The American Revolution (1754–1781)
Key People & Terms
A prominent Boston lawyer who first became famous for defending the British soldiers accused of murdering five civilians in the Boston Massacre. Adams was a delegate from Massachusetts in the Continental Congresses, where he rejected proposals for reconciliation with Britain. He served as vice president to George Washington and was president of the United States from 1797 to 1801.
Second cousin to John Adams and a political activist. Adams was a failed Bostonian businessman who became an activist in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. He organized the first Committee of Correspondence of Boston, which communicated with other similar organizations across the colonies, and was a delegate to both Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775.
A Mohawk chief and influential leader of the Iroquois tribes. Brant was one of the many Native American leaders who advocated an alliance with Britain against the Americans in the Revolutionary War. He and other tribal leaders hoped an alliance with the British might provide protection from land-hungry American settlers.
A Philadelphia printer, inventor, and patriot. Franklin drew the famous “Join or Die” political cartoon for the Albany Congress. He was also a delegate for the Second Continental Congress and a member of the committee responsible for helping to draft the Declaration of Independence in 1776.
King George III
King of Great Britain during the American Revolution. George III inherited the throne at the age of twelve. He ruled Britain throughout the Seven Years’ War, the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars, and the War of 1812. After the conclusion of the French and Indian War, his popularity declined in the American colonies. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson vilifies George III and argues that his neglect and misuse of the American colonies justified their revolution.
Prime minister of Parliament at the close of the French and Indian War. Grenville was responsible for enforcing the Navigation Act and for passing the Sugar Act, Stamp Act, Currency Act, and Quartering Act in the mid-1760s. He assumed, incorrectly, that colonists would be willing to bear a greater tax burden after Britain had invested so much in protecting them from the French and Native Americans.
A radical colonist famous for his “Give me liberty or give me death” speech. Henry openly advocated rebellion against the Crown in the years prior to the Revolutionary War.
Royal official and governor of Massachusetts during the turbulent years of the 1760s and early 1770s. Hutchinson forbade the British East India Company’s tea ships from leaving Boston Harbor until they had unloaded their cargo, prompting disguised colonists to destroy the tea in the Boston Tea Party.
Virginian planter and lawyer who eventually became president of the United States. Jefferson was invaluable to the revolutionary cause. In 1776, he drafted the Declaration of Independence, which justified American independence from Britain. Later, he served as the first secretary of state under President George Washington and as vice president to John Adams. Jefferson then was elected president himself in 1800 and 1804.
A radical philosopher who strongly supported republicanism and civic virtue. Paine’s 1776 pamphlet Common Sense was a bestselling phenomenon in the American colonies and convinced thousands to rebel against the “royal brute,” King George III. When subsequent radical writings of Paine’s, which supported republicanism and condemned monarchy, were published in Britain, Paine was tried in absentia, found guilty of seditious libel, and declared an outlaw in England.
William Pitt, the Elder
British statesman who provided crucial leadership during the latter half of the French and Indian War. Pitt focused British war efforts so that Britain could defeat the French in Canada. Many have argued that without his leadership, Britain would have lost the war to the French and their allies.
A prominent Ottawa chief. Pontiac, disillusioned by the French defeat in the French and Indian War, briefly united various tribes in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys to raid colonists on the western frontiers of British North America between 1763 and 1766. He eventually was killed by another Native American after the British crushed his uprising. Hoping to forestall any future tribal insurrections, Parliament issued the Proclamation of 1763 as a conciliatory gesture toward Native Americans and as an attempt to check the encroachment of white settlers onto native lands.
A Virginia planter and militia officer who eventually became the first president of the United States. Washington participated in the first engagement of the French and Indian War in 1754 and later became commander in chief of the American forces during the Revolutionary War. In 1789, he became president of the United States. Although Washington actually lost most of the military battles he fought, his leadership skills were unparalleled and were integral to the creation of the United States.
A congress convened by British officials in 1754 promoting a unification of British colonies in North America for security and defense against the French. Although the Albany Congress failed to foster any solid colonial unity, it did bring together many colonial leaders who would later play key roles in the years before the Revolutionary War. To support the congress, Benjamin Franklin drew his famous political cartoon of a fragmented snake labeled “Join or Die.”
Battle of Lexington and Concord
Two battles, fought on April 19, 1775, that opened the Revolutionary War. When British troops engaged a small group of colonial militiamen in the small towns of Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, the militiamen fought back and eventually forced the British to retreat, harrying the redcoats on the route back to Boston using guerrilla tactics. The battle sent shockwaves throughout the colonies and the world, as it was astonishing that farmers were able to beat the British forces. This battle marked a significant turning point because open military conflict made reconciliation between Britain and the colonies all the more unlikely.
Battle of Saratoga
A 1777 British defeat that was a major turning point in the Revolutionary War. The defeat convinced the French to ally themselves with the United States and enter the war against Britain. Most historians agree that without help from France, the United States could not have won the war.
An incident that occurred on March 5, 1770, when a mob of angry Bostonians began throwing rocks and sticks at the British troops who were occupying the city. The troops shot several members of the crowd, killing five. Patriots throughout the colonies dubbed the incident a “massacre” and used it to fuel anti-British sentiment.
Boston Tea Party
An incident that took place on December 16, 1773, when a band of Bostonians led by the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Native Americans and destroyed chests of tea aboard ships in the harbor. The Tea Party prompted the passage of the Intolerable Acts to punish Bostonians and make them pay for the destroyed tea.
First Continental Congress
A meeting convened in late 1774 that brought together delegates from twelve of the thirteen colonies (Georgia abstained) in order to protest the Intolerable Acts. Colonial leaders stood united against these and other British acts and implored Parliament and King George III to repeal them. The Congress also created an association to organize and supervise a boycott on all British goods. Although the delegates did not request home rule or desire independence, they believed that the colonies should be given more power to legislate themselves.
French and Indian War
A war—part of the Seven Years’ War fought in the mid-1700s among the major European powers—waged in North America from 1754 to 1763. The British and American colonists fought in the war against the French and their Native American allies, hence the American name for the war. After the war, the British emerged as the dominant European power on the eastern half of the continent.
Those who chose to support Britain during the Revolutionary War. Loyalists were particularly numerous in the lower southern states, but they also had support from Anglican clergymen, wealthy citizens, and colonial officials. Thousands served in Loyalist militias or in the British army, while others fled to Canada, the West Indies, or England. A large majority of black slaves also chose to support Britain because they believed an American victory would only keep them enslaved. Native Americans sided with the British, too, fearing that American settlers would consume their lands if the United States won.
An economic theory predominant in the 1700s that stipulated that nations should amass wealth in order to increase their power. Under mercantilism, the European powers sought new colonies in the Americas, Africa, and Asia because they wanted sources of cheap natural resources such as gold, cotton, timber, tobacco, sugarcane, and furs. They shipped these materials back to Europe and converted them into manufactured goods, which they resold to the colonists at high prices.
Those who supported the war against Britain. In January 1776, the English émigré philosopher and radical Thomas Paine published the pamphlet Common Sense, which beseeched Americans to rebel against the “royal brute,” King George III, declare independence, and establish a new republican government. The pamphlet sold an estimated 100,000 copies in just a few months and convinced many Americans that the time had come to be free of Britain forever.
An uprising led by the Ottawa chief Pontiac against British settlers after the end of the French and Indian War. Pontiac united several Native American tribes in the Ohio Valley and attacked British and colonial settlements in the region. The forces under Pontiac laid siege to Detroit and succeeded in taking all but four of the fortified posts they attacked. Although the British army defeated Pontiac’s warriors and squelched the rebellion, Parliament issued the Proclamation of 1763 as a conciliatory gesture to the Native Americans, recognizing their right to their territories.
Second Continental Congress
A meeting convened in 1775 by colonial leaders to discuss how to proceed after the recent Battle of Lexington and Concord. The Congress decided to try one last time to restore peaceful relations with Britain by signing the Olive Branch Petition. In the meantime, they prepared for national defense by creating a navy and the Continental Army and installing George Washington in command of the latter. At this point, many believed that war was inevitable.
Stamp Act Congress
A meeting convened in 1765 in New York to protest the Stamp Act. Delegates from nine colonies attended and signed petitions asking Parliament and King George III to repeal the tax. It was the first time colonial leaders united to protest an action by Parliament.