of recommendations came his way. “Your majesty?” “Your highness?” “Your excellence?”
“Mister President will be fine,” said George Washington.
He died just two years after leaving office. But he had made his mark, and was to be considered there on out the “Father” of a nation.
Copyright: Douglas V. Gibbs, 2014