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THE SEVEN YEARS WAR
BIG IDEA: The Seven Years War was a global conflict that was also fought in America. English settlers participated and felt that their sacrifice and support was not appreciated by their government back in England. This was the start of the movement for independence.
New France was the French empire’s territory in North America. It stretched from what is now Canada, down through the Great Lakes region, through the Ohio River Valley and extended down the Mississippi River to Louisiana and the port city of New Orleans. Unlike the British colonies along the Atlantic Coast, very few French colonists actually lived in New France. Mostly, the French were fur trappers, trading with Native Americans for beaver furs.
The primary point of conflict between the French and British in America was the Ohio River area. American settlers from Virginia wanted to cross over the Appalachian Mountains into what is now Kentucky and western Pennsylvania but were opposed by Native Americans who did not want to lose their land and their French allies.
The Albany Congress was the first time leaders from many colonies gathered to talk about their mutual concerns. Ben Franklin proposed that they coordinate defense against the French and Native Americans, but it turned out to be too early for the colonies to work together and the plan was rejected.
George Washington played a part in the start of the Seven Years War. He led a group of Virginia militiamen across the Appalachian Mountains and fought with French troops. They were defeated. Later, Washington joined a larger force from the British army to return to what is now the city of Pittsburgh to fight the French. Again, the British and Americans were defeated, and Washington had to lead the retreat when the British general was killed.
The Seven Years War was a global struggle between Great Britain and France. In North America, most of the fighting took place in upstate New York along the border between the British Colonies and French Canada. In the end, the British won in North America by capturing Montreal and won the global war as well.
The Treaty of Paris 1763 that concluded the war gave Britain all of the French territory in North America including Canada and the lands west of the Appalachian Mountains as far as the Mississippi River.
After the war, American settlers wanted to cross the mountains into newly won territory in the Ohio River Valley. The British government did not want to have to provide military protection for these settlers against Native American attack and issued the Proclamation of 1763 banning such settlement. This made Americans who had fought in the war angry and proved to be the starting point for disagreements that led to American independence.
LEADING TO THE REVOLUTION
BIG IDEA: The English settlers in America chose to declare and fight for independence after a long series of conflicts with their government. Most of these centered around economic issues and their right to participate in government. Americans were influenced by Enlightenment ideas.
In the years before American independence, an intellectual movement called the Enlightenment swept Europe and America. Philosophers proposed new ideas about government, including questioning the right of kings to rule and suggesting that all humans were born with basic rights. Many of these ideas were later used to justify the Declaration of Independence and formed the basis for the American system of government.
The Trial of Peter Zenger set an important precedent in America regarding the freedom of the press.
Americans had a long tradition of rebelling against governments they felt were unjust. Rebellions had taken place in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and North Carolina during the colonial period. Americans also had a long history of ignoring laws they did not like. Smuggling to avoid paying tariffs or to avoid mercantilist laws was commonplace. For many years, British officials had not enforced trade laws in America since enforcement cost more than the potential tariff revenue the government might receive.
After the Seven Years War, the British government needed money and decided to start taxing the American colonists. This was not well received in America. A series of laws passed by the British Parliament were protested in the colonies. Most importantly, Americans believed that it was not fair to tax them without allowing them representation in Parliament.
American patriots organized groups such as the Sons and Daughters of Liberty and Committees of Correspondence to organize protests, boycotts and to share revolutionary ideas. They served as an important first step toward national government by setting and enforcing policy.
The Revolution started in Boston, Massachusetts. This is where the most dramatic protests happened, such as the Boston Massacre and Boston Tea Party. The British closed the port of Boston and Boston area patriots formed militias to prepare for war. The fighting itself started when British troops tried to capture a stockpile of weapons in the town of Concord a few miles from Boston.
The first battles of the American Revolution in April 1775 are called the Shot Heard ‘Round the World because they inspired other revolutionary movements, such as those in Haiti and France.
BIG IDEA: American leaders did not want to declare independence right away and tried unsuccessfully to resolve their differences with the government in England. The Declaration of Independence laid out the philosophical reasons for independence and remains a seminal document in American history.
Leaders from the colonies gathered in Philadelphia in 1774 at the First Continental Congress to try to find ways to negotiate with the British government and solve their growing problems. They wrote a petition to the King and resolved to meet again. Their petition was ignored by both Parliament and the King.
Thomas Paine wrote a bestselling book making the case for independence entitled Common Sense. He used enlightenment ideas to explain why the British government had no moral authority over the colonies.
When colonial leaders met in 1776 at the Second Continental Congress, fighting had already begun in Boston. This time, the delegates voted to declare independence. They appointed a committee to write a document explaining their justification for this bold move. Ben Franklin, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson all served on the committee. Jefferson wrote most of the document.
The Declaration of Independence included some of the most important ideas about the meaning of the United States. In it, the Founding Fathers declared that “all men are created equal.”
John Hancock was the president of the Second Continental Congress and signed it first. Washington did not sign the document. He had been appointed to lead the Continental Army.
THE WAR FOR INDEPENDENCE
BIG IDEA: The War for Independence was long and difficult. Eventually with the help of the French, Washington’s army was able to force the British to surrender and recognize American independence.
The British and Americans started the War for Independence with distinct strengths and weaknesses. The British were a powerful nation with the world’s largest army and navy. The Americans knew the territory and were fighting a war for a cause. The British had to win. The Americans simply had to not lose and last long enough for the British to tire of the fight.
About 1/3 of Americans were patriots. About 1/3 were loyalists. Another 1/3 had no particular preference. After the war, many loyalists were treated badly, lost their property, and moved to Canada.
The economy and the lives of citizens were interrupted by the conflict. Homes were burned and farms plundered. The British blockaded American ports.
Women supported the war by making clothing and by providing support services to the Continental Army, most famously as spies. They also took over the running of farms and businesses while their husbands were in the army.
The battles of the War for Independence were mostly victories for the British. In the early years of the war the Americans managed to resist and survive without complete destruction, which served as a moral victory and encouraged perseverance.
The British wanted to split the Southern Colonies from New England by controlling the Hudson River Valley in New York. This did not go well as the Americans defeated the British at Saratoga, the turning point of the war. The victory at Saratoga prevented the British from capturing all of New York and also convinced the French to join the war in support of the Americans.
George Washington’s army spent the Winter of 1777 at Valley Forge where they learned tactics from European noblemen who came to help the Americans.
Benedict Arnold became America’s first great villain by trying to turn over the fort at West Point to the British. His plot was uncovered and he fled.
The French provided critical support at the end of the war by blocking the British escape from Yorktown with their warships. Washington’s army forced the British to surrender.
The Treaty of Paris of 1783 concluded the war. Britain recognized American independence and gave the United States all territory south of Canada and west as far as the Mississippi River.